Thank you for this opportunity to present my concerns before the Joint Review Panel today. What I intend to present is a compelling case that Ontario Power Generation's proposal to permanently bury the equivalent of about 53 million gallons of radioactive waste on the shore of Lake Huron is contrary to sound public policy and breeches the fiduciary responsibility that we are all obliged to carry out as policy makers within the Great Lakes basin.
There are four distinct points that I want to make today and they are as follows:
1. All power of government is vested in the people.
2. Both the Michigan and the US Constitution transfers that power to the legislature to speak and act on behalf of the people.
3. The Michigan legislature has acted in that fiduciary capacity to ban activities that threaten our lakes such as slant drilling beneath the lakes and the location of nuclear waste dumps that may threaten critical natural resource areas.
4. Canada and Ontario policymakers should and must act in a similar capacity on behalf of its people and all people in the basin.
When I took office nine years ago, I made a pledge to uphold both our nation's Constitution and our state's Constitution. Article IV, sections 51 and 52 of the Michigan Constitution charges me directly with protecting both public health and the natural resources of this state. I am bound by that pledge and that is precisely why I am here today. The people of our state have entrusted me with this incredible responsibility to carry out their will and there is no doubt where their will rests on this issue.
Residents of my district and of our state have told me that they overwhelmingly oppose this proposed facility and after observing some of the previous efforts to raise awareness and caution, I was convinced that a more deliberative and studied plan needed to be developed to do what we can do to challenge the construction of a facility that though situated in Canada, truly poses significant risks to the welfare of the entire region.
The Michigan Senate has passed a package of legislation that is designed to elevate the debate over this facility to a new level-a debate which I believe will expose the flawed basic premise of this plan-that it is safe to put a long term radioactive waste disposal facility squarely on the shores of the Great Lakes.
The resolutions seek intervention by the International Joint Commission and the Great Lakes Commission; two bodies of policy makers that understand the value of protecting the Great Lakes and have been asked to study other risks facing our lakes such as water diversions and invasive species. The call for intervention by the International Joint Commission is especially relevant because they have the authority to issue binding decisions that could impact the future of this facility. It is my hope that both the IJC and the GLC will study the proposal in the broadest sense and further inform the process that has been followed in Canada.
SB 948 explicitly prohibit importation of low level radioactive waste and completely ban the long term disposal of all sources of Class C radioactive waste-because of my firm belief that long term nuclear waste disposal simply does not belong in Michigan or in the basin. The bill also creates the Great Lakes Protection Radioactive Waste Advisory Board to study the impacts of such a facility on natural resources, public health, archaeological, cultural and historical resources in the Great Lakes basin.
There are already tangible results from this legislative plan that will help to draw additional scrutiny to the OPG proposal as the Great Lakes Commission has publicly agreed to study and take a formal position on the proposal. I will continue to pursue IJC intervention and push for prompt enactment of SB 948 so that we can have another level of review of this proposal with the advisory board created in the legislation.
There are good reasons why this issue needs a multi-layered review and one of the purposes of my appearance before the JRP is to recount historical lessons of why the people's will is so critical when it comes to protecting our shared Great Lakes.
Some years ago, under former Governor John Engler, Michigan policymakers were considering the use of slant drilling to access natural gas reserves beneath the basin. The Governor's Science Board had studied the proposal much like the OPG proposal has been vetted and concluded that the risks to the integrity of the basin were negligible and the practice could be safely commenced. But fears remained among the public that even with the greatest technology and the best laid plans, still some risk remained. It was a classic confrontation between advocates of science and the people who overwhelmingly sensed a risk that was simply not worth exposing our lakes. Drilling advocates relied on science and the process, while the citizens of this state relied on their overarching respect for avoiding any practice that might threaten our lakes. The Michigan Legislature acting in its fiduciary responsibility to carry out the will of the people voted squarely on behalf of the people to place a permanent ban on directional drilling beneath our Great Lakes.
Just prior to that debate, the Michigan legislature was faced with a similarly daunting responsibility to protect the Great Lakes and other critical resources when they were faced with the need to locate a low level radioactive waste disposal facility-a federal requirement imposed on Michigan when it was selected as a host state. The Michigan Legislature acting again on behalf of the will of the people implemented a rigid set of siting criteria that included a ten-mile "no build zone" within any of the Great Lakes shorelines. The resulting siting process was exhaustive and time consuming and expensive, and even though the scientists eventually concluded that a facility could have been constructed in Michigan, the legislature carried out the will of the people and stopped a facility from being constructed. The lesson again–our Great Lakes are special, unique resources that despite conclusions of our scientists simply cannot be exposed to any risk, no matter how minimal.
What then are we left with in this debate between science and the will of the people? Are we to always defer to the voting public and their will on key issues? Some complain that legislators need to lead the people on key issues and pass laws that though unpopular with the citizens in the short term will ultimately prove to be the right decision for the state and the nation. And there are certainly times when I will acknowledge that it is clear that the people may not have all the information to make the kind of decisions that I am in a position to make.
When faced with this question, I always open up the Constitution and remind myself that my ultimate responsibility rests with carrying out the will of the people. If it is not crystal clear to me that I know the right answer, despite all of my information and research, I have learned that it is the best choice-the only choice really-that we must respect the will of the people who have put us in office.
That will to me is crystal clear in this case-and again why I am here today-this proposal to permanently bury the equivalent of about 53 million gallons of radioactive waste on the shore of Lake Huron is contrary to sound public policy and breeches the fiduciary responsibility that we are all obliged to carry out as policy makers within the Great Lakes basin.