2016 Get Local Party

Jim Dulzo Reflects on 14 Years at Groundwork

January 2, 2017 | |

Dear y’all,

We’ve got quite a story today: my swan song! Yup, after 14 years here, I’ve retired. But the boss squeezed me for one more piece, so here’s my good-bye note …

(The boss also asked me to conduct an exit interview — with myself. And also for a list of my favorite, or most impactful, stories I’ve written for Groundwork. So I gave them a shot. You’ll find both after this letter.)

Most of all, I must thank Hans and the gang for allowing me to edit their work, publish their stories, collaborate on projects, write some myself, and work with such smart, dedicated peeps. It taught me a lot.

Especially about working with opponents I’d just as soon push into the Boardman River as talk to. Our always factual, measured, approach made this often hopping-mad hippy calm down and treat ’em respectfully. (Though a few could still use a cooling dip. 😉

Most exciting time? When we joined a coalition that brought Michigan’s crazy coal rush (i.e., plans to build eight new coal plants) to a screeching halt. To those who traveled with or supported us during those long, hard, distant hearings: Thanks! Your camaraderie was crucial when being anti-coal felt very lonely.

But after years of pushing for better bus service or sinking sprawl-spawning zoning or telling some utility that efficiency and clean energy could save the planet and their bottom line, and not always getting a whole lot back, it’s easy to get unexcited and forget that you’ve got a dream job. Sometimes it takes some distance to see that.

That happened to me when, this fall, I spent my final vacation rafting through Grand Canyon — a place very far away from Traverse City in so many ways. A few days in, fellow adventurer, Jared, asked me, “So, what do you do?”

I told him, “I work for a nonprofit that’s building a local farm and food economy, pushing for more walkable communities with good transit and biking, and promoting clean energy.”

“Wow! That is so cool!” Jared said, eyes wide. “Thank you so much for doing that!”

I got that reaction all trip long, and it reminded this slightly burned-out boy of just how lucky he was and, in fact, how lucky our region is, to have the Groundwork Center. Damn near everyone wants what we want, and there are many good reasons to keep pushing.

Here’s one: Young Jared himself and his lovely wife, Jasmine — newlyweds both on the rafting trip — who helped lead the successful (as of two days ago!) effort to stop construction of a coal terminal in Portland, Ore. Here are a few more: those folks in North Dakota (another success) and in Michigan (still in progress) working to stop new pipelines, and our Lansing allies who successfully challenged lawmakers’ well-monetized indifference to clean energy and helped get a decent energy reform bill to Gov. Snyder.

While working here, I often found myself teamed up with folks like these. What an honor and inspiration, and what a help when trying to keep your own head on straight!

This is why I’m OK with stepping down. So many younger, smarter, tougher hands are taking the wheel — all around the world. The media won’t report it, because it’s not sensationalist enough for their slick, utterly distracting affectations. But we do make progress every day. Don’t ever forget that. In fact, please do everything you can to help (as The Impressions would sing) “Keep on Pushin”.

All right … that’s all I got. And one mo’ time: THANKS for everything!

Jimzo OUT!

P.S. Geez, I almost forgot to provide a proper close:

We’ve now got some real, live winter in Beulah — a few promising ice cubes bumping up against Crystal Lake’s shore, six or seven inches of brightening snow, single-digit temps, bladed pickups scurrying everywhere, yours truly’s first Yooper Scooper workout of the season, cross country skis starting to buzz!

Jim Dulzo was our managing editor, and then our senior energy policy specialist, from November, 2002 until this October. He’d enjoy hearing from you via [email protected].

Jim Dulzo’s exit interview with himself.

Jimzo: So what got you onto this whole energy thing anyway?

Jimzo: I’m not sure, but it goes way back. I actually majored in nuclear engineering for a semester in college before it became painfully clear I was neither a nuclear nor a rocket scientist, nor was I gonna be. Forty years later it came to my attention that the local co-op power company had the bad taste to want to build a new coal plant in Rogers City, near our cottage. That definitely got my attention.

Jimzo: That was quite a battle over coal in Rogers City and Lansing. Got any memories to share?

Jimzo: Sure! There’s the one where I walked into the town’s high school gymnasium ready to testify against the coal plant at a state hearing and the first thing I saw was about 300 people sitting in the stands wearing WE SUPPORT THE WOLVERINE COAL PLANT t-shirts. I was very glad to be in the company of two great guys who were also great big guys — Tom Karas, a local contractor and founder of Michigan Energy Alternatives, and Lee Sprague, former Ogemaw of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and a Sierra Club representative. Not that I felt threatened … Rogers City folks were remarkably courteous throughout the entire three- or four-year ordeal, even though most probably despised what we and so many others were trying to do: Stop Michigan’s Coal Rush!

I also remember meeting a van in a parking lot at 5 a.m. on a subzero January morning to ride with folks to a Lansing hearing. We were shocked that so many people showed up, and stunned that the local news channel did, too! We were famous by the time we got back — they even pulled in some videotape from their Lansing affiliate for the TV report back in Traverse City.

Jimzo: Why did you want to work at what was then the Michigan Land Use Institute?

Jimzo: I got tipped in their direction by Lana Pollack (former director of the Michigan Environmental Council) when looking for a writing job after getting out of the music business. When I got hold of MLUI’s beautifully published report on local food, a seminal work by Patty Cantrell called “The New Entrepreneurial Agriculture”, I knew I had to work for those guys. Then, the very same day that I mailed off a resume to MLUI founder Keith Schneider, I ended up dining with him at a cross country ski lodge in Ontario — completely by accident. That’s when I knew I was supposed to work for those guys.

Jimzo: What do you think of the energy reform bill that Lansing just passed?

Jimzo: I’m shocked that they got it done; I’m in awe of the lobbying effort by our side, working against all odds and those moneybag utility monopolies; and I’m pleased that the bill will keep us moving forward in the Time of Trump. I’d like to send special shoutouts to James Clift and Sara Mullkoff of MEC, Kerry Ebersole and the whole gang at Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs for their tireless and brilliant work, and 5 Lakes Energy’s Douglas Jester for his amazing expertise. Big hugs to Larry Ward of the Michigan Conservative Energy Caucus and Keith den Hollander of the Christian Coalition of Michigan, too — two very conservative guys who stood up to their respective tribes with the facts, and got some of them to listen. I pray that facts will start to matter more in all walks of life.

Jimzo: What do you think of the 100 percent renewables goal that Traverse City just adopted?

Jimzo: Again, I’m kinda shocked. But I guess what it says, both in this instance and down in Lansing, is that people in power are starting to understand that renewable energy and energy efficiency really do work, really are cheaper, really do create a lot of new jobs, and really do protect the environment. You’d think it would be just that simple, but money twists everything these days, sometimes into unrecognizable shapes. So, my compliments to TC Mayor Jim Carruthers, a clean energy champ; to the council members who opened up their minds to the facts, too; and to those persistent activists around town who kept prodding them on it.

Now, I daresay, it’s Traverse City Light & Power’s turn to set an audacious goal and strive mightily to attain it, too. They need to do public meetings and find out exactly what people want from their power company. We all know the answer, but they apparently need to see it live, in the flesh, and particularly from the business folks, who are such a large part of their market. So, I say, “Come on, you guys. You’ll save money and be planetary heroes.”

Jimzo: Do you have a favorite memory from your 14 years at Groundwork?

Jimzo: This sounds funny, but it would have to be my retirement party (at executive director Hans Voss’ house). I had no idea there were that many people who liked me that much! I still smile when I think about it.

Jimzo: You were pretty excited at the party because you were headed to the Colorado River for a 14-day trip through Grand Canyon. How did that work out?

Jimzo: It was a profound, challenging, and joyful experience. Ask me over for dinner and I’ll show ya my pictures! Seriously, it was great to be so cut off from the racket that is our media and every day life. I’m relating to all that differently since I got back … re-entry was very difficult. The canyon really puts things in perspective, especially when you’re standing next to a rock that’s 1.7 billion years old. It helped me realize that humanity will either figure things out, or it won’t, but the canyon will be here, no matter. There are no guarantees; Earth is quite indifferent to us; and we best keep that in mind.

Jimzo: Are you optimistic?

Jimzo: Sure. I see so much good work going on in so many places—that was the true joy of this job, really: Knowing the vast community of really good people, of all sorts, who are  dedicated to protecting our environment from human nature and building a better world for everyone, not just people with lots of money.

Jim Dulzo’s greatest hits

Q&A: Ric Evans, Efficiency Pro, Seeks Reelection to GLE BOARD

Q&A: Peter Boogaart: On-bill financing key to Hollands home retrofits

OpEd Opinion: State Senate energy bills threaten many, starting with solar workers

Q&A: For What It’s Worth: Former Utility Exec Talks Value of Solar

News: McKibben Connects Straits Pipeline to Global Climate Fight

Soft Feature: Marty Lagina: Earth, Wind, and Wine

Q&A: How Grand Rapids’ Mayor Brought Sustainability to Town

Q&A: Rich Vander Veen’s Recipe for Windpower Success

About The Author

Jim Dulzo retired in October following 14 years at Groundwork, where he was managing editor, and then senior energy policy specialist. We’re grateful for his hard work, and wish him well in retirement.

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