Tag: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

What Kind of Environmental Agency Does Michigan Need?

For almost eight years, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality has sided with resource exploitation over resource protection. MDEQ’s recent decisions to grant Nestle a 60% increase in the volume of water it can extract from springs near Evart for bottling and sale, and to authorize Enbridge Energy to bypass full environmental alternatives review and install more support anchors on its dangerous Line 5 pipelines are just the latest examples.

It wasn’t always so — and we can do better again.

Michigan’s conservation and environmental protection agencies have been recognized as national leaders in two eras. From 1921 to 1970, the Department of Conservation oversaw the reforestation and acquisition of 9 million acres of forestland, built a robust park system, and vaulted recreational fishing and hunting to national prominence, particularly in deer and salmon management.

From the late 1960s to the 1980s, the Department of Natural Resources attracted national praise for a number of bold actions. DNR was a major force in making Michigan the first state to cancel most uses of DDT, three years before the federal government. DNR championed reduction of phosphorus, which led to the recovery of Lake Erie. The state adopted tough limits for sulfur content in coal burned by power plants in Michigan, attacking acid rain and smog before nearby states. With DNR support, the Legislature and governor enacted laws to control soil erosion, protect inland lakes and streams, protect sand dunes, protect wetlands, protect Great Lakes shorelands and bottomlands, improve management of solid and hazardous waste, clean up toxic waste sites and ban oil drilling in the Great Lakes.

In both eras, a key feature was the separation of the Department of Conservation/Natural Resources from raw partisan politics. As was true in many Midwestern states, lawmakers in the 1920s created a citizen commission, the 7-member Conservation Commission, appointed by the governor, to oversee the agency. The Commission chose its own chairperson and was generally free to put in place policies that would pay off in a generation without suffering direct political backlash.

The Commission system was born in part out of a memory of how politicians of the mid- to-late 1800s catered to the lumber barons, market (not sport) hunters and other commercial interests who laid waste to natural resources and abandoned the state, leaving behind ruin for the people of Michigan to clean up. A Commission insulated from the pressures of politics and lobbyists, it was felt, would be able to put in place policies with long-term public benefits rather than immediate rewards to politicians. This enabled foresters to take a long view of 40 to 50 years for replanting the north country.

The tradition continued in the 1960s and 1970s, when what was now the Natural Resources Commission generally provided support for staff to do what it considered best. The DNR also contained air and water commissions that met in public, voted on rules and permits, and heard out the concerns of citizens. The DNR Director from 1975 to 1983, Howard Tanner, encouraged staff to “err on the side of the resource” when in doubt.

Michigan has not been regarded as a leader on the environment since Governor John Engler in 1995 split the DNR in two, abolished most citizen commissions and gave the new DEQ a “hands-off” mandate. The DEQ has never had a commission and the DNR’s Natural Resources Commission performs mostly ministerial functions, rarely delving into major policy issues, instead setting fish and game rules and seasons. Leaders of both agencies are appointed not because of excellence in environmental and natural resource fields, but because of fealty to the governor.

How might things be different if a DEQ Director sensitive to public concerns had acted swiftly when advised about alarming news in Flint – or if citizens from Flint had been able to speak in public before a citizen commission demanding that the state investigate?

 The current DEQ mission statement does not use the word “protect”:

“The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality promotes wise management of Michigan’s air, land, and water resources to support a sustainable environment, healthy communities, and vibrant economy.”

The name of the agency also lacks the word “protect.”  Perhaps it needs a new name — the Michigan Department of Environmental Protection — and a mission to “protect the air, water, land and other natural resources of the state, and the public trust therein, from pollution, impairment and destruction. Through a high level of professionalism, respect for public views, strong science, law enforcement, and policy that considers both current and future generations, the Department assures a healthy people and environment.”

Michigan deserves this new approach.


Nestlé Must Still Prove to State It Can Divert Water from Headwater Creeks

Bottled water

A Circuit Court ruling reversing Osceola Township’s denial of a zoning permit for a booster station five days before Christmas does not clear the way for Nestlé’s push for a massive increase in pumping from 150 gpm to 400 gpm (210 million gallons a year) from two headwater creeks. Nestlé must still obtain a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality under two laws that prevent Nestlé from degrading water levels, fish, wildlife, habitat, and wetlands.

In June 2017, the DEQ refused to issue a permit because Nestlé failed to submit sufficient proof that its more-than-doubled removal of water would not harm the waters and the state’s paramount public interest in its natural resources. In November, 2017, a Nestlé consulting firm submitted additional information based on an addendum to its computer model. FLOW, a Great Lakes Policy Center, and other organizations, including Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, have submitted comments contesting the adequacy of Nestle’s model and supporting information. Their comments have demonstrated the model is not reliable to determine effects to headwater creeks, streams, and wetlands, and that some of the data has demonstrated adverse effects at even 150 gallons per minute.

In a related matter, Circuit Judge Susan Sniegowski released a decision on December 20, 2017 that reversed an Osecola Township zoning denial of a booster station located along a water pipeline more than a mile from the wellhead. The booster pump would increase pressure in the line to handle the large expansion. The Court ruled that Nestlé’s booster station could be located in the township’s agricultural zoning district because it qualified as an “essential public service.”

“The Court ruling is a narrow one,” said Jim Olson, noted water and land use lawyer and advisor to FLOW. “The Court ruled only that Nestlé did not have to show ‘public convenience and necessity’ in order to qualify for the ‘essential public service’ exception for its booster station in the farming district. It does not affect the continued lack of proofs needed for the state permit.”

             Jim Olson                     

Nestlé must still overcome the demands from the State, FLOW, MCWC, the Tribes, and thousands of public comments to show that the massive increase will not adversely affect and harm water and natural resources.

Nestlé lost a 9-year battle in Mecosta County when the circuit and appellate courts found that the removal of 400 gpm from a similar headwater stream system was unlawful. “Based on the experience in Mecosta, it is unreasonable for Nestlé to expect, let alone for the State to approve, an increase above 150 gpm, if at all,” Olson said. “So the booster station is largely superfluous.”


Media Release: FLOW Urges State Rejection of Nestlé Corporation’s Bid to Increase Water Extraction

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                              April 21, 2017

Contact: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                                                Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                     Office: (231) 944-1568; Cell: (570) 872-4956

Contact: James Olson, Legal Advisor                                                                         Office: (231) 944-1568
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                                                               Cell: (231) 499-8831

 

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Nestlé Corporation’s bid to massively accelerate its drawdown of groundwater in Osceola County for sale as bottled water falls far short of the bar set by Michigan water law, and must be denied, FLOW said today.

In official independent scientific and legal comments as the state today closes its public comment period, FLOW said the permit application submitted by the world’s largest bottled water company lacks key information legally required by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to approve the request. Impartial scientific analysis of a complete application likely would show significant harm to natural resources, according to a review of Nestlé’s submission by scientists hired by FLOW.

“The more deeply you look at this application, the more superficial it proves to be,” said James Olson, founder of FLOW, a Traverse City-based water law and policy center dedicated to upholding the public’s rights to use and benefit from the Great Lakes and its tributaries. “Nestlé has self-servingly offered more baseless assumptions than substance in its application. They’ve put clay material to minimize effects without finding out if it’s really there. They’ve put 14 inches into their groundwater model, when it’s probably closer to 9 inches.”

Nestlé Ice Mountain is seeking a state permit to increase its spring water withdrawal from 150 to 400 gallons-per-minute (gpm), or as much as 576,000 gallons-per-day, from a well in the headwaters of Chippewa and Twin creeks in Osceola County, threatening public resources in the Muskegon River watershed.

“While Flint residents continue to be deprived of safe public drinking water and struggle to pay $200 a month for their home and health, the state is contemplating the giveaway to Nestlé of 200 million gallons of groundwater a year in exchange for a $200 state filing fee,” said Olson. “State regulators are required under public trust law to protect the public’s water resources for sustainable use by the public, not give it away to a private corporation for resale back to the public to which it belongs.”

FLOW legal and scientific team found that Nestlé’s application:

  • Fails to fully evaluate existing conditions. Data collected between 2001 and the onset of pumping in 2009 were not evaluated, nor were the seven years of data gathered since pumping at 150 gpm began. The data provided are insufficient for the public or the DEQ to fully assess the impacts of either past pumping or to provide an adequate baseline for identification of future harm to natural resources.
  • Lacks adequate information about the predicted effects of their requested pumping. The validity of the groundwater model predictions of the pre-pumping conditions of the system is not adequately established, nor are the predictions of effects of existing pumping within the system adequately established.
  • Neglects to consider, or provide a reasonable basis to determine, the individual and cumulative harm from pumping. The application does not address the cumulative effects of pumping at the proposed 400 gpm rate, but rather solely discusses the effects of the increase in pumping from 150 to 400 gpm.

Because of these gaps, the application skirts potentially significant environmental harm, with Nestlé failing to report:

  • Cumulative reductions of stream flows, which would exceed 15 percent in several locations, according to FLOW’s analysis.
  • Significantly reduced, seasonal wetland flooding that likely would occur and that is essential to the proper function of the natural system.
  • Increased harm to natural resources during years of low precipitation.

“If Michigan’s water withdrawal law has any meaning, the DEQ must deny the application,” Olson said.

The DEQ will close the public comment period at 5 p.m. on April 21. Written comments before the deadline can be emailed to deq-eh@michigan.gov or mailed to: MDEQ, Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division, Environmental Health Section, P.O. Box 30421, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7741.

Nestlé’s application, supporting data and documents are posted on the DEQ website: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3313-399187–,00.html

To learn more about FLOW’s efforts to challenge the Nestlé permit and protect the Great Lakes and Michigan’s groundwater, visit our website at www.FLOWforWater.org.

To read our Letter and Expert Report to the DEQ on Nestlé’s application, please click here.

 

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