Kids and farmers are at the heart of a clean air crusade in rural Michigan

Michiganders with one of Pellston School District's new electric school buses. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

By Lucas Henkel

May 28, 2024

A motley crew of Michiganders is behind the latest efforts to improve air quality across the state.

Back in 2012, Elizabeth Hauptman’s son began to show signs of asthma. He was just a toddler at the time, and Hauptman said watching him struggle to breathe would leave her feeling helpless.

“It’s one of those things I can’t buy,” said the Brighton mom. “I can buy safe food, I can make the right decisions, but I have to petition my legislative leaders, the EPA, and others to enforce a livable and more desirable planet for our kids.”

For years now, Hauptman’s been a champion for clean air in Michigan, starting as a volunteer for the Moms Clean Air Force—a group of more than 35,000 parents in the Mitten and 1.5 million across the country who care about cleaner air and a stable climate for their children’s health and future.

“I look forward to the day where in Michigan we no longer have failing air quality grades, and when I don’t have to worry about carrying an inhaler on me or reading a weather report to see if it’s safe for my son to play outside,” Hauptman said.

No matter where they are in Michigan, families are feeling the effects of environmental hazards. Studies have shown that rural communities—often considered the gold standard for fresh air—tend to lack the infrastructure needed to protect air quality, suffer from being downwind of their more urban neighbors, and have unregulated contaminants lingering from old industrial and manufacturing sites.

Hauptman said she’s shared how the negative effects of air pollution have impacted her family’s health with lawmakers at every level of government and on both sides of the political aisle. She even testified before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, DC last year about how air pollution put her son—and even her niece—into the emergency room.

The issue isn’t lost on lawmakers trying to preserve and strengthen Michigan’s historically beloved environmental resources. Their work to clean up pollution and stop the degradation of our state’s changing climate is raising hope for many, including a critical group of rural leaders—the state’s farmers.

“I hear regularly from farmers who are concerned about the impact that changing climate has on their ability to sustain their farms and our food supply,” said Michigan mom and State Representative Julie Brixie (D-Okemos), who also serves as the House Rural Development Appropriation Subcommittee Chair, during a recent press conference in Lansing.

Brixie and other Democratic legislators are working with the federal government to develop opportunities that will maintain Michigan’s traditional footholds in the auto and energy industries, while creating a cleaner environmental future.

Take, for example, the Michigan Solar for All program, which will provide rooftop solar energy to thousands of low-income households across the state using federal Inflation Reduction Act dollars. Another example: Electric buses in a number of public school districts.

Located less than 30 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge, the rural town of Pellston was one of those districts that received funding through the EPA’s Clean School Bus Grants—which is in itself a branch of President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Pellston School District was awarded $1.6 million for the new electric buses and was able to replace almost its entire school bus fleet with the new electric models.

Hauptman said switching to electric school buses is a huge win for Michigan students, especially when it comes to their health.

“It gives me great hope,” she said. “We are taking some of this dangerous carbon out of the air and we’re making it safer for our kids.”

READ MORE: Report: Michiganders are saving thousands on EVs thanks to Inflation Reduction Act

Author

  • Lucas Henkel

    Lucas Henkel is a multimedia reporter who strives to inform and inspire local communities. Before joining The 'Gander, Lucas served as a journalist for the Lansing City Pulse.

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