Tag: Dave Dempsey

It’s Septic Smart Week

Don’t do it in the river! Get your septic system checked, and push your elected leaders for a statewide inspection code. Click here for a (humorous) video of what happens when septic waste reaches our beloved rivers.

 

By Dave Dempsey

Most Michiganders don’t know that September 16-20 is Septic Smart Week — and that an estimated 130,000 septic systems in our state are failing. In many cases that means sewage and associated microorganisms are reaching groundwater, lakes and streams.

As FLOW described in our fall 2018 report on groundwater contamination in Michigan, our state is the only of the 50 states that lacks a statewide sanitary code requiring regular inspection and maintenance of small, mainly domestic septic systems. Some counties, townships, cities and villages are enacting local ordinances in place of statewide requirements.

Septic systems are small-scale wastewater treatment options, used when a home or complex cannot easily be connected to a municipal sewer system. Raw sewage and wastewater (e.g., bath water and dishwater) are first pumped from the home into the septic tank. This is an underground, sealed, concrete tank where the household waste is treated. Here, solid waste sinks to the bottom of the tank and materials such as oil form a layer of scum on top. Bacteria in the tank break down the solid waste, while the wastewater migrates out of the septic tank and into the drain field. Perforated pipes distribute the liquid wastewater throughout the drain field. Once out of the pipes, the wastewater effluent seeps through a gravel layer, then through the soil. Both filter the wastewater before it flows into the groundwater or nearby surface water.

Leaking or malfunctioning septic systems allow organic wastewater compounds like nitrate and E. coli to percolate through the soil and enter the groundwater. Leakage and effluent runoff are also major contributors to E. coli levels in surface water. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, now EGLE) has identified 196 rivers, lakes, and beaches with E. coli levels over the EPA limit. Between 2013 and 2014, an estimated 5.7 billion gallons of untreated sewage were pumped into surface water in Michigan. A 2015 study headed by Dr. Joan Rose, co-director of Michigan State University’s Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment and Center for Water Sciences, sampled 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 more septic systems in the watershed, the more human fecal source tracking bacteria were found in the water.

Human wastes are not the only pollutants that failing septic tanks are releasing to groundwater and surface water. So-called emerging contaminants like pharmaceutical residues and endocrine disruptors are found in household wastes whether they discharge to publicly-owned sewage systems or septic tanks. Little groundwater monitoring is done to identify these substances in groundwater.

In a 2017 journal article in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 20 different studies on septic systems, identifying 45 contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, personal care product ingredients, chemicals in cleaning products, flame retardants, hormones (both natural and synthetic), and other common substances such as caffeine. The analysis found that septic systems are somewhat effective at removing chemicals such as acetaminophen, caffeine, and alkyphenols, a common group of ingredients used in cleaning products. But some chemicals remain largely untreated, including TCEP, a carcinogenic flame retardant, an anti-epilepsy drug called carbamazepine, and the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole. “In high density areas where you have a large number of homes with their own septic systems, these systems are likely the primary source of emerging contaminants in the groundwater,” said Laurel Schaider, the study’s lead author.

Eleven Michigan counties have ordinances that require septic tank inspection at the time property is sold. Within the first six years of implementing their ordinances, two Michigan counties found 1,000 failed septic tanks and 300 homes without any septic system.

Dave Dempsey is FLOW’s senior policy adviser.

 

Septic Smart Information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promoting Septic Smart Week with a variety of information tools. Those include posters, tips and a new homebuyer’s guide. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) also offers helpful information.

 

This trailer for a video documentary produced by Joe VanderMeulen of NatureChange and sponsored by FLOW, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC), Leelanau Clean Water, and the Benzie Conservation District underscores the serious health risks posed by a hidden pollution source fouling groundwater, lakes, streams and drinking water across Michigan. Click here for the full video.

 

Déjà Vu: PFAS are Latest in Long Line of Failed Chemical Policies

Photo: Rebecca Meuninck, Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center

By Dave Dempsey

The discovery of toxic per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in many Michigan locations, the fear and concern these chemicals have stirred, and the difficulty posed to government officials and the public on how to respond feel familiar to those residents 50 and over. As the baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

PFAS are just the latest symbols of failed chemical policy in a chain reaching back to World War II. That policy has caused disease and death, ruined landscapes and waters, and cost taxpayers scores of billions of dollars. And still politicians haven’t learned.

A Look Back

A look back at Michigan’s history of dealing with chemical crises illustrates the point:

  • Mercury – When fish from the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River were found to have alarmingly high levels of toxic mercury in 1970, the state had to shut down the Lake St. Clair fishery until it completed an exhaustive effort to trace and control the sources. Although much reduced, mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources continue.
  • DDT – After the state banned most uses of toxic DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) in 1969 for its effect on fish, wildlife, and human health, it also had to ban several replacement chemicals in succeeding years.
  • PCBs – In 1971, investigators found surprisingly high levels of toxic PCBs in Michigan water bodies, including the Kalamazoo River. This led to a ban on the chemicals in the mid-1970s.
  • PBB & PBDEs– When toxic PBB, a flame retardant, was accidentally mixed with cattle feed in 1973, government responded slowly and the entire Michigan food chain was affected. Chemical companies replaced PBB with compounds like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were subsequently found to be toxic to fish, wildlife and people and were banned or phased out.

    There are many more examples, the result of a policy that treats chemicals as though they have constitutional rights like people, “innocent until proven guilty.” It also treats them one at a time.

    Whack-a-mole

    “We’re playing chemical whack-a-mole,” says Rebecca Meuninck, Deputy Director of the Ecology Center, based in Ann Arbor. The Ecology Center has been working to develop chemical policy reform for years and has successfully championed initiatives such as Michigan state government’s Green Chemistry program. The program’s objective is to foster use and development of new chemicals and chemical products that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances while producing high quality products through safe and efficient manufacturing methods.

    The price of a piecemeal approach to chemical policy can be measured not just in damage to human health and the environment, but to taxpayer pocketbooks. Between the commencement of state-funded toxic cleanup program in the late 1970s and today — a 40-year period — Michigan citizens have shelled out more than $1.5 billion to handle cleanups of messes created by private parties. Created by everyone from small businesses to corporate giants, these toxic sites have become the public’s problem because many of the businesses involved have gone bankrupt or have chosen to contest their responsibility.

    Solutions?

    What can we do about this problem? We need a new national chemical policy that requires full testing and safety evaluation of chemicals before they are introduced to the market and to our air, water, and bodies. Although this is common sense, chemical manufacturers have successfully resisted these reforms through the political process.

    Meuninck says legislation passed and signed into law by former President Obama in 2016 has the potential to help.  Key provisions include:

    • A mandatory requirement for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate existing chemicals with clear and enforceable deadlines;
    • Risk-based chemical assessments;
    • Increased public transparency for chemical information; and
    • Consistent source of funding for the EPA to carry out the responsibilities under the new law.

    “These are important changes, but they’re only as good as the EPA that’s supposed to implement them,” Meuninck said.  “Otherwise, it could go horribly wrong.”

    REACH

    A potential model for a new U.S. policy is the European Commission’s 12-year-old REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation. REACH shifts the burden of identifying chemical hazards, means of mitigating hazards, and managing risk from government to business.

    Among other things, REACH:

    • Places responsibility on industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances.  Manufacturers and importers are required to gather information on the properties of their chemical substances, and to register the information in a central database.
    • Calls for the progressive substitution of the most dangerous chemicals (referred to as “substances of very high concern”) when suitable alternatives have been identified.

    “One of the main reasons for developing and adopting the REACH Regulation,” the Commission says, “was that a large number of substances have been manufactured and placed on the market in Europe for many years, sometimes in very high amounts, and yet there is insufficient information on the hazards that they pose to human health and the environment. There is a need to fill these information gaps to ensure that industry is able to assess hazards and risks of the substances, and to identify and implement the risk management measures to protect humans and the environment.”

    But the European approach is far from becoming U.S. policy, despite the best efforts of skilled, effective public interest groups like the Ecology Center. It is difficult to say what chemical crisis might prompt needed change here at home. That change is badly needed — without another crisis coming first.

    Dave Dempsey is the Senior Policy Advisor at FLOW

    Fact Check: When Line 5 Shuts Down, Detroit Jets Will Still Fly and Union Refinery Jobs Will Still Exist

    As the time for the State of Michigan to take action on Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac approaches, an increasingly desperate Enbridge is enlisting allies to engage in what can only be deemed a deceitful Chicken Little campaign. Behold, for example, Enbridge’s full-page advertisement Wednesday in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, which wildly alleges that “Shutting down Line 5, even temporarily, would mean lost union jobs, refinery closures, gas price spikes and greater harm to the regional economy every year.”

    The campaign is designed to scare officials into giving the company what it wants — a 99-year lease to use the people’s waters and lakebed to transport dirty tar sands oil from western Canada primarily to Sarnia, Ontario.

    The latest and one of the most outrageous fabrications regarding the impact of a Line 5 shutdown emerged last week from management of the PBF refinery in Toledo, Ohio. No doubt at Enbridge’s behest, PBF warned of a refinery shutdown and loss of a thousand jobs if the supply provided by Line 5 is no longer available. The Toledo refinery, PBF suggested, has no other source of petroleum.

    This assertion is absurd on its face — What kind of refinery management would leave itself vulnerable by receiving crude from only one source? — but also directly contradicts statements PBF says in its own investor filings, as well as reports from market analysts. They emphasize the PBF refinery has several sources of supply and can adjust them depending on market conditions.

    “The [PBF] refinery only processes light/medium and sweet crude and gets most of its WTI crude through pipeline from Canada, the mid-Continent, the Bakken region and the U.S. Gulf Coast,” an analyst says.  Another credits PBF with using “its complex crude processing capacity to source the lowest cost input.”  PBF says in its 2016 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that crude is delivered to its facility through three primary pipelines, Line 5 from the north, Capline from the south, and Mid-Valley from the south. Crude is also delivered to a nearby terminal by rail and from local sources by a truck to truck unloading facility in the refinery property.

    The fact is that multiple alternative pipelines, rail and truck sources are and will be available to enable PBF to continue refining petroleum as it is today. No evidence points to job loss in Toledo from a Line 5 shutdown. And PBF itself said in a September 2017 news story challenging EPA regulations because of alleged job losses that the Toledo refinery employed 550, not 1,000 workers.

    Exploiting worker and community fears with bogus claims is the latest in a series of unconscionable tactics deployed by Enbridge to pressure Michigan officials into letting the company occupy the Straits with its current antiquated pipeline and later, a tunnel under the lakebed.

    In another last-gasp attempt to distort decision-making and alarm the public, PBF claims the (nonexistent) Toledo refinery shutdown will seriously impinge on the supply of jet fuel at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, driving up fares or reducing flights, or both. The claim is that 40% of the jet fuel used at the airport comes from refined Line 5 petroleum. But PBF and the Marathon Detroit refineries appear to supply only about 9% of the jet fuel used at the airport each day, and again alternative pipeline sources can more than make that up.

    It is worth noting that impacts of a Line 5 shutdown on Metro Airport jet fuel have never before been raised as an issue in the Line 5 debate or when Line 6B ruptured and was closed down in 2010. Its introduction at the 11th hour after more than five years of controversy over the fate of Line 5 is a transparent effort to alarm the public with false information and bring pressure on state officials.

    Enbridge has a track record of misleading the public and governments about its performance, and its recent efforts are consistent with the company’s apparent philosophy of saying anything to keep Line 5 petroleum — and profits — flowing.

     

    Key Facts, in a Nutshell

     

    Jobs, let’s talk jobs! 

    Continuing to operate the decaying Line 5 risks jobs. Many jobs. Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs in Michigan’s tourism economy.

    According to a FLOW report in May 2018, direct spending by tourists supports approximately 221,420 jobs, and the total tourism economy in 2016, including direct, indirect and induced impacts, supported 337,490 jobs—approximately 6.1% of total employment in Michigan.

     

    Toledo PBF Refinery 

    • Enbridge’s and fossil-fuel industry allies have a track record of false and unsubstantiated claims and lack of transparency.
    • The numbers are inflated:
    • Enbridge and refineries and some politicians are misleading the public. They falsely claim that the 2 Toledo refineries and 1 Detroit refinery, and by extension the jobs there, are fully and wholly dependent on Line 5, including a large number of jobs at these refineries. The refineries supposedly affected are: Marathon – Detroit; BP-Husky-Toledo – which carries no Line 5 feedstock because it’s a tar sands refinery that takes feedstock from Line 78 (formerly Line 6B), and PBF-Toledo.  PBF states in its 2018 annual report for stockholders that it “processes a slate of light crude oils from Canada, the Mid-continent and the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
    • The refineries rely on multiple pipelines and suppliers, and they say so in writing.
    • Marathon refinery primarily uses dilbit, which Line 5 doesn’t currently carry.

     

    Detroit Metro Airport

    • In a letter to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine claimed, “our refineries supply the majority of aviation fuels to Detroit Metro Airport” and asserted shutdown of Line 5 would lead to airline schedule disruptions.
    • But 2020 jet fuel consumption at Detroit Metro will total 1,658,000 gallons per day, according to a 2010 estimate by the airport. Based on numbers published by PBF, BP Husky and Marathon Refineries, Line 5 appears to supply only about 10% of the jet fuel at Detroit Metro Airport, not 40% as claimed by Ohio Gov. DeWine. Both Marathon and PBF have other crude oil sources, and therefore other pipelines could provide feedstock to satisfy regional jet fuel needs. Alternatively, other nearby refineries in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio could make up this shortfall.

     

    Bottom line: Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs. A Line 5 shutdown would not significantly impact jobs at Toledo refineries. There is absolutely no evidence that a shutdown would impair operations at Detroit Metro Airport.

     

    Sources:

    Marathon 2019 total capacity:  140,000 bpd https://www.marathonpetroleum.com/Operations/Refining/Detroit-Refinery/

    Increase of Heavy Crude to 115,000 bpd https://www.myplainview.com/news/article/Marathon-refinery-seeks-support-for-second-8578737.php                           

    https://www.ogj.com/general-interest/companies/article/17286350/marathon-to-upgrade-expand-detroit-refinery

    BP Husky capacity and crude feed: https://www.hydrocarbons-technology.com/projects/bp-husky/

    PBF Capacity: 170,000 bpd https://investors.pbfenergy.com/~/media/Files/P/PBF-Energy-IR-V2/documents/annual-reports-and-proxy/pbf-energy-2018-annual-report.pdf

    PBF Truck terminal at Toledo:  22,500 bpd; https://www.pbflogistics.com/~/media/Files/P/PBF-Logistics-IR-V2/reports-and-presentations/20190514-pbfx-may.pdf (Appendix)

    Jet Fuel Consumed per day at DTW: https://www.metroairport.com/sites/default/files/business_documents/masterplans_2009archive/04_-_demand_capacity_facility_requirements_2-16-10.pdf

     

    An earlier version of this blog inadvertently reported that jet fuel consumption at Detroit Metro totals 1,658,000 barrels per day. 1,658,000 gallons is the correct amount.

    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 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.”


    The Forgotten Great Lake?

    Photo credit: Dave Dempsey

    The idea that Lake Huron is an overlooked or forgotten lake has even seeped into our government. A report issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality posed the question whether Huron is a victim of amnesia.

    It’s not the biggest Great Lake, the dirtiest, the most populated or the purest. It’s just unlike any other lake on earth.

    It’s probably most forgotten because relatively few people surround it and therefore are closely associated with it.  If there were such a statistic as person-hours of remembering, Huron would score low.

    Even the most spectacular features of Huron can be easy to overlook.  Twenty years ago, I spent considerable time with a friend searching for the dwarf lake iris at Thompson’s Harbor State Park.  An exquisite miniature, the iris grows in all the world primarily on the shores of northern Lower Michigan and richly deserves its title as the official state wildflower.

    Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

    It benefits from Huron and the cool, moist lakeshore air, and sand or thin soil over limestone-rich gravel or bedrock. Like any plant or animal whose prime habitat is the shoreline, the subtle dwarf lake iris is threatened.

    More people should know Lake Huron, enjoy it and respect it.  It need not be the best kept secret in the Great Lakes.

     

     


     

    Thankful for Lake Huron


    During this week including Thanksgiving, FLOW staff are reflecting on their thankfulness for water. Whether it’s the vast and variable nature of Lake Huron or the water running from a household tap, water is at the center of our lives and our gratitude. We hope our writings inspire your reflection as well. Happy Thanksgiving from FLOW! 


    I am thankful for Lake Huron, sometimes called the forgotten Great Lake.  It’s not the biggest, the most popular or the most celebrated Great Lake. But during the three years I lived on its shore, I came to know and appreciate its subtleties and charms.

    Lake Huron was patient in winter.   Ice clotted the creeks and drains that ordinarily contribute to it, but they would soon resume their flow; of course, they were already flowing under winter’s glassy surface.

    Lake Huron was resilient.  A storm would thrash it, but a day or two later, the lake would rest contentedly, a match for any tempest.

    Lake Huron was a changeling.  One day the blue of a child’s lake drawing, one morning silver; one day muddy brown, one evening gold.

    Lake Huron was vast.  Gazing out over its open waters, I felt a connection to the thousands of years it has endured, the 23,000 square miles it occupies, its 3,827 miles of shoreline.

    Living next to Lake Huron was like living next to a mountain.  The lake was always in my consciousness.  Often that was because of the beat of the waves.  The repetition was comfort, the way a rocking cradle is to a baby. 

    The second largest of the Great Lakes, Huron is the fifth largest lake in the world.  It doesn’t boast.  It just is.  I am thankful that it is.  I highly recommend it to others.


    FLOW Releases Report to Save Our “Sixth Great Lake”

    Today marks the beginning of a campaign to protect groundwater in Michigan and our surrounding states as the “Sixth Great Lake,” a lightning-bolt phrase promoted by Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy advisor and author of a sentinel groundwater report released by FLOW this week. In this second of a trilogy of reports published by FLOW as part of its “Campaign for Freshwater,” Mr. Dempsey, a highly regarded sage in Great Lakes and international water policy circles, has summoned citizens, leaders, communities:  Now is time to reverse the course of an abysmal history of our state government’s deliberate collaboration with polluters to put private interests above the paramount public interest in water and public health.

    Our Great Lakes and the tributary lakes, streams, and groundwater, are owned by each state as sovereign, in public trust our laws exclaim. Our waters of the state are public and held in trust to prevent diminishment and pollution of water and protect public health.  This same legal principle is embodied in Michigan’s state constitution and water laws. In Article 4, Section 52, the constitution declares that the public interest in water and natural resources is paramount and that the “legislature shall provide” for their protection from pollution or impairment. In Article 4, Section 51, the constitution declared that the directly related public interest in health is paramount and directed that the “legislature shall provide” for the protection of public health. In 1970, our legislature responded to this constitutional mandate by passing the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, a law that imposes a legal duty on government and all of us alike to prevent the likely degradation of our water, air, and natural resources and the public trust duty to protect the public’s use and dependence on these resources.

    After the tragic exposure and horrible health effects from toxic chemicals underneath “Love Canal”– Hooker Chemical’s sale of a bulldozed, covered-over hazardous waste dump for a residential subdivision, Michigan like the country and other states acted to halt the poisoning of our water, land, and citizens. In 1980, Congress passed the federal Superfund law that imposed strict liability on those who owned or controlled land on which hazardous chemicals had been or were being released.  Michigan passed the Michigan Environmental Response Act (so called “Act 307″ or “MERA”) in 1982. Act 307 declared that all persons or companies who were “owners” of the land or “operators” in control of the land on which a release of toxic chemicals had to report and enter into consent orders to remediate the pollution of groundwater contaminated by the release.

    This historic and remedial action by our country’s elected leaders established a legal principle and   rallying-cry to stop the poisoning of the United States and our environment, and the tragic loss of life and health of our citizens. In Michigan and other Greet Lakes states also passed “polluters’ pay” laws that imposed strict liability for control or ownership of a facility from which a release of chemicals had been released. This was the mainstay of Michigan’s efforts to clean up hazardous substances from our lands and groundwater, that is until Michigan’s legislature passed and Governor Engler signed Act 451 (“Part 201) in 1994.  Act 451 punctured holes in the law, and from 1994 until now our elected leaders and appointed officials have insidiously commandeered the dismantling of polluters’ pay law and dried up the budget to enforce what little of the law remained. Today, it should be called “Polluters Play.”

    In 1995, under the watch of Governor Engler, the legislature revamped Act 307 to narrow liability of “owners or operators” from strict liability for owning or controlling a contaminated property to “owners or operators” who “at the time of the release” are shown to be “responsible for causing the release.” The state ended up with the burden of proof to showing causation, not those who own or are in control of the property, and cleanup standards were relaxed from a 1 in 100,000,000 cancer risk to a 1 in 100,000 risk.  Pollution from pesticides and fertilizers in the production of food, crops, and concentrated farms were exempted as long as they managed runoff and groundwater discharges based on generally accepted farming practices.

    From 1999 to 2014, cleanup standards were relaxed even more, where owners and operators obtained an approved plan to manage the contamination in place under “no-further action” plans and post-closure management monitoring, and land and water use restrictions that limited exposure of people to the hazardous substances in soil or groundwater. In short, polluters can isolate a land area and groundwater plume and monitor contaminant levels as they spread, adding more restrictions as necessary: This means groundwater use by the public or other landowners is lost until levels drop below clean up or unrestricted residential use standards. Then on top of this, cleanup standards were relaxed where the use of land or underlying contaminated groundwater were in an industrial or commercial zone where there was little chance of human exposure. At first these changes were supposed to help the redevelopment of “brownfield sites” (polluted property or groundwater) throughout the state to increase property tax revenues. But these standards were extended across the board to all polluters, tax revenues remained depressed while developers were reimbursed cleanup costs from tax incremental financing– as redevelopment occurs, value goes up so tax revenues go up, minus the tens of thousands or sometimes millions of cleanup costs to the developer until paid.

    In the past few years under Governor Snyder’s watch, things have turned even darker. Owners of land or facilities with groundwater levels in excess of legal contaminant standards or cleanup standards are allowed to “vent” to nearby surface water streams. This means, high levels of contaminants can remain in the groundwater until migration enters a stream without violating water quality standards. Because of the larger volume of flow moving quickly downstream, “dilution is the solution.”

    For many citizens in Michigan, this legacy to our water and public health is and will continue to be shocking as we discover more and more toxic sites, like the growing PFAs crisis first discovered in Parchment, Michigan that shut down a town’s drinking water supply. Shamefully, it is not and won’t be shocking to the majority of our legislators and leaders who commandeered these changes to let polluters off the hook or narrow the range or amount of costs they would have had to pay to clean up groundwater so that it was no longer polluted. As pointed out by Mr. Dempsey in FLOW’s report, Michigan still has over 6,000 unfunded sites that exceed cleanup standards and more than 8,000 sites from leaking underground tanks. Thousands of so-called post-closure hazardous sites are managed by agreements and land or water use restrictions to reduce human exposure. This means this toxic groundwater legacy continues to spread and displace these waters from available for public or private use. Worse, this legacy endangers the health and well-being of tens of thousands of citizens and hundreds of communities.

    There is a disturbing sidebar in FLOW’s report, captioned as a “Spreading Stain.” The sidebar captures both the magnitude and gravity of our current groundwater crisis– a legacy of pollution, nitrates, and now PFAs–in Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin. In the town of Mancelona, up slope from Antrim County’s Chain-o-Lakes, the Jordan River Valley and Schuss Mountain Ski Resort, from the 1940s through the 1960s, an auto parts manufacturer used a solvent known as TCE (trichloroethylene) to degrease its stamping machinery. The used solvent was dumped on the ground or discharged into lagoons. By the time, the company was out of business and the EPA and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality discovered the contamination, the plume had spread out 6 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. It endangers streams and the drinking water of the residents of the town and resort. But what is often lost on our leaders and the public is the fact that 13 trillion gallons of groundwater are no longer available for use by the town, the resort, businesses, and property owners. To put this in perspective, Dempsey notes this is ten times the loss of the 2 billion gallons a day from the Chicago diversion of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi.

    Multiply this by the thousands of contaminated groundwater sites in Michigan, and the picture is clear: The public waters of the state and Great Lakes basin have been sacrificed and subordinated by private interests. This massive loss of water is even memorialized by the state’s requirement that private polluters and towns zone or restrict use of use of groundwater within the area of a toxic plume, rather than clean it up. Water quality and quantity issues are inseparable. How is the state has joined the Great Lakes Compact that bans diversion of millions of gallons of water, but has been complicit in allowing the loss of trillions of gallons of groundwater by aiding the spread of toxic pollution?

    How ironic. Our courts have declared water as sovereign and public, but the state allows large volumes and areas of groundwater to be placed off limits to benefit private polluters. Could the state have designated 1,000 acres of our public forests and state parks as a toxic waste dump for private use? Our constitution mandates that our legislators and leaders shall protect the paramount waters of the state and public health. Since 1995, legislators have enacted and governors have signed a parade of laws and regulations that have destroyed groundwater, poisoned drinking water, and endangered public health.

    Our constitution mandates that our legislators and leaders shall protect the paramount waters of the state and public health. Since 1995, legislators have enacted and governors have signed a parade of laws and regulations that have destroyed groundwater, poisoned drinking water, and endangered public health.

    Jim Olson, President and Founder

    Maybe we should start by restoring the “polluters’ pay” law, but this time call it “polluters and politicians pay.” The law would read, “the owners or operators or legislators who voted for the laws that violated the constitutional legislative mandates to protect water and public health are strictly liable for the cost of cleanup and damage from the release of toxic pollutants.” Let’s restore the paramount (“above all”) protection of water and health required by the common law of public trust and the state constitution.


    Friday Favorite: A subtle gem in Traverse City


    When it comes to beautiful places, the Grand Traverse region has an embarrassment of riches. I hope to live to 100, so I can visit them all. One I have come to know well may be one of the most subtle. It’s practically in my back yard beside the Munson medical complex on the west side of Traverse City.

    photos by The Watershed Center

    Completed in 2013, it’s part of a much larger restoration project coordinated by The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. Directly across the street to the east from the Cowell Family Cancer Center, the Kids Creek Healing Garden has been fashioned from what was formerly asphalt and a strait-jacketed stretch of a tributary of Kids Creek. Built in cooperation with Munson Medical Center, it features native plantings, riffles and pools, a winding stream bed and the perpetual, reassuring sound of flowing water. A stretch of the Kids Creek trail meanders through the pocket park.

    The environmental benefit is a major contribution to restoring a four-mile stretch of Kids Creek that is officially listed as impaired under provisions of the Clean Water Act. Along with other features, the restored stream area will reduce flood hazards, filter polluted runoff, and provide habitat for aquatic life.

    Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

    The human benefit is the preservation and restoration of emotional and spiritual peace, an oasis in an urban world of traffic, noise, and profound stresses. Furnished with benches, it invites the visitor to sit, listen, watch, and contemplate.

    The project proves that the abstract idea of “environmental compliance” can be addressed creatively, in a way that is cost-effective while beautifying not just the appearance, but the soul of a community.


    We Need Another Great Lakes Agreement

    Toward the end of Dan Egan’s award-winning book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, the author observes that in the 1960s Michigan unilaterally planted exotic salmon in the Lakes.  The action produced a new sportfishery but also changed the ecology of the Great Lakes in unforeseen ways, with consequences that all the people of the Lakes had to bear.

    Now, Egan says, emerging technologies formerly the stuff of science fiction may yield solutions to invasive species challenges.  A DNA-based eradication tool could wipe out an unwanted fish species, even the detested zebra and quagga mussels. But if experience tells us anything, it is that the application of such a tool could alter the Lakes in ways not anticipated.

    “Would a single Great Lakes state today try to act on its own and release a manmade gene in a similar fashion?” Egan asks.  “If not, would it take a unanimous vote by all the Great Lakes states? What about the Canadian provinces? What about the federal governments?  What about the prospect of mischievous, if well-meaning individuals or groups acting on their own?”

    He quotes Russ Van Herick, former director of the Great Lakes Protection Fund: “We are not even close to developing a governance system to catch up with these emerging technologies.”

    We aren’t – and we barely know how to conceive of decision-making criteria.  How do we determine what kind of Great Lakes we want? And who decides?

    Numerous Great Lakes institutions exist and so do numerous Great Lakes agreements, both formal and informal.  Most important are the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which addresses pollution and the interstate Great Lakes Compact, which addresses water diversions.  

    But there is no overarching agreement among the governments – including tribes and First Nations – and among their peoples on how to address the even broader Great Lakes challenges of the 21st Century.  There is no agreement on an ecosystem philosophy – a standard of care by which all governments and peoples will abide – and a decision-making system to carry it out.

    So now it’s time for a Great Lakes Stewardship Agreement.  Although its substance will take time to develop, it must be rooted in two bedrock principles:

    • The Great Lakes are a public trust belonging to the people, with governments acting as trustees to assure that trust is undiminished over time; 

      Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor

    • Decisions that have any potential to affect the Great Lakes as a whole – whether it’s the introduction of a DNA-based invasive species eradication tool, construction of “speed bumps” in the St. Clair River to raise the level of Lakes Huron and Michigan, or manufacture of a new chemical that might bioaccumulate in the Lakes ecosystem – must be subject to full transparency, including an open public consultation and the consent of the governed.

    The original Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement took several years to negotiate and implement.  The Great Lakes Compact took a decade. So there’s no time to waste – the future is upon us. The fashioning of a Great Lakes Stewardship Agreement must begin today.