There’s no question that this is a tough time to be an environmental lawyer. Just Google “roll back of environmental regulations” and you’ll get hits like “67 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump” or “A Running List of How Trump is Changing the Environment.” And that’s just a tiny snapshot of what’s happening at the federal level. Here in Michigan, in the heart of the Great Lakes, we also are witnessing a wholesale attack on groundwater laws for big ag, rulemaking authority for environmental agencies, and even the Great Lakes Compact.
But I’m also a historian of sorts where I voraciously hunt for glimmers of hope. I look for those stories that demonstrate human innovation, collaboration, and desire to take risks, do good for the planet, and imagine the impossible.
Lo and behold, I found one of these gems the other day. It was a news story about five water utilities in the Great Lakes competing with one another to reduce their energy consumption and air emissions. These select water utilities are using technology to track and then shift to lower polluting power sources that reduce lead, mercury, carbon-dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxide emissions from the atmosphere. Using new technology called Locational Emissions Estimation Methodology (LEEM) designed at Wayne State University, these water utilities opt to pump water when the lower polluting electric power sources are online. As a result, a Wisconsin utility has reduced its mercury emissions by 25 percent by pumping water at off-peak hours and alternative times in a day.
Imagine if we saw this kind of competition across all sectors in health, energy, agriculture, industry, food, and water. Imagine that we all saw ourselves in a race to the top, bringing everyone up together. Let’s keep thinking big, and in the meantime, let’s give three cheers to these communities that are leading the way: Bayfield; Detroit; Ann Arbor; North Syracuse, New York; Highland Park, Illinois.