ABOUT DERRELL SLAUGHTER:
Derrell Slaughter is a Michigan native with a long history of engagement in energy policy, community organizing, and political campaigns. Slaughter previously served as a policy aide to the commissioners in the Michigan Public Service Commission. While there, he advised them on a range of regulatory matters, including the implementation of the 2016 energy law (Public Acts 341 and 342). Outside of his work at NRDC, he serves on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners as the commissioner representing the 3rd district, South Lansing. He was first elected in 2018 and currently serves as vice-chair of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners. He is also a proud member of the ACLU of Michigan’s Board of Directors, where he serves as the organization’s vice-president.
ABOUT LISA WOZNIAK:
Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a Bachelors Degree and two ensuing Masters Degrees in Social Work and Education.
Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU’s ‘1st Friday Focus on the Environment.’
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the May edition of First Friday Focus on the Environment. I’m David Fair, and today we’re going to discuss some of the MI Healthy Climate plan that Governor Whitmer introduced in April. Many contend it’s going to make Michigan a leader in addressing the climate crisis. My partner in this First Friday conversation series is Lisa Wozniak, and she serves as executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Welcome back, Lisa.
Lisa Wozniak: Good to be here, Dave. And you are right. There are a lot of people who have been very eager for the unveiling of Governor Whitmer’s new MI Healthy Climate Plan or the MI Healthy Climate Plan, including our guest today. Derrell Slaughter is the Michigan Clean Energy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He’s also an appointee to the Michigan Council on Climate Solutions, the body that actually helped guide this entire plan. He’s an elected member of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, and he’s currently the vice president for the ACLU of Michigan’s Board of Directors. Derrell has called climate justice one of the foremost civil rights issues of our time. So, thank you so much for joining us today, Derrell.
Derrell Slaughter: Thanks for having me.
David Fair: What inequities, Derrell, and outcomes brought you to the position that climate justice is at the forefront of the modern-day civil rights movement?
Derrell Slaughter: You know, as we’re seeing folks, feel the day-to-day effects of climate change through massive floods. We’re seeing it pop up in our crops. We’re seeing it here in all different areas. And so, this is a crisis that we all are going to experience together. This crisis doesn’t care who you are. You know, even more the reason for us to come together, to work on doing the things we need to do to combat climate justice, and especially for the folks who are least able to adapt to many of the changes that are as a result of climate change. And so, it is the most important issue of my entire lifetime and it’s what drives me and keeps me working every day.
Lisa Wozniak: So, along those lines, Derrell, the governor’s MI Healthy climate plan calls for adherence to what’s called Justice40 principles. So, what does that include, and why do you consider this so important?
Derrell Slaughter: It would be a commitment to 40% of all climate-related dollars would go to those underserved or live in environmental justice community. And it won’t be everything that needs to be done. It makes sure folks are able to fully adapt and to go forward. But it’s a good start. And so, I’m happy that it’s part of the final version of the MI Healthy Climate Plan. And I’m really looking forward to what that will look like in terms of implementation.
David Fair: WEMU’s First Friday Focus on the Environment continues with Lisa Wozniak of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and Derrell Slaughter from the Natural Resources Defense Council. This plan calls for closing all coal plants by 2030 and for economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. If that comes to pass, how far do you think that will go in impacting air quality in the most affected Michigan communities and in addressing some of those environmental public health outcomes that are more detrimental to those living in those communities?
Derrell Slaughter: It’s really significant both in our efforts to combat climate change, but to also combat air pollution. And so, this is really important. Now, this alone is not going to get us to where we need to go. There’s some other recommendations significantly increasing the amount of renewables that would be used to power our homes. There are some incentives for folks to transition into electric vehicles and looking to how can we expand public transit options. You know, with all the things in this plan, all the great things in this plan, implementation is going to be key, and those details are really the key.
Lisa Wozniak: So, let’s continue in that vein because that’s really where my mind was going on this. If these outcomes are going to be achieved, it’s going to take more, as you pointed out, from our utilities in Michigan than just shutting down the coal-fired power plants and, as you indicated, the increased investment in renewable energy, strengthening grid security, which we’ve certainly felt a lot of an enormous impact over these last many months in power outages, making further investments in new energy storage and distribution systems. All these things are going to be needed. And you have experience in your career. Previously, you worked with members of the Michigan Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in our state. So, I’m wondering. Is there the strategic and political will to get all of this in place by 2050?
Derrell Slaughter: We’re testing that out. And, right now, I feel like there is momentum. Well, I think we just really need to get out there and talk more about the elements of this plan and talk about the challenges that are there. And, you know, what I have found is, again, more folks are understanding and get on board with some of the changes that we’re going to have to actually make in order to meet these other reduction goals. By nature, if you ask friends. I’m an optimist, and I feel like we are in a good place, and we’re going to continue to move forward and get some good work done in our state. We all have a lot of good momentum.
David Fair: Well, let me call on your optimism one more time. This has been called Michigan’s boldest climate plan in state history. It sounds as though that is your conclusion as well. What else, other than what we’ve already discussed, sets this plan apart in your mind?
Derrell Slaughter: I mean, this is the most ambitious, definitely the broadest plan I have ever seen, especially for our state. And a lot of folks had a role in developing this plan. And I think we’re going to need even more in terms of the implementation plan. It’s a start. It’s essentially a blueprint, but the real part that’s going to really makes this stuff is when we get through the implementation process. And that’ll be my understanding through workgroups working with various agencies who have a hand in different aspects of this plan. And so, yeah, this was a definitely a shared development.
Lisa Wozniak: As we discussed the potential contained in this bold plan, Derrell, what is the role for the entity that’s called the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice? What’s their role to play in the implementation and follow-through given things like the Justice40 Initiative?
Derrell Slaughter: So, I’m a member on the Council on Climate Solutions. It’s really tasked with looking at the plan from a equity standpoint and how can we improve this plan. Those include the recommendations, for example, in the energy sector, so that it really does take into account folks who normally would not be able to for them buy for them. You know, what are the things that we can do? Are there other more financial incentives that could be used to allow more folks to have access to?
David Fair: Well, much of the plan is going to require legislative action. And I don’t anticipate much getting done in this midterm election year. But, perhaps, there are some components that can achieve bipartisan agreement more quickly than others. Have you been looking at some of those areas to identify where they are and get working on them as quickly as possible?
Derrell Slaughter: Yeah. And that’s, you know, that was what I was doing prior to, uh, talking to you all. And, you know, this is a plan that’s not going to be completed in, you know, a week or a month. This is going to be a plan that’s going to take a number of years. And, as has been said, this plan will need to be updated a certain period of time. I know there will be ways for more Michiganders to plug in. Typically, when you go in some of the other agencies that start with the implementation process or the different policy recommendations, there will be a ton of work with this plan, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.
Lisa Wozniak: So, Derrell, in the broadest sense, you know, you’ve said you’re an optimist, and you really have a lot of hope for what this plan can achieve and its potential implementation. You know, as David pointed out, we still have a Legislature that we have to deal with. And I would love for you to put some words around your optimism as it pertains to this not ending up looking like what’s happened in Washington, D.C., where climate has basically floundered.
Derrell Slaughter: Sure. And I’m, you know, definitely sensitive to how the national conversation has gone and even, you know, how the conversation has gone in our state. You know, I really hate to see that talking about these issues get so polarizing when, you know, at least in my mind, it should be some form of uniform recognition that we’ve all collectively need to do something, but that’s not necessarily the case. So, the optimist in myself would lean towards, you know, more education, you know, really taking the time to talk to folks who may not be fully on board or fully understand what is happening. I mean, the tough part is that we don’t have much time, in terms of when we need to hit these greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, meeting targets, by 2030, and then make our carbon neutral go by 2050. And so, you know, it’s unfortunate we don’t have a ton of time, but I think that does not mean we can skip out on the whole education aspect where we can bring folks along and really appeal to folks’ self-interest. I think that’s the best way for us to try to see progress in the implementation of this plan. But, again, yeah, that’s the optimist in me and, you know, have not fully formulated what that’s going to look like, but definitely starting to brainstorm and really think about what, you know, what this will look like this year. Are you looking at next year? Next year, we’ll probably have a different Legislature, and, you know, it’ll definitely be a different set of folks to work with. But, yeah, the still optimism that we can work with folks.
David Fair: And that’s a good note to end on. Thank you so much for the time today, Derrell.
Derrell Slaughter: Absolutely.
David Fair: That is Derrell Slaughter, Michigan clean energy advocate on the Natural Resources Defense Council. He also serves as third district representative on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, and he’s been our guest on First Friday Focus on the Environment. My content partner and co-host is Lisa Wozniak, the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And, Lisa, thank you so much for the time today. And we’ll visit again in June.
Lisa Wozniak: I look forward to it, David.
David Fair: For more information on today’s topic in conversation, visit our website at WEMU dot org. I’m David Fair, and this is your community NPR Station, 89 one WEMU FM and HD one Ypsilanti.
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