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Proposed state board would help guide Michigan's transition to green economy

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

A state Senate committee held a hearing Thursday on a proposal to create a government panel that would help Michigan navigate the path to the new green economy.

Sponsors say there’s no stopping the phaseout of fossil fuels in favor of an electric future. Senator Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) said now is the time to step in and manage events.

His bill would create a worker transition office and a commission housed in the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity that would make recommendations by the end of 2025.

“I think we’re always concerned whenever you’re making a transition that you should have a system in place that makes sure that we are protecting workers,” he said. “Whether it’s the immediate transitions about helping them with supports that are necessary [or] if it’s long-term, if we know that something’s going to happen in five years, how do we help the employees get the skills sets so they transition to a different part of the industry.”

There were complaints from unions that the transition to a green economy will mirror the effects of globalization, when Michigan unions and government were not ready to deal with the changes.

Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Twp.) said the state’s plans need to focus on helping displaced workers and building up disadvantaged communities.

“I think it’s really important to not leave people behind in our communities and as we set goals of 2030, 2035, not only at the federal level but at a state level, we need to make sure they have the support systems necessary,” she said.

Sen. Tom Albert (R-Lowell) is the only Republican on the Senate Labor Committee. He asked if, given the Democrats’ concerns about lost jobs and wages, the state’s green energy plans already enacted by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Democrats are the problem.

“I guess what it boils down to, is this bill an acknowledgement that the policies we’ve been adopting as a state have been killing jobs in the State of Michigan?” he said.

Sponsors replied that the transition is simply a reality the state must prepare for. The hearing took place as a United Auto Workers strike at targeted facilities entered its seventh day. One of the concerns is that ramped-up manufacturing of electric vehicles is expected to require far fewer factory jobs.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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