DTE, business groups back ballot proposal to direct mining royalties to state parks

DTE, business groups back ballot proposal to direct mining royalties to state parks

DTE Energy has joined a coalition of business, outdoor recreation and environmental advocates in supporting a proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot to ensure royalties from oil and gas exploration in Michigan go into the state’s trust fund for preserving natural resources.

The ballot proposal, combined with three new laws tied to its passage, would broaden the use of royalties that gas and oil mining companies pay the state for extracting minerals on state-owned land and earmark them for improving state recreational land and parks.

The proposed constitutional amendment would lift a $500 million cap on Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and create a $800 million cap for the Michigan State Parks Endowment Fund, which has about $300 million in funds earmarked for capital improvements at state parks.

Under the proposal, once the State Parks Endowment Fund is fully funded, all new royalties from gas and oil exploration on state-owned land would go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund. The constitutional amendment creates a new earmark for the royalties so they can’t end up in the state’s general fund.

“What we want to do is make sure it continues in perpetuity,” said Bill Zehnder, president of the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn restaurant in Frankenmuth.

Zehnder’s family-run business is part of the “Vote Yes for MI Water, Wildlife and Parks” campaign coalition, which also is backed by DTE, the Michigan Oil & Gas Association, the Midland Business Alliance, the Michigan Forest Products Council and the Lake County Economic Development Alliance.

At the end of 2018, the Michigan Legislature passed a joint resolution placing the proposal on the 2020 ballot.

Since 1976, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has been used for the acquisition of publicly owned recreation land. The fund has been at its cap since 2011, with new revenue spilling over into a fund that supports the state parks.

Projections show the State Parks Endowment Fund won’t reach the $800 million cap for 30 years, according to a December 2018 memo from the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources uses the State Park Endowment Fund to pay for construction and capital expenses for facilities at campgrounds and parks, construction and maintenance of trails, parks and boat launches at state parks and recreational areas.

“The money is coming from the natural resources of the state, let’s put the money back into the natural resources of the state,” Zehnder told Crain’s. “Especially now with this pandemic that we’re dealing with, nature is a healing element. It cleanses the soul and it clears your head out – and it’s good for us.

The ballot proposal is backed by a broad coalition of state and national environmental groups, including the Detroit Greenways Coalition, the Huron River Watershed Council, the Michigan Environmental Council, the National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Anglers of the Au Sable.

“Passing this ballot measure is not only important for our water, wildlife and parks, but also for our local economy,” Renze Hoeksema, vice president of government affairs for DTE Energy, said in a statement. “From tourism to construction to hospitality, key sectors of our local economy benefit from the work of the MNRTF in maintaining and protecting our outdoor spaces. Voting yes on this ballot measure will benefit Michiganders across the state — improving our quality of life and strengthening our economy.”

The Ann Arbor-based Michigan Environmental Council donated more than $201,000 to the ballot campaign in April and provided another $201,000 in indirect contributions through staff support for the campaign, state campaign finance records show.

The Nature Conservancy has poured $511,000 into the campaign through the end of June, according to campaign finance records.

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