Thursday, November 27, 2014

State Rep. Scott Dianda notes concerns about clean energy, road improvement, public transit, more ...

By Michele Bourdieu

After a recent interview with Keweenaw Now, Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), 110th District state representative, right, chats with two local residents, Jack Korri, left, of Calumet, and Mark Korpela of Hancock in the Kaleva Café in Hancock. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), 110th District state representative, is concerned about alternative, cleaner energy and also about roads and public transit -- especially in the context of what will benefit his constituents in seven Upper Peninsula counties. He recently discussed several issues under these topics in an interview with Keweenaw Now.

Coalition needed for building renewable energy future

Dianda recently joined with Republican colleagues in the Michigan House in proposing a bipartisan legislative package of energy bills targeting sector growth, job creation, new investments, lower energy costs and environmental protection. Rob VerHeulen (R-Walker) and Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) joined Dianda in proposing bills intended to start a discussion about Michigan’s energy future.

"I’m pleased that my colleagues in the House are taking a forward-looking approach to Michigan’s energy challenges," said Dianda. "Between woody biomass, wind, solar and geothermal, we have the opportunity to make cheap, renewable energy right here at home. Our consumers in the U.P. are facing job-killing energy rate increases. We need to encourage investment in energy generation and empower people to produce their own power. It’s the future."

Since Democrats are in the minority in both the Michigan Senate and the House, Dianda said, he believes a partnership with Republicans is necessary and he is glad to work across party lines to get renewable energy legislation passed.

"We have to build a coalition to improve our energy future with renewables," he noted.

Dianda said residents in his district -- which ranges from Gogebic County in the west to parts of Marquette County (Ishpeming and Powell townships) -- cannot afford to pay more for electricity than they are already paying, especially during the cold U.P. winters.

"We are going to have to have more electricity for our furnaces and -- for those who heat with wood -- for the fans to move the air around," he noted. "A lot of my residents use electric blankets and heating pads because they don't have much heat in the house."

Michigan State Rep. Scott Dianda introduces himself to Kaleva Café customers Bob Lean, left, of Bootjack, a former UPPCO (Upper Peninsula Power Company) employee, and his grandson, Bobby Lean, of Hibbing, Minn.

Dianda's bill, HB 5968, introduced on Nov. 13, 2014, would establish clean energy targets for each Michigan utility, he said. Dianda envisions Michigan's coal power plants, by switching to bio-fuel, reaching a goal of 15 percent renewable energy by 2019 and 19 percent by 2022, with additional increments of 4.5 percent every three years until they reach 100 percent.

"We need some of the bigger producers to come and help us in the U.P. with an incentive program for investment," Dianda added.

If forest waste products in the U.P. were used for bio-mass, local energy production could be increased from the current 10 percent renewables to 30 percent, Dianda said. He also suggests using some sort of organic waste, e.g. food waste, to return nutrients to the soil after these forest products are removed.

Dianda's bill also includes wind energy -- creating a wind energy resource zone board and providing for its power and duties and authorizing the creation and implementation of wind energy resource zones.*

Dianda told Keweenaw Now he is in favor of using geothermal energy from water in the local mines (as has been proposed recently and is presently being used at the Keweenaw Research Center).**

"We could never re-create the caverns of warm water that we have under these communities," Dianda said. "They're created by the mining industry, and we're left with the by-product."

With the resources at Michigan Tech and the Keweenaw Research Center, there must be a way we can tap into these old mines that have an abundance of warmer water -- for district heating, Dianda noted.

Dianda said he is also aware of and supportive of the HEET (Houghton Energy Efficiency Team) and their recent efforts and application for a Georgetown prize of $5 million to support their energy efficiency plan.

State Senate bill would raise gas tax for Michigan road improvement

Dianda has expressed concern about a recent Senate bill to add a 41-cent per gallon tax on gasoline in order to fund road repairs in Michigan.

"We've got people right now having a hard time paying their heating bills and putting food on the table," Dianda said. "It's going to be a very big tax burden on people up here who can least afford it. And out of the $1.2 billion that they want to raise, how much money is going to come to our seven counties and what is it going to do to help our local county road commissions?"

He noted, for example, that the funds would not be designated for snow removal.

In an open letter released this week, Dianda called on Governor Snyder to make the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) a more cost-efficient organization. The lawmaker warned that he would not vote for a gas tax increase on his constituents unless he felt that MDOT was making the wisest use of its current budget.

"In the U.P., we are seeing that MDOT maintains a fleet of state planes for its employees to use, but the department won’t keep our main streets clear of snow and ice during a storm," Dianda said. "There is something very wrong with that picture."

Dianda is concerned that even with the proposed gas tax increases, municipal governments in his district still would not get the service they need to function properly unless the state cuts back. In his letter, Dianda outlines several steps the governor could take to curb costs at MDOT, including a smarter system for awarding state contracts and making sure that MDOT employees use videoconferencing technology whenever possible to avoid travel expenses.

"We have a sacred trust to guard the resources of the people and to spend their money as we would our own. My constituents are very concerned about how a gas tax increase is going to impact their daily lives and ability to commute to work," Dianda noted. "We need to fix Michigan’s roads and maintain them during the winter. Our counties and townships have been asked to do more with less. I understand that," he added. "But I will not vote to make it more costly for folks to get to work unless I know I have done everything I can, and the governor is doing everything he can, to make the Michigan Department of Transportation a leaner, meaner organization."

Dianda formerly worked for MDOT and he is now on the House Transportation Committee.

Need for public transit in rural areas

Asked about future possibilities for improving public transportation in the U.P., Dianda told Keweenaw Now lawmakers have talked about public transit in committee, but funding is lacking.

"The way the funding situation is, I'm just glad we have what we have," Dianda said. "I'd like to see it improved for all of our counties up here."

He agreed that Hancock and Houghton public transit could be improved with evening and weekend hours -- to benefit both senior citizens who don't drive and young people who have to work part-time jobs.

Dianda said he fears most of the funding might go for road expansion in more populated metropolitan areas rather than improvement of existing roads and needed public transportation in the seven counties he represents.

"If we spend $1.2 billion is the quality of transportation life in the U.P. going to get better? That's my question," Dianda said.

Mining trucks through Marquette add high carbon footprint

Since Dianda's constituency includes parts of Marquette County, he also expressed concern about the truck transport from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill, now that the mine is in production.

"The truck traffic from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill has to take an out-of-the-way route through the Northern Michigan University campus -- Wright Street to U.S. 41 and west to Humboldt," Dianda said. "This is a large carbon footprint -- trucks having to do extra mileage."

Dianda noted the mining company should have put in an elevated railroad with lighter loads in order to have less impact than truck traffic.

Dianda's Bill naming bridge for veterans approved in House

The Michigan House recently approved unanimously Dianda's Bill 5715, which names a bridge in Ontonagon County the "Ontonagon County Veterans Memorial Bridge."

“Our brave veterans deserve our support and recognition for their courage and willingness to leave their families to serve," Dianda said. "I am proud to sponsor this bill to show them our appreciation."

HB 5715 was introduced in July following a recommendation from the Ontonagon County Veterans’ Association, which has been in operation for 10 years. The bridge is located on Highway M-64 over the Ontonagon River in Ontonagon Township.

"I thank my House colleagues for joining me to honor our veterans and approving my bill," said Dianda. "I hope that my Senate colleagues will give their approval so we can see this bill signed into law before session ends in December."

To learn more about State Rep. Scott Dianda or to contact him, visit his Web site.


* Click here to read Dianda's proposed HB 5968.

** See the guest article by Laura Smyth, "Minewater Geothermal on the Keweenaw Peninsula."  A Green Lecture on this subject was also held in Houghton on Nov. 20, 2014. Watch for more on this issue, coming soon.

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