Letter to the Candidates

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Dear __________:

Congratulations on your victory in the August 7 primary for State Representative/Senator. The opportunity to serve/continue serving your constituents will bring many environmental issues to your attention. I am writing to provide you brief background information on several of them.

By way of introduction, FLOW is a Great Lakes water law and policy center and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Traverse City. Our mission is to protect the common waters of the Great Lakes Basin through public trust solutions.

Here are some of the key challenges Michigan faces in protecting its public trust assets:

Shut down Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac. These antiquated 65-year-old pipelines convey almost 23 million gallons per day of petroleum products along the public bottomlands of the Straits. They pose an unacceptable risk of a spill that could cause ecological devastation and deliver a more than $6 billion blow to Michigan’s economy. The Legislature should amend Public Act 10 (1953) to require any utility easement authorized under this Act to reapply under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and public trust laws governing occupancy of our public waters and bottomlands.

End Nestlé’s profiteering off public water and secure public water benefits. At a cost of $200 per year in state fees, Nestle is making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit annually by pumping groundwater that would otherwise feed wetlands and streams and bottling and selling it. In effect, Nestle is selling back to the public its own water at a markup of more than 2000%. The Legislature should subject all private capture and sale of municipal water and groundwater to state regulation, impose royalties to benefit public water needs, and prohibit withdrawals that have unacceptable impacts on sensitive water resources. FLOW has prepared model legislation that we are glad to provide for your review.

Prevent and remediate Michigan’s groundwater contamination. About 45% of Michigan’s population drinks water from groundwater supplies. Unfortunately, there are 6,000 legacy groundwater contamination sites for which there is no state cleanup funding, an estimated 130,000 failing septic systems, thousands of private water wells contaminated with dangerous nitrates, thousands of sites that pose a risk of indoor toxic vapor intrusion, and a staggering number of potential sites (estimated at 11,000) where groundwater is contaminated with PFAS compounds. The Legislature should enact laws to address ongoing threats to groundwater quality and create a fund of at least $500 million to clean up legacy contamination sites.

Assure access to clean, safe, affordable water for all Michigan citizens. It is simply wrong that in a water-abundant state, thousands of households are priced out of access to basic water services in communities like Flint and Detroit. The Legislature should provide seed money and mandate public utility water pricing that assures all citizens can afford basic domestic water services.

Invest in drinking water and sewage treatment infrastructure. An infrastructure panel appointed by Gov. Snyder found that the state faces a gap of $1 billion annually between available funding and water infrastructure needs. These needs are not frills; they are fundamental to everything from human sanitation to healthy aquatic life. The Legislature should close that gap with a major water quality bond or other large-scale funding commitment.

Bring the public back into state environmental decisionmaking. The best environmental policy, including water policy, is made in the sunshine. Too often in the last decade, closed-door deals and out-of-public-scrutiny contacts have shut the public out. The Legislature should create a public oversight commission for the DEQ that deliberates on policy and serves as a public forum for concerns of both the citizenry and regulated community on pending permits and other decisions.

Support Blue Communities. FLOW is working with Grand Traverse Bay communities on a template of best practices, ranging from improved urban design to planning and zoning reform to enhanced data management, to maintain the high water quality that most of the region enjoys.  As this template is translated into actions here and in similar communities across Michigan, the Legislature should provide funds to support implementation. An investment in Blue Communities now will prevent the need for a much bigger expenditure on gray community cleanup later.

Congratulations again on your primary victory. Good luck in the general election. Please contact us if you would like further information.