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Commentary

Looking at the policy goals of the Michigan Environmental Council

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Years ago, the Green Party in Germany was torn by a split between two groups nicknamed the “realos” and the “fundis.”

The realos believed you had to compromise to achieve anything in modern, consumer-oriented capitalist society.

The fundis, however, thought this was a sellout, and that they had to be true to rigidly pro-environment principles.

The Green Party has never been a major factor here, but some version of a split between “realos” and “fundis” exists in virtually every progressive movement.

When it comes to the environment, for example, the Sierra Club is sort of a “fundi” group. They oppose what most think is a badly needed new bridge across the Detroit River.

Not because they are in the pay of the notorious monopoly owner of the Ambassador Bridge, but because they think there are too many cars already, and they fear the impact of the bridge on Ontario’s prairie ecosystem, and various endangered species.

This may be admirable on paper, but one that seems to me terribly unrealistic. Society isn’t going to abandon the internal combustion engine anytime soon, and any alternatives to building the new carefully planned bridge would almost certainly be worse.

The Michigan Environmental Council, on the other hand, is more firmly anchored in the art of the possible, though they are at least as fiercely dedicated to the environment.

The MEC, which has been around for 35 years, is actually a coalition of more than 70 environmentally conscious organizations.

They aren’t allowed to endorse candidates, but they do occasionally back ballot proposals and set a list of policy priorities, in areas from water and energy to public health and recycling.

They have, for example, endorsed the May 5th ballot proposal to increase the sales tax primarily to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. I met the other day with some of the MEC’s top leadership, including Chris Kolb, a former legislator and their president, and James Clift, their policy director.

They like the ballot proposal, in part, because it would also eventually raise more than a hundred million a year for mass transit in our state.

“We’re looking for total, 21st century transportation solutions,” Kolb said.

This means better roads, but they are also committed to funding for the neglected RTA, or Regional Transit Authority, and also and perhaps especially, rail.

People love trains, and the MEC thinks extensive passenger rail service in Michigan may be a thing of the future, not just the past.

They think building an east to west route, from Detroit to Holland, may be the first feasible line, but there’s also considerable interest in trains to Traverse City.

The MEC is also deeply concerned about other issues. They recognize that lead poisoning in older homes is a much bigger problem than commonly recognized, and that if we are to have any future, we have to protect our water resources most of all. It was not a fluke that toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie temporarily made the water in Toledo unsafe to drink last summer.

They have a coherent, well thought out list of priorities designed to help our descendants have an environment left to enjoy. I plan to discuss more of them in days ahead.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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