CHELSEA FABER
STAFF WRITER

On Thursday Nov. 7, Alma College in cooperation with the Michigan Environmental Council, the Cranbrook Institute and other sponsors will host the first annual Rural Michigan Initiative. The conference will bring together lawmakers, policy experts and interested community members.

This forum will include scientific presentations, as well as scheduled speakers. Keynote speakers will include; Collin O’Mara, CEO/president of the National Wildlife Federation, along with renowned environmental author John Ikerd.

Other experts in this field who are slated to present range from Alma College Faculty, Policy Advisors from the office of Governor Whitmer, Non-profit Directors as well as various well qualified individuals.

Allowing industry experts, community members, and lawmakers to have a platform to engage in productive conversation was something that has been noticeably absent from many policy decisions in the past. “Without these people working together you see policies based off of a desire for money or a desire to make life easier to make money instead for the foundation of humanity,” said Camera Stevens (’21).

Presentations and panel discussions will be held in the Wright Leppien Opera House, showcasing and utilizing the newest space on Alma College’s Campus. A majority of the events planned will be held in the second floor Zimmerman Hall, a space designed for events of this capacity.

The conference will focus on the “contribution of clean water to the health and economy of the Great Lakes” according to the website description. Experts from various fields within this overall topic will join together to address the dangers that face rural areas and water quality in the state of Michigan.

Topics addressed will include local issues, health impacts, economic development and the future of rural Michigan. These sessions will range from presentations to panel discussions.

Considering the location of the conference, it is appropriate to hold something of this capacity in Gratiot County, as the area has seen its fair share of environmental issues, namely three US EPA Superfund sites, as well as a fish consumption ban in the Pine River. “It is important to get the response from people who are directly exposed and hurt by wrong doings,” said Stevens.

Overall, the conference aims to encourage citizens and policy makers to promote ecological health in the Great Lakes region and to restore economic stability to rural communities. “We need these people who have the background, the research, the ability to support a policy and lay the foundation for the policy,” said Stevens.

By connecting community concerns, as well as scientific evidence, lawmakers can become informed in a cooperative environment about environmental threats to the state’s most precious waterways.

A focus on promoting positive change through productive policy measures will be present at the conference. At the end of the day, a white paper will be developed to outline legislative priorities for the coming year. There is a plan to host another conference in 2020 that will reflect on progress postRMI and outline areas of concern for the next year.

Students wishing to lessen their environmental impact or have influence on green policy are encouraged to become involved in events promoting environmental awareness. “Start making small changes in your life, be active in your community, support those making change, join environmental groups, do small things to boost our life,” said Stevens.