More than 160 scientists from major universities across Michigan this week urged support for the Environmental Protection Agency, calling the federal agency’s role essential to protecting the public health.

In a letter addressed the state’s congressional delegation, the scientists called on elected officials to “reject any measure that would block or delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the people of Michigan from air pollution and human caused climate change, both of which put public health, agriculture, the environment and our economy at risk.”

“For more than 40 years, the EPA has protected public health and safety by holding polluters accountable – and it should be allowed to continue doing its job,” Knute Nadelhoffer, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday, March 9.

“Scientists across Michigan stand united with scientists at the EPA and across the nation,” he said. “Science, not politics, must drive our fight against dangerous pollution.”

The scientists are continuing to circulate the letter to more researchers and scientists across the state, with the goal of building momentum and raising their voices to Congress.

“Michigan scientists urge Congress to defend Michigan citizens, not polluters,” said David Karowe, professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University. “By taking away or weakening the EPA’s authority to fight greenhouse gas pollution, Congress is endangering the public health by increasing the likelihood of deadly heat waves, floods, and droughts.”

The economic consequences of the refusal to take action against climate change will be devastating. Stephen Hamilton, professor of ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry at W.K. Kellogg Biological Station of Michigan State University said, “In the long run, climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions is going to be extremely costly to Michigan’s economy, so we need to consider the long-term risk against the short-term costs.”

Delay isn’t an option. “Greenhouse gas pollution is a threat to our families’ health and safety, and it endangers important industries from agriculture to tourism,” said Steve Bertman, WMU chemistry professor and an expert on atmospheric chemistry.

“The science is clear,” he added. “Greenhouse gas pollution harms our air, land and water.”

Bertman explained, “Ultimately, it will be the growing industries of alternative energy that will bring innovation and jobs back to Michigan. We should be doing everything we can to support these jobs of the future rather than upholding outdated technologies of the past.”

Scientists have the responsibility to speak up this issue, said Sarah Green, chair of the chemistry department at Michigan Technological University.

“As Congress begins the debate on the Clean Air Act, it is vital that they hear from scientists,” she said.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center and an adjunct environmental law professor at the University of Michigan, praised the EPA for his long-time role in protecting public health and fighting pollution.

“Michigan scientists fully support the EPA’s setting sensible clean air standards to reduce greenhouse gases and other pollution that harm our health,” Learner said. “Congress should work to reduce pollution, not open the floodgates to more toxic pollution that puts Michigan’s future and our health at risk.”

The Michigan scientists also emphasized social costs of pollution that add to the country’s healthcare costs. Tens of thousands of jobs in the “green energy” sector could be created with effective enforcement of Clean Air Act rules, they pointed out. In addition to the protection public health, reductions in oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers billions, the scientists indicated.

Scientists and researchers from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University, Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University, and Hope College, Kalamazoo College and Calvin College, as well as scientists with other institutions doing research in Michigan added their names to the letter.

In related news, a recent statewide poll showed more than two-thirds of Michigan voters support the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA estimates that full enforcement of the Clean Air Act, including for greenhouse gas emissions, will save $2 trillion in the next decade and prevent more than 200,000 each year.




Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).