A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

By: The Associated Press
March 21, 2016 Updated: March 21, 2016 at 8:01 am
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The Detroit News. Mar. 15, 2016

Keep moving on cyber security.

Michigan has a unique opportunity to be a leader in cyber security. As the automotive industry continues to develop driverless cars, and as regulators develop a highway infrastructure to carry them, the state's business community can be out front in research and development to meet the growing threat of cyber attacks.

Despite other pressing issues the state is dealing with, cyber security must remain a priority for lawmakers and for the private sector. If autonomous vehicles are going to take hold with the public, the issue of hacking must be resolved. A congressional hearing addressed this Tuesday, and the issue will become a key component of the evolution of driverless vehicles.

In addition, that's what the Detroit Regional Chamber and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce together focused on at an event last week in Detroit.

"With the emergence of connected and driverless vehicle technology, no place in the country has the potential to be affected by cyber security as much as Michigan," said Tammy Carnrike, chief operating officer of the regional chamber. "Innovations in cyber security will protect Michigan's economy while offering opportunity to grow another dynamic industry in our region."

As Detroit battles Silicon Valley to keep the brains of driverless cars here, developing enhanced cyber defenses is critical. The hacking of a Jeep Cherokee last year by technology researchers unveiled just how fragile vehicle systems connected to and dependent on the Internet can be. FCA US had to recall almost one and a half million Jeeps for the technological flaw, which allowed the researchers to gain control of actual functions of the vehicles, including the engine, brakes and steering.

The threat will increase once drivers are completely hands-off in their cars and relying on external systems to drive them on crowded, busy highways. General Motors Co. earlier this year began a program that welcomes hackers to look for cyber vulnerabilities in its vehicles, websites and software, as long as they agree to certain guidelines that protect customers, keep the vulnerabilities between themselves and the company and don't break any laws. Tesla Motors Inc. actually pays researchers to find soft spots before outside hackers do.

Cyber security provides a perfect avenue for public-private partnerships, and Detroit's Big Three should seize the moment to work with federal regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on developing the new regulatory environment. The industry already pledged during this year's North American International Auto Show to work collaboratively with each other and the government on enhancing automotive cyber security.

The state of Michigan, too, has played a leading role in developing advanced IT and cyber security defenses within the state's open data portal. The state deals with about two million individual attacks every day.

Gov. Rick Snyder and his technology team developed a Cyber Disruption Response Plan to aid the state response in case of attacks as well as the Michigan Cyber Initiative, which discusses public-private efforts and how Michigan will continue to lead on this issue.

Stopping cyber threats saves money — the global impact of cyber crime is more than $375 billion annually — and protects citizens' data and identity. Michigan and its most important industry should commit to leading on cyber security, particularly in the transportation segment.___

The Port Huron Times Herald. Mar. 17, 2016

Feds re-open comment period for river pipeline.

Responding to pressure from Congress and from Michigan officials and residents, the U.S. State Department has re-opened the public comment period on Plains LPG Services' permits to pump petroleum products under the St. Clair and Detroit rivers to Canada.

The first public comment opened in January and closed in February without anyone noticing.

Soon after, though, the permit got everyone's attention when it appeared that Plains LPG was planning to pump crude oil through a pair of century-old pipelines connecting Marysville and Sarnia. The 8-inch pipelines were laid in 1918 and at some point — no one is quite sure when — they were reinforced with 5-inch liners.

At the peak of the uproar over pumping crude oil beneath the St. Clair River through ancient pipes of murky provenance, Plains LPG tried to explain that the permit application wasn't what it seemed. The company said, truthfully, that it was just clearing up the red tape involved in transferring the pipelines from one owner to another. But it also said that it would never use the two century-old pipelines to transfer crude oil. It wasn't even sure it would used them for liquified gases.

That's half the reason the State Department has re-opened the public comment period. The first reason is that most of the elected officials in Michigan, and probably quite a few downstream as well, demanded that the public get the opportunity to explain that using those pipes would be playing Russian roulette with half the Great Lakes.

The second reason is that Plains LPG's permit does appear to be asking for permission to do what the Houston company has since denied.

In a letter to Rep. Debbie Dingell, the state department says, "After the new permits were issued, Plains provided new information that alters the Department's understanding of the historic authorization for two of the six St. Clair pipelines."

Plains LPG had permission to use the pipelines as Dome Petroleum Corp., the previous owner, had used them: "The 1918 Presidential Permit had authorized the transport of crude oil."

That's a bad idea.

If you agree, you have 30 days to leave a comment on Plains LPG's permit application. To make a comment on the permit, go to www.regulations.gov.___

Detroit Free Press. Mar. 10, 2016

State workers flouted FOIA in Flint e-mails.

It's an ongoing, low-key outrage that the state Legislature and the office of Gov. Rick Snyder are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

But it's brazen and infuriating that some state employees, in agencies that are required to make records public, attempted to flout the already weak legal requirement with childish, deceptive tactics.

Government workers, going about the people's business, create documents on taxpayer-paid devices, on the public's dime. Such records should be available to the public. And that's what FOIA, passed at the federal level in 1966 and in Michigan in 1976, does — ensures that any member of the public can ask for, and receive, e-mails or reports or notes related to the people's business. It's an important part of keeping government accountable, both practically and symbolically. In a practical sense, citizens can literally check in on what government is doing, an oversight spot-check. And symbolically, it's a reflection of American ownership of the governments that serve us — at our nation's founding, a notion that turned the traditional hierarchical concept of government on its head.

Most recently, FOIA has been critical in tracing the roots of blame, cause and effect in the Flint water crisis; Flint residents were exposed to lead in the city's drinking water after the city, under the oversight of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched its water supply and then failed to properly treat the drinking water it pumped from the Flint River — with the approval of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Michigan is one of just two states in the country where the governor and the Legislature hold such a FOIA exemption.

But the MDEQ is subject to the act, which makes the dodge some state workers employed both pathetic and despicable.

Some MDEQ employees seem to believe that writing "preliminary and deliberative," ''not subject to FOIA" or "confidential, attorney client privilege" on an e-mail or report is an effective strategy to dodge the legal requirement to make the public's business, well, public.

We're tempted to follow the MDEQ's lead, inscribing "We're always right" on the editorials we print in the Free Press. Think that'll work?

No, we didn't think so, either.

Because, dear MDEQ, wishing does not make it so. While the law does describe some circumstances in which records aren't subject to FOIA, an e-mail sent from one state worker to another — neither of whom is an attorney — cannot, by definition, be attorney-client privileged. And a state record that is, by law, subject to FOIA isn't altered because you've written "not subject to FOIA" on it, no matter how badly the e-mail in question reflects upon the writer or the agency.

But such writing might confuse — or allow reasonable cover — to an office worker or FOIA coordinator culling thousands of records looking for those subject to the act.

Jarrod Agen, Snyder's chief of staff, told Free Press reporter Paul Egan that some workers may be confused about how FOIA works, and that the governor is considering changes to the exemption — but wants to preserve state employees' ability to confer frankly about matters of public policy.

Hogwash.

The governor's office has opted to release hundreds of thousands of e-mails related to the Flint water crisis. And that's a start. But the voluntary release doesn't mean we don't need to fix FOIA. Those e-mails were released at the governor's discretion. That's not the kind of transparency and accountability Michiganders require.

Bills eliminating exemptions for the governor and the Legislature are expected to hit Lansing this month. They must pass.

It's time to close this loophole.___

Lansing State Journal. Mar. 17, 2016

Lansing marijuana industry overgrown.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is considering a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries in light of a strongly-worded call to action from business leaders.

This is a good move, although one to cause certain strife between government and dispensary owners.

Halting a growing industry rarely is a desired course of action for a city or region. Blocked progress and slowed momentum are significant issues in business development.

However, concerns with the medical marijuana industry are valid and must be addressed.

Plagued by a lack of regulation and slow-moving discussion, entrepreneurial types have taken it upon themselves to proliferate to the point of more than 60 provisioning centers and dispensaries in the city of Lansing alone.

More than 30 businesses applied for licenses in 2015; they were turned down as a violation of state law.

And yet the industry continues to grow.

Concerns raised by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce should be of concern to us all: safe access for patients, quality assurance, strong enforcement, zoning, the application process, testing of products and appropriate fees.

These are regulations most other businesses operate under; why not medical marijuana dispensaries?

Michigan legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 2008. In 2011, City Council passed an ordinance to regulate the industry in Lansing. Yet there is still no licensing or regulatory process.

This issue must be addressed on two fronts. First, licensing and regulations must be enacted and enforced to ensure all business owners have an equal chance to grow within the industry.

Second, broad-impact guidelines need to take into account a threshold for the number of dispensaries and how this growing area reflects on the city's reputation.

Bernero should urge the City Council to place a moratorium on new businesses, and then institute a swift plan to bring this growing industry out of limbo in a way that benefits consumers, businesses and the region.

It has been eight years since voters in Michigan approved the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

It has been five years since an ordinance to regulate dispensaries passed in Lansing.

It's high time to bring this issue to the top of the agenda and make a plan.

Without it, the Lansing weed industry will continue to be overgrown.___

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