Michigan House Freshman Sees Manufacturing, Sustainability Nexus

July 19, 2019, 10:30 AM

Manufacturing and environmental sustainability should go hand in hand, Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) says.

As a freshman House member for the suburbs west and northwest of Detroit, the U.S. automotive capital, and as an ex-manufacturing policy worker, Stevens wants growth in manufacturing and technology. But she said the industry must flourish in an environmentally friendly way.

“What’s apparent to me is that we can have sustainability as well as high-performing advanced manufacturing,” she said.

The answer to balancing manufacturing and sustainability might lie in remanufacturing, or the creation of products using a combination of reused, repaired and new parts, Stevens said. Though she said the practice is growing in the aerospace, automotive, electronics, and furniture industries, many untapped opportunities remain.

“I’ve gone and met with many companies throughout southeastern Michigan that have implemented these practices, not because of any government incentive, but because it was a good practice for them to adopt and it made a lot of sense,” she said.

Solar and wind companies are among the industries for which Stevens has advocated. She helped put together a letter to the chairman of the House’s main tax writing committee in April seeking to extend expiring tax credits for those industries that more than 100 Democrats signed.

Recycling Efforts

Stevens, 36, isn’t among the cosponsors of the Green New Deal (H.Res. 109) that many progressive Democrats endorse. She said the ambitious climate change blueprint is a work in progress and more pragmatic solutions are needed.

But she’s been active on environmental issues, including recycling. As chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s research and technology panel, Stevens convened an April hearing on emerging technologies in plastics recycling.

“We’re seeing record amounts of plastic in our water system, including the Great Lakes, because we don’t have the capacity to process the volumes of waste we are creating,” she said at the hearing.

Stevens and Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) added an amendment in June to the fiscal 2020 spending package (H.R. 3055) that would instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to prioritize funding to develop a national recycling strategy.

That effort came after she wrote the EPA in April asking for stronger U.S. leadership on recycling. Since China stopped accepting recyclable material from the U.S., “we have found ourselves in an untenable conundrum” caused by poor leadership, Stevens said.

Barry Breen, acting assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, responded to Stevens’ letter in June, saying the agency was working on several initiatives related to recycling and will publish national recycling data from 2016 and 2017 this fall.

“In part, I was encouraged that they recognized the problem and connected me to one of the officials in their office who is overseeing some of the recycling initiatives,” she said. “What I was not satisfied with is that this agency just thinks everything is fine.”

Protection from PFAS

Like other lawmakers from Great Lakes states, Stevens is also concerned with water contamination. Michigan has more sites of contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, than any other state, and several of those sites fall in Stevens’ district.

The chemicals, commonly found in nonstick materials and firefighting foam, don’t break down in the environment and may cause adverse health effects, including developmental harm to fetuses, testicular and kidney cancer, liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid effects, and changes in cholesterol, according to the EPA.

As a member of the congressional PFAS Task Force, she introduced a bill (H.R. 2605) in May that would have the EPA add PFAS chemicals to the list of hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Stevens is “really on the front lines of what we think is a nationwide crisis that other people aren’t necessarily tuned into yet,” said Madeleine Foote, deputy legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters.

But in Stevens’ district not everyone is as positive about her work. The Oakland County Republican Party doesn’t feel she’s put forth enough concrete solutions to the district’s problems, said party chairman Rocky Raczkowski.

“It’s great to sound like an environmentalist, but not all people that sound like they’re environmentalists are doing great work,” he said.

Early Life

Stevens grew up in southeast Michigan before leaving to attend college at American University in Washington. After graduating, she worked on the Obama campaign and then in the administration, eventually being selected as the chief of staff for the administration’s initiative to prevent two major automakers from going bankrupt.

Most recently, she worked in an advanced manufacturing research lab in Chicago before moving back to Michigan in 2017. She remembers thinking the area needed an economic champion after Republican Rep. Dave Trott announced his retirement.

“I thought ‘Hey, I stood up for Michigan then [during the auto bailout] and I want to do that now,” she said.

She beat four challengers in the 2018 Democratic primary, then took nearly 52% of the vote against Republican Lena Epstein and two other candidates.

Prior to Stevens’ election, Michigan’s 11th District had been represented by Republicans almost exclusively since 2003, save for the six-week term of Democrat David Curson, who won a special election in 2012.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, has included Stevens on a list of 55 targets where the GOP sees “prime pickup opportunities.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Maya Goldman in Washington at mgoldman@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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