Author: FLOW Editor

Reflecting on Earth Day 1970 in Michigan and the Origin of the State’s Environmental Movement

Above: Poster for the ENACT (Environmental Action for Survival) Earth Day Teach-In on the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor campus in March 1970.


“Man has so severely despoiled his natural environment that serious concern exists for his survival…What began as an idea and a desire to do something about saving our environment by a small study group has now mushroomed into an officially recognized organization with nearly 200 members.”

— From the newsletter of ENACT (ENvironmental ACTion for Survival), University of Michigan, Nov. 19-28, 1969

The public concern awakened in 1962 by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had deepened with news of the exploding world population and declining wildlife species like bald eagles, which plummeted to just 82 pairs in Michigan during the 1960s after DDT exposure thinned their eggshells. As pollution darkened skies and choked rivers, many new activists drew a link between environmental problems and threats to the survival of the human race. The new movement of environmentalists suddenly became a major force in Michigan during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Jane Elder, who worked for the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club in the 1970s, said, “I and many others of the new environmental movement came of political age during the closing scenes of Viet Nam and the crest of civil rights. We knew we could change the world, and saving the environment was part of that agenda. We saw a generation of activists stop a war. Our motivations were driven in part by collective vision and passion, not the inside game.”

The Pioneering Work of Joan Wolfe in Michigan

One of the most effective of the new advocates was a bird-lover, mother, and volunteer, Joan Wolfe of Rockford, north of Grand Rapids. Born in Detroit in 1929, Wolfe grew up in Highland Park with parents who contributed considerable time to community affairs. Her mother was president of the local hospital auxiliary and of the Girl Scout Council; her father was president of the Highland Park school board and of the state chapter of the American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers. By contrast, her husband Willard had no family tradition of community activism, but had become an active fly fisherman. In his childhood living on the Detroit River at Grosse Ile just before World War II, he had seen “tremendous weed growth” and stayed out of the polluted water, but hadn’t then made broader observations about the condition of the outdoors. He was delighted to find trout in the Rogue River, which wound through the Rockford area, when the Wolfes moved there in the late 1950s. But the same stream was also fouled by effluent from the Wolverine Tannery and a paper mill. “There was no outcry,” Will Wolfe said in 1999. “It was still too close to the Depression. The problem was too close to the bread and butter of the community.”

Soon both of the Wolfes would become activists. In the early 1960s, Joan Wolfe became president of the Grand Rapids Audubon Club. In that position she tried to call the attention of Audubon members to issues that connected bird conservation to larger trends such as habitat loss and pesticide use.

A fire on the Cuyahoga River at Cleveland in July 1969 helped galvanize public sentiment for Earth Day the following year. A fire also erupted on the Rouge River in southeast Michigan in October 1969, alarming the public and inspiring calls for tougher environmental laws.

Her most important work began in 1966. Working with 11 sponsoring organizations, Joan Wolfe coordinated an all-day seminar that October at the Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids to educate the community about problems facing the local, state, and national environment. It was one of the biggest events of its kind in that era, attracting over 500 people, half of them college students. Officials of the state conservation and public health departments spoke on the need for better sewage systems and the dangers of persistent chemicals, but others addressed threats caused by growing population and a social attitude that science could fix any natural resource problem. Dr. Howard Tanner of Michigan State University’s Department of Natural Resources said the predicted U.S. population of 400 million in the year 2000 posed special challenges, adding, “if we don’t put a level on our population and give thought to its distribution, we’re just stupid. There’s no other word for it.” Merrill L. Petoskey, assistant manager of the Southern Michigan Region of the department of conservation, called humankind “too reckless and too greedy. It’s almost past time when we can repair the damage we have caused.” 

The process of planning the seminar had resulted in general agreement among the sponsoring organizations that the community needed a coordinating organization. In February 1968, Joan Wolfe pulled together a dinner of Grand Rapids community leaders to ask their support for something she was calling the West Michigan Council on Environmental Action. The roster of the meeting was extensive and impressive.  Paid for by the Dyer-Ives Foundation, the dinner was attended by representatives of the local League of Women Voters, the West Michigan Tourist Association, the local Garden Club, the Anti-Pollution Committee of the utility workers local union, the Isaac Walton League, the Grand Rapids Press and WOOD-TV, the president of Grand Valley State College, and other dignitaries.

The group agreed on the need for a council of organizations and individuals who would work together on environmental causes, and they signed up to support it.  At the new council’s first meeting the following month, Wolfe was named president. The council grew quickly to include 45 organizations and more than 400 individuals. The organization also launched its issues work quickly, speaking at numerous hearings held by government agencies. An official of the state water resources commission exclaimed at a public hearing in 1968, “This is the first time we’ve heard from the grass roots.”

Gaylord Nelson Takes It National

U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin had proposed a national environmental “teach-in” on college campuses to be held in April, urging that it become an opportunity for learning about the nation’s and world’s grave environmental problems. Fueled by campus activism, the teach-ins evolved into Earth Day and stunned skeptics. An estimated 10,000 schools, 2,000 colleges and universities, and almost every community in the nation participated in events to celebrate and clean-up the environment. Cars were banned for two hours on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The U.S. Congress adjourned for Earth Day so that members could attend teach-ins in their districts.

All three major TV networks covered the events around the country. A geology student attending Albion College, Walter Pomeroy, appeared on a CBS-TV prime-time special on April 22, Earth Day: A Question of Survival, hosted by Walter Cronkite. In contrast to protests on other campuses that Cronkite called sometimes “frivolous,” the Albion activities Pomeroy organized included the cleanup of a vacant lot to create a small urban park.

Albion called itself “Manufacturing City U.S.A.,” CBS reported, and not all its foundries had installed air pollution control equipment. But Pomeroy told reporter Hughes Rudd that he had arranged meetings with the local polluters to promote dialogue.  “We were afraid,” he said, “that if we picketed the factories, it would actually turn the community against us.” The special showed Pomeroy’s fellow students jumping up and down on the non-aluminum cans they’d collected in the cleanup, making them easier to return to the manufacturer with a message that it should switch to recyclable materials. Michigan television stations also broadcast specials in the season of Earth Day. WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids broadcast a series, Our Poisoned World, detailing serious local air, water, and noise pollution, and the problem of garbage disposal.

Michigan One of the Hotbeds of Earth Day Action

At a five-day teach-in on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor in March, in which an estimated 50,000 persons participated, Victor Yannacone, who in 1967 had filed the Environmental Defense Fund lawsuits to stop the spraying of DDT and dieldrin, spoke on use of the courts to halt pollution. He told students, “This land is your land.  It doesn’t belong to Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler…it doesn’t belong to any soulless corporation.  It belongs to you and me.” A new student group called ENACT organized the week’s events, which included an “Environmental Scream-Out,” a tour of local pollution sites, music by popular singer Gordon Lightfoot, and speeches by entertainer Arthur Godfrey, scientist Barry Commoner, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and Senators Nelson and Edward Muskie of Maine.

Business Week magazine said the Ann Arbor event had attracted the greatest turnout of any teach-in to that date.  Noting that President Richard Nixon and college administrators hoped environmental issues would turn students away from Vietnam War protests, the magazine fretted that it appeared “the struggle for clean air and water is producing as many radicals as the war.  And if the rhetoric at Michigan is any guide, business will bear the brunt of criticism.”

Action Took Different Forms on Different Campuses

Tom Bailey, a Marquette high school student, worked with students at Northern Michigan University to plan Earth Day activities.  One was a “flush-in.” Students flushed fluorescent dye tablets down dorm toilets at a synchronized moment in an effort to prove that sewage was directly discharging into Lake Superior. 

Events like these not only attracted the attention of the press, but also gave future environmental professionals their first major public exposure. Bailey later worked for the state Department of Natural Resources, as had his father, and became executive director of the Little Traverse Conservancy. One of ENACT’s founders on the University of Michigan campus, John Turner, later became director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Doug Scott, a graduate student active in ENACT’s teach-in planning, moved on to the national staff of the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club.

Student concern and action did not stop on Earth Day. Walt Pomeroy of Albion College contacted activists on other campuses who agreed the next logical step was the formation of a student lobby for the environment.  Described as “lobbyists in blue jeans” by one newspaper, the new Michigan Student Environmental Confederation received a surprisingly warm welcome from some in the Capitol.

“Soon we made friends in the legislature on both sides of the aisle,” said Pomeroy in 1999. “We learned a day at a time. And since we were in the Capitol almost every day, our network of friends and supporters expanded from just student groups to a diversity of community, environmental and sportsmen groups. Legislative priorities turned into victories…We started an environmental organization with a good cause, not much financial support and worked with the sportsmen and other environmental groups. We created the path – the opportunity – for others to also organize environmental groups and hire staff. None had existed solely to focus on state environmental legislative policies prior to the creation of MSEC. Many followed and are now part of the accepted political landscape in Lansing and throughout Michigan.”


About the Author:

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

FLOW Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey has 35 years’ experience in environmental policy. He served as environmental advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard and as policy advisor on the staff of the International Joint Commission. He has also provided policy support to the Michigan Environmental Council and Clean Water Action. He has authored several books on the Great Lakes and water protection.

This article has been edited and excerpted from Dave Dempsey’s book, Ruin and Recovery: Michigan’s Rise as a Conservation Leader.


FLOW’s Statement on Negotiations Between Gov. Whitmer and Enbridge on Line 5 Tunnel, Pipeline

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                                              April 17, 2019

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                                                                 Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
Office: (231) 944-1568                                                                                     Cell: (570) 872-4956

Jim Olson, President, Cell: 231-499-8831                                                   Email: olson@envlaw.com
FLOW (For Love of Water), Traverse City, MI                                           Web: www.FLOWforWater.org


FLOW Statement on Negotiations Between Gov. Whitmer and Enbridge on Line 5 Tunnel, Pipeline


Traverse City, Mich. –  FLOW (For Love of Water) issued the following statement on the disclosure that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Enbridge Energy will discuss expediting construction of an oil tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac while the company’s troubled Line 5 pipelines continue operation in the Straits:

“We are concerned about this development. Every day that the Line 5 pipelines continue to operate is a risk to our precious Great Lakes,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “State government’s efforts should first and foremost be devoted to shutting the pipeline down, not negotiating its continued operation while a tunnel is explored and possibly built.

“Now that the Governor has chosen to engage in this process, we hope and trust it will be a transparent one. It is unfortunate that her predecessor engaged in secret talks on agreements with Enbridge, and the lame-duck Legislature was so eager to benefit Enbridge that it passed a sloppy statute that the Attorney General ruled unconstitutional. We are confident this Governor will operate differently,” Kirkwood said.

“We are also hopeful that the Governor will restore and apply the rule of law to Enbridge’s operations in the Straits. Any easement or lease of Great Lakes bottomlands and any private control for a 99-year tunnel by a private company like Enbridge for a private operation must be authorized under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA),” said Jim Olson, President of FLOW.

“The GLSLA ensures a public review, analysis, participation, and a determination under standards that protect the public trust in the waters of the Great Lakes and the soils beneath them from privatization and impairment. It also ensures a thorough evaluation of feasible and prudent alternatives, including ones that do not involve use or control of the Great Lakes. No agreement between the executive branch and a private company can override this fundamental law,” Olson said.


The Future of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac





Now that Michigan’s governor and attorney general have sunk the oil tunnel scheme hatched by the last administration, I’m asked nearly every day: What can citizens and state leaders do to shut down the propped-up, banged-up Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac for good?

Here’s my answer, as succinctly as I can distill it, accompanied by a summary of the law and political history in play.

So what should Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel do?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel must take swift and comprehensive actions to review and reverse the improper failure of the former Snyder administration to bring Line 5-owner Enbridge under the rule of law. Enbridge has had its way with Michigan’s prior elected officials, and it is time to call a halt to this nonsense. Here are the steps to getting Enbridge out of the Great Lakes for good:

Proposed Oil Tunnel:

  1. Send a Letter: Tunnel Deal Is Dead– Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel should send a formal letter to Enbridge advising the company that its agreements calling for a transfer or occupancy of the Straits of Mackinac public trust bottomlands, the new state-granted easement, and 99-year lease for the proposed oil tunnel that would house a new Line 5 are unenforceable unless Enbridge has obtained authorization under state law – the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA).

Line 5 in the Straits:

  1. Send another Letter: No Life Support for Line 5 – Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with Attorney General Nessel, should send a letter to Enbridge advising it that the agreements purporting to grant Enbridge occupancy and use of waters and bottomlands the existing Line 5 for 10 years or more are unenforceable, because the former administration and Enbridge failed to obtain the required authorization under the GLSLA.
  1. Apply the Law to the Redesign of the Ailing Pipelines – Governor Whitmer and the DEQ, along with Attorney General Nessel, should investigate and correct the lack of review and showings required by the GLSLA and public trust law for the substantial change in design implemented for the 3 miles of pipeline elevated above the lakebed under the guise of “repair.” Enbridge should be instructed that it must show the risks and magnitude of harm are minimal and that there exist no other alternative than the existing line in the Straits or Great Lakes.

How Did We Get Here on Line 5? Tracing the Law and the Politics

The plotting of former Governor Snyder’s administration and Enbridge to hand over the public trust soils and bedrock under the Straits of Mackinac for the company to build and operate a new crude oil pipeline in a tunnel for 99 years has been put on hold.

On her first full day in office, Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for a formal opinion on whether the Snyder-Enbridge agreement and legislature’s stamp of approval through a lame-duck law known as “Act 359” to hand over the Straits for Enbridge’s tunnel  to Enbridge was constitutional.  In late March, Attorney General Nessel found it was not constitutional because the legislature tried to graft a private tunnel-pipeline project onto a public infrastructure law that governs a public icon—the Mackinac Bridge.

Read more about the history and law surrounding Line 5 here!

  1. Revoke the Easement – Attorney General Nessel along with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), along with the above actions, revoke the 1953 easement because under the current circumstances the existing Line 5 is no longer in compliance with the common law standards of the paramount interests of the Great Lakes protected by public trust law; if Enbridge desires to continue using the existing line in the Straits, the company must submit an application for authorization of such use and occupancy along with the authorizations identified in this list.
  1. Increase Insurance Requirement and Verify It – Governor Whitmer, the DEQ, and the DNR, with the Attorney General, should require Enbridge to submit financial assurances that cover the worst case economic and natural resources damages of at least $6 billion (significantly more than the current cap of $1.8 billion), retain qualified experts to determine the adequacy of those assurances, and require Enbridge to name the State of Michigan as an “additional insured” and/or “named insured” on its insurance coverage for Line 5. Inadequate insurance is another cause for revoking the easement.

Once the Governor and Attorney General do these things, they will have taken action consistent with their pledge in being elected to lead the State and protect the Great Lakes, by nullifying the improper actions and agreements of their predecessors and bringing Enbridge, finally, under the rule of law. Regardless of the outcome, the interested parties, communities, and persons in this controversy and the government will be required to make determinations concerning the fate of Line 5 in an open forum based on facts, science, and law.  We are ruled by law, not by self-serving agreements that were plotted to avoid it.

Given President Trump’s executive orders this week to water-down or smooth over federal laws and regulations affecting water, the Great Lakes, and pipelines, it is more critical than ever that Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel exercise the full jurisdiction and authority they and the State of Michigan under its exclusive power over use of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes, its lakes and streams, public lands, and the public trust in the Great Lakes and navigable waters and public common property of Michigan. This trust imposes a duty on our leaders to protect the interests of citizens, the legal beneficiaries of this trust. Not the President, not Congress, not federal agencies, or state government can repeal, limit, or narrow the state’s duties and citizens’ individual and common rights under this public trust.

What Should Citizens Do?

It is quite simple: Citizens should do what they always do best. Continue to stay involved, increase communications to Governor Whitmer, Attorney General Nessel, and the Director of the DEQ, and the DNR.  These communications should do the following:

  • Thank our state leaders for taking action on the unconstitutional Act 359 and the misguided oil tunnel agreement;
  • Urge our state leaders to take immediate steps to implement the actions outlined above to formally scrap the oil tunnel and shut down Line 5.

What Happened on Line 5?

How Did We Get Here on Line 5? Tracing the Law and the Politics

The plotting of former Governor Snyder’s administration and Enbridge to hand over the public trust soils and bedrock under the Straits of Mackinac for the company to build and operate a new crude oil pipeline in a tunnel for 99 years has been put on hold.

On her first full day in office, Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for a formal opinion on whether the Snyder-Enbridge agreement and legislature’s stamp of approval through a lame-duck law known as “Act 359” to hand over the Straits for Enbridge’s tunnel to Enbridge was constitutional. In late March, Attorney General Nessel found it was not constitutional because the legislature tried to graft a private tunnel-pipeline project onto a public infrastructure law that governs a public icon—the Mackinac Bridge.

Under Michigan’s constitution, the legislature can’t pretend that the title or object of a law is one thing, and then pass a law that turns it into something else. In short, the Snyder-Enbridge agreements and Act 359 would have contorted the public ownership and control approach of the Mackinac Bridge into a privately controlled tunnel.  

Put another way, government is not supposed to be in the business of fostering private interests under the beguiling promise that it’s doing something for the public. If a law says a project is public, it better be public. The Enbridge tunnel corridor and project is far from a publicly owned and operated project, so the Attorney General had no choice but to rule the scheme unconstitutional. State agencies must adhere to the ruling; this means, the DEQ, DNR, and Public Service Commission cannot entertain requests for approvals or permits or take other actions that would implement the Enbridge tunnel and new pipeline project.

Legal Lens: Public Bottomlands, the Public Trust, and a Private Tunnel

The waters of Great Lakes and the soils beneath them are owned and held in public trust to protect the paramount rights of Michigan citizens, the primary beneficiaries of this legally recognized trust. The state as trustee is prohibited from leasing, granting easements, or allowing occupancy and use of these waters and soils to a private person except where: (1) the legislature expressly authorizes the conveyance or use; (2) an agency finds that the existing or proposed use serves primarily a public purpose related to navigation, fishing, boating, swimming, drinking water, or similar public need; and (3) makes a finding that the use will not interfere with or impair these protected public trust uses or the fish, habitat, and ecosystem.

To make sure the public trust is not violated, Michigan passed the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act in 1955. Anyone who seeks authorization of a new or existing easement, lease, or agreement for use or structures, or expansion of use or structures, must apply for and obtain authorization from the DEQ under the GLSLA. In short, the Great Lakes and the soils beneath them are strictly protected and controlled by the State for its citizens under the rule of law. No person or corporation can use, occupy, control, or lease the public trust waters and soils of the Great Lakes without the authority and findings by the state that the public trust will not be violated.

Act 359 and the tunnel agreement approved an easement from the DNR to Enbridge for the new tunnel and pipeline for 99 years without obtaining the required authorization under the public trust doctrine and GLSLA. Because Act 359 and related agreements violated the state constitution and the GLSLA, the project dodged the rule of law. Until Enbridge and state agencies obtain this authorization, the project is prohibited.

Political Maneuvers: A $6 Billion Gamble with Line 5 in the Straits

Now for the $6 billion-dollar question: What about existing Line 5 in the Straits? I say $6 billion, because the range of massive economic and natural resources damage from a release ranges from $1.8 to $6 billion in Michigan (and up to $45 billion to the region’s shipping and steel industries). When the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force came out with its report four years ago, it concluded the risk of the existing Line 5 in the Straits (that runs down through the Lower Peninsula to Sarnia, Canada) was unacceptable. Even former Attorney General Bill Schuette said that Line 5’s days “are numbered.”

Under basic risk standards, when a risk is too high or unacceptable, the corporation or government in charge must determine if there is an alternative that eliminates the risk. If there is, the risk must be terminated. Four years later, Line 5 is operating at a full-tilt 540,000 barrels a day. That is 23 million gallons a day, 80 percent beyond the original design capacity contemplated by the 1953 easement.

As noted above, the state has jurisdiction of the public trust bottomlands and waters of the Straits under the public trust doctrine and the GLSLA. Any new or substantially changed structure or improvement must be authorized by the DEQ, which is precisely what the Snyder administration failed to require.

Former State Officials Defer to Enbridge on “Repairs,” Continued Use of Line 5

First, the governor and state-Enbridge agreements for a new tunnel and 99-year pipeline allowed Enbridge to operate the existing Line until 2028—another 10 years! If the tunnel and new line are not in operation by then, Enbridge could continue using the existing Line 5 for more than 10 years! Worse yet, the agreements would allow Enbridge to extend operation of the existing Line 5 beyond 14 more years (counting the 4 years of inaction to date) if there are delays. It looks like Enbridge with the approval of the Snyder administration is more interested in operating the existing Line 5 another 10 or more years than build a $500 million tunnel.

Second, strong currents in the Straits scour the soils and undermine the integrity of Line 5. For the past 18 years, the DEQ has allowed Enbridge to add anchor supports to shore up this failure in the original design of the pipeline built in 1953 as “repairs.” Since 2001 when Enbridge added 16 supports as an “emergency repair,” the DEQ has permitted more than 200 supports as “repairs,” turning Line 5 into a three-mile underwater “suspension bridge” above the lakebed. By labelling Enbridge’s supports as a “repair” or “maintenance,” the DEQ has openly allowed Enbridge to avoid the required review and authorization of a near total change in design of existing Line in the Straits.[1] As a result, Enbridge has avoided and the public has been denied the required findings that the existing Line 5 poses no more than a minimal risk of impairment and that there are no other alternatives to using the Straits—such as using the extra capacity in the company’s new Line 78 across southern Michigan to Sarnia.

Local Guardians of the Great Lakes Challenge the State’s Line 5 Permits

Fortunately, the City of Mackinac Island, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Straits of Mackinac Alliance have filed petitions contesting the failure of the DEQ to demand Enbridge to file an application and obtain authorization for its total change in design of the existing Line 5. If successful, in addition, to inadequately narrow review of the anchor supports, Enbridge will have to apply for and prove that the risks are acceptable and that it has no other alternatives to move oil from Alberta, Canada.


[1]It is critical for the state to exercise the rule of law because on top of the change in design, a response to a spill is impossible during winter ice or storm conditions.  On April 1, 2018, a ship anchor dragging across the lakebed dented or gouged the existing line. On March 29, 2019, a federal court ruled that the federal government’s pipeline safety agency failed to adequately review the Enbridge Line 5 oil spill contingency plan in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.


A Day in the Life of Patagonia – a Corporation that Promotes the Common Good

Above: Jim Olson and his wife Judy Bosma pose with Patagonia environmental programs associate Alex Cangialose and environmental grants coordinator Tom Kaheli on the front steps of Patagonia’s headquarters.


Patagonia, the cutting-edge outdoor clothing company with a mission to serve the common good and the planet’s environment, started out as a climbing equipment company in 1973. Since then it has grown into the leading outdoor clothing company on the planet in no small part because of its renowned founder–climber, surfer, kayaking, fly-fishing business entrepreneur, and environmentalist Yvon Chouinard. He may not remember meeting me, but I remember meeting Mr. Chouinard when he spoke in Traverse City more than a decade ago at the request of the Michigan Land Use Institute (now Groundwork).

Writer and outdoor enthusiast Doug Stanton, who’d fished with Yvon in Argentina, called to ask if I could pick up Yvon and drive him to a planned dinner in Leelanau County. It was during the early stages of the citizens’ lawsuit to halt Nestlé’s proposed export of 210 million gallons of bottled water out of the Muskegon River watershed. He was vitally interested and concerned, and shared his own thoughts on the environment, notably (sensing the stress in my voice, I suppose) that if I ever need a mind-clearing retreat, spend some time in Iceland. I have never made it to Iceland, but I took his advice and created moments on the river where I live. Not long after, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation – the citizen’s group leading the local fight against Nestlé, received a donation from Chouinard to cover some of the scientific expert expenses.

No wonder that Patagonia is known as an unconventional activist, environmentally minded company — a company that has integrated business with care for the planet and the common good. It was the first company to pioneer and push the clothing industry into organic cottons, other fabrics, and now a hemp-cloth line of products. More recently, Patagonia has fostered public lands protection, promoted the protection of Europe’s last wild rivers, supported the New Green Deal, and announced that it would donate the $10 million it received from the Trump corporate-tax cut for the good of the planet.

Patagonia has blessed our work at FLOW

Since 2013, FLOW and Patagonia have partnered to bring knowledge and power to citizens to stand up for the Great Lakes. It started with a telephone call to gauge Patagonia’s interest in protecting the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill from the aging pipelines located in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac. Good fortune connected FLOW’s Executive Director Liz Kirkwood with Paul Hendricks in the company’s environmental grant program office. With deep roots in Michigan, Paul immediately understood the global significance and risk, and he invited FLOW to submit our first grant on the Line 5 pipeline. That fall, Patagonia invited Liz to participate in their annual Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference, designed to activate and empower environmental leaders nationwide with lessons from cutting-edge communication and campaign firms, fund developers, writers, and storytellers. 

Patagonia’s support in the early years of the Line 5 campaign was truly vital to FLOW’s success and ability to work other partners in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix (O&WDM) campaign, comprised of several dozen environmental and tribal groups, and supported by more than 200 businesses, 70 communities, and thousands of citizens. FLOW produced three expert legal and technical reports that helped shape the statewide conversation about Line 5 and influenced the governor’s task force report and advisory board process.

In tandem with this work, FLOW elevated public awareness of Line 5 through extensive presentations and statewide and some national media coverage, which was still dominated in those days by the Keystone Pipeline controversy. Then in 2015, Paul Hendricks and fellow Michigander and filmmaker, Colin McCarthy, approached FLOW to help produce an outdoor adventure/action-inspired film on Line 5. With funding support from Patagonia, Founders Brewing Co., Cherry Republic, and Moosejaw, we created and released “Great Lakes, Bad Lines” in the spring of 2016. Viewership has reached over 103,000 people online, and thousands more at showings co-sponsored by FLOW and our partners in the O&WDM campaign. Patagonia’s 2016 Vote Our Planet campaign then provided a national platform for Great Lakes, Bad Lines and helped FLOW elevate awareness of the danger posed by Line 5 to the national level. The Patagonia Chicago Magnificent Mile store hosted film screenings to packed rooms, and the staff continued to educate their own teams and customers about Line 5 and its national importance. One sixth-grader was so inspired by this story of Line 5 in the film that she raised over $1,000 to support FLOW’s work. Then Patagonia designer Geoff Holstad, who served as art director for the film, shared his artistic gift with FLOW through a year-long Patagonia environmental internship, branding and launching other FLOW initiatives, most notably our Get Off the Bottle campaign.

Since 2015, Patagonia has allowed FLOW to use its Social Amplification platforms and other tools on specific actions related to Line 5. In 2017, Patagonia featured FLOW as a leading environmental grantee in the Patagonia Environmental + Social Initiatives(see page 94). In 2018, Patagonia launched its Action Works platform to connect expert volunteers with nonprofit organizations, and FLOW participated in a Chicago event featuring this work. In addition, Patagonia employee Kristin Nolet served her environmental internship with FLOW, focusing on increasing communications capacity and reach. Last summer, Patagonia co-sponsored FLOW’s Evening for the Great Lakes featuring Chris Thile, mandolin virtuoso and host of NPR’s Live From Here.

Breakfast at Patagonia

On a recent trip to see our family and grandchildren in Ventura, a quiet coastal city an hour north of Los Angeles, my wife Judy, grandson Jack, and I were invited to breakfast by Patagonia’s corporate grant director Alex Cangialose and associate Tom Kaheli. We met in the company’s cordial, sustainable, health-conscious, and café-styled cafeteria, located in the company’s modest complex of sun-yellow, stucco-and-brick buildings nestled under a canopy of trees on the north end of downtown.

We talked about FLOW’s work on Line 5 and the Great Lakes; the complex issues within the nexus of food, energy, and water, magnified by the effects from climate change; the company’s continual efforts to improve sustainability and its industry’s footprint. This included water conservation, non-toxic materials, reuse and recycling, and the company’s serious search to solve the problem of ubiquitous plastic fibers in water and the environment from materials like fleece. We also touched on the company’s defining approach in supporting the tying together of environmental and social justice activism with strong science, law and policy, and communications.

The morning flew by. After breakfast, Alex and Tom took us on a tour of the grounds, office complex, innovative materials research and development using recycled clothing and materials, and the on-site store of its enticing lines of clothing and products. My wife Judy, a small-child educator, was particularly interested in the pre-school facility and playground that delivers free day care and work-day visitation for parents who work at Patagonia.

Jim Olson, President and Founder

While we didn’t buy out the store, we left with gifts for the three newest grandchildren in the family – a two-year old, one-year old, and a newborn with a due date this month. But mostly, we went away with a good feeling and appreciation for Patagonia and its staff and employees. The most rewarding part about FLOW’s partnership with Patagonia is the deep personal relationships forged between Patagonia employees in Ventura, Chicago, Reno, and FLOW here in Traverse City and the Great Lakes region. We look forward to meaningful opportunities, engagement, and continued worked together to meet the challenges we face in promoting clean water and the common good in the coming decade.


With a New Agency Comes New Structure in Michigan

Once upon a time, state environmental agencies operated for decades under the same name, providing continuity and tradition — but perhaps failing to meet evolving needs.

The Michigan Department of Conservation operated for nearly 50 years, beginning in 1921, a period of rapid growth in the state forest and park system and the gradual adoption of pollution control measures by commissions and boards. That changed in 1970 when, by executive order, then-Governor William Milliken united natural resources and environmental programs under one roof and called it the Department of Natural Resources. This structure, in turn, lasted a quarter century.

In 1995, then-Governor John Engler divided the natural resources and environmental programs again into a Department of Environmental Quality and DNR. In 2009, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm united them under the banner of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. And in 2011, then-Governor Rick Snyder cleaved them again in two.

This month — on Earth Day, April 22 — the latest reorganization takes effect. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has created a Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to coexist with the DNR. It’s the most ambitious of all the natural resource agency reorganizations.

The order says, “State government needs a principal department focused on improving the quality of Michigan’s air, land, and water, protecting public health, and encouraging the use of clean energy. That department should serve as a full-time guardian of the Great Lakes, our freshwater, and our public water supplies.” It is unprecedented for energy to be a major priority of the state’s environmental agency.

The order contains several unique features and innovations:   

  • An Environmental Justice Public Advocate to, among other things, “accept and investigate complaints and concerns related to environmental justice within the state of Michigan.”
  • A Clean Water Public Advocate to handle complaints and “assist in the development, and monitor the implementation, of state and federal laws, rules, and regulations relating to drinking water quality.”
  • An Office of Climate and Energy to “provide insight and recommendations to state government and local units of government on how to mitigate climate impact and adapt to climate changes.”

These three focal points respond to specific environmental disasters and neglect of the previous administration, most notably the Flint drinking water tragedy, but they should have statewide impact, redirecting the new agency toward its most critical challenges.

Any new agency must establish new traditions and provide a face to the world. The old DNR was seen as both strong on resource protection and occasionally arrogant in its relations with the public. It’s to be hoped that the new EGLE (along with a reinvigorated DNR) emphasizes the former and shuns the latter. If it does, the Governor will have done the state, and future generations, a considerable favor.

FLOW Praises Governor for Action on Line 5


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                      March 28, 2019

Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director                                                   Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956                                           Web: www.FLOWforWater.org

Jim Olson, FLOW Founder and President                                                Email: olson@envlaw.com
(231) 499-8831 

Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor                                                     Email: dave@FLOWforWater.org
(612) 703-2720


In the wake of an opinion by Attorney General Dana Nessel invalidating a law that sought to give away Great Lakes public trust bottomlands to Enbridge for 99 years for a private oil tunnel, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has now ordered state agencies to pause permitting on Line 5, an action hailed by FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.

“We welcome the Governor’s swift, prudent action to halt the legal effect of the law and tunnel and side agreements,” said Jim Olson, founder and president of FLOW. “Now, it’s time to bring the existing perilous Line 5 in the Straits under rule of law and decommission it as quickly as possible.”

“The backroom deals creating Enbridge’s proposed oil tunnel couldn’t survive public scrutiny, and now we know they can’t survive the rule of law,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW. “It’s time to focus on Michigan’s true energy future and protect Michigan’s Great Lakes and our economy from a Line 5 pipeline rupture. The path forward for Michigan is for Gov. Whitmer to immediately begin the process of decommissioning Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.”


FLOW Praises Attorney General for Restoring Rule of Law on Line 5


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                      March 28, 2019

Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director                                                   Email:Liz@FLOWforWater.org
Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956                                           Web: www.FLOWforWater.org

Jim Olson, FLOW Founder and President                                                Email:olson@envlaw.com
Cell: (231) 499-8831

Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor                                                     Email:Dave@FLOWforWater.org
(612) 703-2720


FLOW supports attorney general’s process and opinion, which is binding on state agencies and rejects the fatally flawed law and undermines side agreements on Enbridge oil pipelines, proposed tunnel in Mackinac Straits


In a major step toward restoring the rule of law, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion today declaring unconstitutional a hastily crafted law that sought to give away Great Lakes public trust bottomlands to Enbridge for 99 years for a private oil tunnel, while allowing the aged, dangerous existing “Line 5” oil pipelines in the Straits to continue operating for another decade as the tunnel is considered and possibly built.

The move comes in response to a formal request by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and is critical to unpacking the layers of problems with the law creating the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority that the lame-duck legislature rushed through in late 2018.

“We applaud Attorney General Nessel for clearly recognizing the legislative overreach, restoring the rule of law, and stopping the attack on the Great Lakes and the state constitution, which demands that the state’s air, water, and natural resources are treated and protected as ‘paramount,’” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.

The attorney general’s opinion on Public Act 359 is binding on state agencies and voids the tunnel agreement called for by the law, and also nullifies the legal effect of the side agreements reached between the state of Michigan under then-Gov. Rick Snyder and Line 5-owner Enbridge. Those agreements allowed continued oil pumping through the Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, and an easement and 99-year lease of Great Lakes public bottomlands to Canadian-based Enbridge for private control of the tunnel for its own gain.

Public Act 359 and the related agreements for a tunnel and continued use of the existing, flawed Line 5 were not authorized under the standards of public trust law; the state and Enbridge flouted the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) that requires transfers and agreements for occupancy of the soils of under the Great Lakes by trying to avoid and ignore this most basic law and public trust principles.

Public Act 359 and the side agreements are peppered with other serious problems, most of which are covered by the questions the Governor asked the Attorney General to answer, which include:

  • Adding the tunnel and corridor authority to the 1952 law that created the Mackinac Bridge Authority goes far beyond the original public purpose to build a public bridge;
  • Establishing a term for members of the board of the corridor authority that exceeds the 4-year limit under Article III of the Michigan Constitution;
  • Violating provisions of the state constitution that prohibit fostering private or special purposes, the commingling of the government to aid primarily private projects, the appropriation of public property for private purposes, and the entanglement of the credit and taxpayers of the State for primarily private purposes.

“We hope this critical first step by the Attorney General will be followed by an immediate and full review of the Snyder administration’s and agencies’ deliberate evasion of the rule of law and mishandling of the grave and continuing risks of the existing Line 5, and the real and imminent threat to the Straits of Mackinac, towns and cities like Mackinac Island, tribal fishing interests, private property interests, businesses, and the rights of the public in the soils and waters of the Great Lakes,” said Olson.

FLOW recommends that Gov. Whitmer take immediate action to end the massive threat posed by the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac in a swift and orderly fashion based on the rule of law under our state constitution, statutes, and the public trust doctrine in the Great Lakes, including by:

  • Acknowledging that State of Michigan agencies are bound by the attorney general’s opinion.
  • Sending a letter to Enbridge indicating that the company should decide for itself, if it wants to build a new oil tunnel, and apply, if it chooses under the Great Lakes to construct a tunnel under the rule of law. The rule of law requires a full consideration of the risk to the paramount public rights in the soils and waters of the Great Lakes, and a showing that the company has no prudent and feasible alternatives to using the Great Lakes as a shortcut for western Canadian oil on its way to refineries in eastern Canada as well as overseas markets. If the company does not chose to do this, or cannot satisfy these mandatory requirements that protect the Great Lakes, then it should choose to use other parts of its several-thousand mile system.
  • Starting the process to decommission the 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, which are operating without lawful authority, in violation of the public trust and GLSLA, and in violation of their 1953 easement granted by the state. If Enbridge chooses to continue operating the existing Line 5 in the future, it can apply under the GLSLA for new authority to continue using Line 5 if it can demonstrate little risk and no feasible and prudent alternative to the unacceptable existing Line 5, but the state is not obligated to agree.

“Public Act 359, coupled with the State’s public entanglement with Enbridge, has put private gain and economic interests above the State’s and public’s paramount trust interest in the waters and soils of the Great Lakes,” said Olson. “The unconstitutional law and entangled state and Enbridge agreements represent one of the largest, if not largest, threats in the state’s history to the state’s ownership and public trust duty to protect the public’s rights and uses from private takeover or harm to the Great Lakes.”


Taking Action on the “Forever Chemicals”


Governor Whitmer’s directive Tuesday to the Department of Environmental Quality to develop an enforceable state drinking water standard for toxic PFAS chemicals is a welcome step. It signals that her Administration believes the health of Michigan citizens and the environment is not something to be left to foot-dragging federal officials, and that she is actively engaged in combating this threat.

“All Michiganders deserve to know that we are prioritizing their health and are working every day to protect the water that is coming out of their taps,” Whitmer said. 

“As a result, Michigan will begin the process to establish PFAS drinking water standards that protect public health and the environment. Michigan has long advocated that the federal government establish national standards to protect the nation’s water from PFAS contamination, but we can no longer wait for the Trump Administration to act.” She set a deadline of October 1, 2019 for the standards.

PFAS compounds are a group of emerging and potentially harmful contaminants used in thousands of applications globally including firefighting foam, food packaging, and many other consumer products. These compounds also are used by industries such as tanneries, metal platers, and clothing manufacturers.

The state oversaw the sampling of 1,114 public water systems, 461 schools that operate their own wells, and 17 tribal water systems. Levels of PFAS below 10 parts per trillion (ppt) were detected in 7 percent of systems tested. PFAS levels between 10 and 70 ppt were detected in 3 percent of systems tested.

“PFAS are extremely toxic ‘forever chemicals’ contaminating far too many Michiganders’ tap water. By pushing for strong standards, the Governor is taking an important step to protect public health — but residents, particularly children and pregnant women — are being hurt by this chemical today. Fast action is needed to protect the state from the mounting health crisis caused by widespread drinking water contamination,” said Cyndi Roper, Michigan Senior Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The announcement was also important because once the federal government finally acts, a bad law passed by the Michigan Legislature in last year’s lame duck session could complicate the state’s efforts to set a protective standard. That bad law prevents Michigan from adopting standards more protective than federal limits unless the state can show “clear and convincing” evidence that it is needed, a high legal bar. By acting before a federal limit is in place, the state can use the best science to set a protective standard.

Proposal to Abolish Required Septic System Inspections Threatens Kalkaska Waters


With an estimated 130,000 septic systems leaking E. coli and other pollutants into Michigan groundwater, lakes, and streams, you would hardly think it time to relax inspection requirements.

But that’s exactly what Kalkaska County is considering this spring – and this has some local residents and environmental experts concerned.

Kalkaska County has a sanitary code that requires inspections of septic systems when residential properties sell. There are no such statewide requirements, making Michigan the only state without them and leaving the job of protecting waters from septic systems up to local government.

“This proposal [to kill the inspection requirement] is wrong,” says Kalkaska county resident Seth Phillips, who adds the answer to any problems with the District 10 sanitary code’s point-of-sale requirement for septic system inspections is to improve it, not rescind it.

“We know that bad septic systems pollute and pose a threat to our drinking water and our lakes and streams. We need to work together to protect our water for all of us and for future generations,” Phillips says.

A study by Michigan State University found that septic systems in Michigan are not preventing E. coli and other fecal bacteria from reaching our water supplies. Sampling 64 river systems that drain approximately 84 percent of the Lower Peninsula for E. coli and the human-specific source tracking marker bacteria called B-theta, the research found a clear correlation: The more septic systems in the watershed, the more human fecal source-tracking bacteria in the water.

Failing septic systems expose water not only to pathogen pollution from 31 million gallons a day of raw sewage statewide, but also to the release of chemical, pharmaceutical, and other wastes resulting from domestic use.

Point-of-sale inspection ordinances make sense. A study coordinated by Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council found that one third of the aging septic systems in Antrim County have not been replaced.

“Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council has been researching this topic for several years,” says Grenetta Thomassey, the Council’s Watershed Director. “One thing that has been very clear is that Time of Transfer or Point of Sale septic system inspection programs find things wrong with septic systems and require them to be fixed. It may not be perfect; some failing systems are not inspected because the property is not being sold or transferred. However, it’s obvious from the annual reports that problems are being found and corrected, and this is a step in the right direction and helps protect our water resources.”

A report on the Kalkaska County point-of-sale program found that between April 2017 and March 2018, 335 inspections were performed in the County. Forty-five systems were in compliance with the sanitary code, while three were found to be failing. The other 287 were identified with some level of concern. So, 87% of the inspected systems during the period presented some level of issue for owners to address or be aware of. 

In a letter to Kalkaska County Commissioners, FLOW urged the officials not to eliminate the requirement.

“Requiring inspection and correction of failing on-site septic systems at the time of property sale is a reasonable method of protecting the public’s waters without unduly burdening property owners,” wrote FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “It assures that the vast majority of systems will be inspected at some time to assure they are providing proper stewardship of our shared waters. Eliminating this ordinance will remove the only protection now in place to protect the public health and environment from the threats posed by inadequate septic systems.”

The District 10 Health Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed change on Friday, April 26 at the District 10 office in Cadillac, 521 Cobb Street, at 9 a.m.