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What's that smell? It's Eau de Lame Duck

Jack Lessenberry

It should already be perfectly clear why they call what the Legislature is doing now the “lame-duck session.” Much of what they are doing has been pretty lame.

But now they are engaged in a burst of stupidity so monumental that it really should merit us a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. In fact, when I first heard of it, I thought it was a parody.

The Michigan Senate is seriously considering a bill that would count burning old rubber tires, dog poop and sewer sludge as renewable energy. Think about that. Have you ever smelled burning tires or breathed the air where they are being burned? You might think this bill would go nowhere, but you’d be dead wrong.

The Michigan House of Representatives has already passed it, and the Senate may well do so this week. Actually, the bill wouldn’t just apply to tires and animal waste.

According to an outraged James Clift, the Michigan Environmental Council’s policy director, the bill, HB 5205, would also count burning old railroad ties and the leftover byproducts of burning coal as “renewable energy.”

Just think, once upon a time it was a scandal when the Reagan administration wanted to label ketchup a vegetable for purposes of school lunch nutrition guidelines. Now, this. The father of this burning tires bill is one AricNesbitt, the 34-year-old chair of the House Energy Technology Committee. Nesbitt grew up on a dairy farm near Lawton, but has, as far as I can tell, had political jobs all his adult life.

When interviewed by the Detroit Free Press about all this, he dismissed his critics as “far-left environmentalists”, and contemptuously said of his opponents, “They want to pick winners and losers in the clean energy field.” He called his bill “a common sense piece of legislation.”

You have to wonder whether this gentleman is really moonlighting as a script writer for Jon Stewart.

Or if he would attack a parent who did not want to feed her child garbage for “wanting to pick winners and losers in the nutrition field.”

Here’s what this is really about. Michigan law will require energy sellers to provide at least 10% of the power they sell from renewable sources by next year.

When most of us think renewable energy, we think wind and solar. But getting energy from those sources is harder and costs more money.

Evidently our lawmakers think they might come in for too much criticism if they tried to scrap the renewable requirement entirely, so they are trying to get around it by calling burning old tires and garbage "renewable energy" instead.

Hey, you can always grow more rubber and make more tires, right? That’s renewable. Plus, thanks to environmental incentives passed in a more enlightened era, if this bill is passed, those burning old rubber tires and other garbage could even qualify for government subsidies.

Well, it is up to our elected representatives now.

And I don’t have a lot of hope of stopping this bill. When our governor first ran for office, he called himself an environmentalist. Vetoing this bill when and if it reaches his desk would go a long way to prove it.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. 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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