On 5-13-21, Washtenaw Climate Reality members met with two key staffers for Senator Gary Peters. The goals included:
- to reconnect with the Senator’s office following his 2020 re-election (and after our initial August 2020 meeting )
- to advocate for strong action on the climate crisis
- to learn more about the Senator’s positions on specific climate issues
- to offer our help as the Senator works to advance climate action.
I’d say those goals were met 100%, thanks to effective meeting preparation on our part and a receptive attitude on the part of the staffers. This is another step toward what we hope will be an effective working relationship for climate action here in Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and beyond. Read on for a detailed recap of the meeting.
Five of us from Washtenaw Climate Reality attended, as well as several members from the West Michigan, Lansing, and Upper Peninsula chapters of the Climate Reality Project (CRP). In all, I think there were 8 Climate Reality Leaders on the call.
Two people from Senator Peters’ office attended:
- Chris Matus, who is the Senator’s Regional Director, based in Detroit
- Mike Stoever, who is the Legislative Assistant leading the environment, energy, and agriculture team for the Senator.
We’d met Chris Matus in our August meeting, but Mike Stoever is new, having joined the staff in March 2021. He brings extensive experience on environmental issues from both a scientific and policy perspective, and he clearly has a strong commitment to climate action.
We structured the meeting to have each of us ask a specific question, round-robin style. We had only 40 minutes, and we used every bit of it. Mike generally supplied the answers, as the person most responsible for environmental issues on the staff, with Chris adding points here and there. We didn’t send them the questions in advance, so all of these answers were off-the-cuff, which explains why we didn’t get complete answers to every question.
Rather than try to summarize the questions and answers into something that might be too vague to be worthwhile, I’m just going to list the main questions and the answers they gave. [Please note: these are “quasi-quotes”, as reflected in my notes – I hope I got the basic message and tone correct, but these are not word-for-word accurate.]
Question 1 – electric vehicles
David (CRP): The #1 sector in emissions is transportation. We need to transition to electric vehicles as quickly as possible. But EV’s, even small ones, are more expensive than gas-powered cars at the moment. Yes there’s a tax credit, but there are problems with that: there are two manufacturers no longer in play for the tax credit. To fix that, expand and reinstate the credit to apply to all manufacturers regardless of how many have been sold. And change the tax credit to a point-of-purchase rebate ($7500), in order to make it more available to people with lower income and open up incentives. Finally, as chair of Homeland Security committee (overseeing the postal service), how about transitioning the USPS fleet [to EV’s]?
Mike Stoever: I hear you on that. For the USPS, through the Senator’s chairmanship, this is something that is being worked on. You will hopefully be happy with us soon. HSGAC [Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs] has GSA oversight for procurement – one of the priorities is to electrify the fleet, and deploy charging infrastructure. For the tax credit side, the Senator has signed on to Chairman Wyden’s bill – they are cosponsors of that bill. Working to realize the President’s vision.
[I think the Wyden bill Mike refers to is this: the Clean Energy for America Act.]
Question 2 – regenerative agriculture
Robin (CRP): I’m interested in the power of our agriculture sector to utilize regenerative agriculture to sequester CO2. I know you co-sponsored the Growing Carbon Solutions Act, and thank you. What more can be done in this area?
Mike Stoever: Our senior Senator [Stabenow] is the lead sponsor and chair of the Ag committee. Will talk to counterparts over there. Have this on your radar and show your support for it. Can’t overstate impacts of voicing your support, keep talking locally, keep talking to MoC’s [Members of Congress].
Question 3 – carbon fee and dividend
Kris (CRP): My question is about the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, HR 2307. Has Senator Peters thought about introducing this into the Senate? To deal effectively with the climate crisis, some sort of carbon fee seems necessary. And the dividend portion of this Act makes it more equitable.
Mike Stoever: Hasn’t talked specifically to the Senator about this. Keep all bipartisan alternatives on the table in terms of how to fund what we need to do. Need all hands on deck to manage this existential threat. Can’t commit to specific approach on carbon fee yet.
Question 4 – bipartisanship
Therese (CRP): This is less of a question and more of a comment: the west side of Michigan is very conservative, and we’re all aware that the climate crisis doesn’t care about Democrats vs Republicans. Shoreline erosion, economic threats, agricultural threats (2nd most diverse ag in USA), inequities such as in Flint – these are all major issues. We’re all proud to be Michiganders, but we’re not proud to be featured in slides about climate crisis. Shocking stat: only 1 in 4 people are actually talking about the climate crisis. How do we do more, without making it a Republican issue or a Democratic issue?
[The answer to this got rolled into Question 5, basically just affirming the importance of climate action.]
Question 5 – a liveable future
Bernadette (CRP): I’m interested in Great Lakes protection and water quality. How does Senator Peters feel about Enbridge Line 5? I’m also a junior in high school. What can the Senator do to reassure my generation that we’ll have a liveable planet in the future?
Mike Stoever: Senator Peters is a leader on Great Lakes. He supports Whitmer’s action on Enbridge – we need to get these pipelines fixed (whether it’s a tunnel, or some other solution). Safe environment, healthy environment: that’s what we’re here for. It’s the defining battle of our time, an existential threat, and I don’t say that lightly.
Chris Matus: it is easy to get excited about the Great Lakes. Highlight: Peters led the effort to fund a new US Coast Guard Center of Expertise for the Great Lakes – a lot of the focus will be looking at threats to freshwater environments. PFAS: he’s been a leader on that. Wanting to hold the Air Force accountable [in Oscoda].
Safe environment, healthy environment: that’s what we’re here for, it’s the defining battle of our time.Mike Stoever, legislative assistant for Senator Gary Peters
Question 6 – winter recreation jobs
Kent (CRP): My approach to climate comes from being a ski instructor. Snow skiing season is now 10 weeks tops, interrupted by rain, warm weather. Winter tourism accounts for about 10,000 jobs in the state. That’s a big part of our economy – this really is a jobs issue, which may be able to cut through partisanship. Now that the election is over, can Senator Peters be more full-throated, become a vocal champion of climate action in the Midwest? An outfront, outspoken leader on these issues?
Mike Stoever: Will convey this to the Senator. The Senator is eager to learn more and I’m eager to work with him on it. You’re right: it’s a jobs issue. Folks get it, folks see it. It impacts your daily life. The economic side does connect, and serve as a hook to galvanize action.
Question 7 – architecture
Jan (CRP): As an architect, I am deeply involved in increasing the efficiency of and electrifying buildings. Currently, the economics of all electric building systems and the price of natural gas create a barrier for the rapid transformation needed. How can we structure incentives similar to Federal energy efficiency tax credits and train the construction industry to make the transformation necessary in less than 20 years? We have a lot to do and right now the economics aren’t aligned
Mike Stoever: Will look into that for sure – doesn’t have an answer yet.
Question 8 – talking across the aisle
Vic (CRP): I’m wondering how easily can you discuss climate change with GOP staffers? Are they open to that?
Mike Stoever: Staff level people do get it, more often than not. There are political constraints. The House can be more feisty, but staff do get it. You’ve got some strange bedfellows at times, and it’s fun. There are signs of hope. The Vehicle Innovation Act is bipartisan.
Question 9 – give us a job
Heidi (CRP): What are some specific ways that we can help you? Beyond some of the obvious like voting and contacting MoC’s.
Mike Stoever: Yes, definitely keep doing the obvious of contacting MoC’s, voting. Beyond that my first thought is the expertise end, the life experiences that each of us bring. For example, if I have a question about, say, green architecture, having a resource in the community to reach out to. I’ll think further about what else can we do.
Kris (CRP): Climate Reality Project can be a good resource, with our breadth of members across the state, and the hub has resources, scientists, technology experts from all over the country and beyond. And, Senator Warnock is a Climate Reality Leader. A lot of us have created climate-specific slides for Michigan. We can find talking points, contacts, etc. for Mike.
A few conclusions
We spanned a lot of varied topics – electric vehicles, regenerative agriculture, the Great Lakes, bipartisanship, energy policy, green architecture – and found a lot of common ground with Senator Peters’ office. Mike and Chris are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about climate action, which is very encouraging.
We all agreed to keep in contact, and we’ll work to plan future meetings to track progress on the areas outlined above and hear more definitive answers to the questions that didn’t get addressed in full.
Perhaps our primary mission is to ensure that climate action gets the urgency that it deserves. One way to help with that is to be sure that Senator Peters knows that we fully support comprehensive, urgent, and effective policies on climate. And this may be the #1 thing we can do – keep contacting all of our elected officials to let them know: we need strong climate action; we represent many people across the state; and we want to help you achieve this.
Thanks to WCR political coordinator David Gurk for his persistence and leadership in setting up this meeting, and to all those who attended for offering thoughtful questions and representing Climate Reality as an action-oriented, well-organized community.
What are your ideas for how we can work with Senator Peters and other elected officials?