Last Tuesday, the MPP Speaker Series featured James Clift, Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council. The MEC is a nonpartisan coalition of organizations that have an interest in influencing environmental policy in Michigan. Its members are diverse and represent a broad range of groups and associations.
Mr. Clift has spent 18 years at the MEC and has also worked as a lawyer, university instructor, and as a policy director at the Michigan Senate. He originally studied Business Administration and later graduated from Wayne State University with a law degree. His career illustrates the many different paths that lead individuals to policy work.
Among other activities, the MEC and Clift educate legislators about environmental and energy policy issues. They also keep track of passed legislation and administrative rules to ensure that they are being implemented as intended.
As Clift explained, the Michigan Environmental Council has cultivated a reputation for pragmatism, nonpartisanship, and solution-oriented work. He emphasized to students the value of building relationships with many people, particularly across party lines.
Earlier in the day, for example, Clift had given a presentation on energy issues to the Michigan House Energy Committee. Activities like this are an important of the MEC’s work. Clift noted that policymakers and others involved in industry and political decisions come from a variety of backgrounds. As a result, he explained, it is important to be able to listen to different perspectives and understand how they think about issues.
The energy industry is changing rapidly and involves many challenges as well as opportunities. As Policy Director, Clift makes it a priority to emphasize shared goals to his audience.
Three of the MEC’s major interests are protecting ratepayers, environmental protection, and securing a strong energy economy. Clift sees renewable energy as a way to both achieve environmental health and reduce costs to Michigan’s citizens. He explained that new technology, like advanced meters, can give more control to consumers while also benefiting the company and the state as a whole. This proposal involves a range of policy matters that MPP students have studied, including economic practices, policy trade-offs, and program evaluation.
Clift pointed to waste reduction as another way to reduce harm to the environment. He described how those working in any policy field may need to wait for the right political timing and work on getting public support in order to have their ideas heard. Given their limited resources, he said, organizations must choose what to spend their time on carefully. At times, it may be easier to try to do things through the executive branch administratively under current law than trying to get new policy adopted by the legislature.
He also noted that in Michigan it is very beneficial to relate issues to the health of the Great Lakes given their near universal importance and the concern the public and legislators have with preserving them.
Clift’s presentation was an interesting look at how those working with legislators can approach their work both at the Capitol and around the state. His expertise in this area gave the students valuable information about the workings of the energy and environmental policy fields.
The Michigan Environmental Council offers internships throughout the year. Interested students should visit their website at http://www.environmentalcouncil.org/.