Author: FLOW Editor

Resetting Expectations: Government’s Role in Protecting Human Health and the Environment

Report author Skip Pruss

Why Good Regulations are Good for our Great Lakes

This is the first of four reports by former FLOW board chair, and former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, Skip Pruss that make the economic case for government’s role in protecting the environment. FLOW will unveil one report each month.

Click here to read the first report in the series.


How We Got Here: The Rise of Modern Environmental Protection

Fifty years ago—on June 22, 1969—industrial waste covering the surface of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, burst into flames. The fire was so intense it badly damaged two railway bridges crossing the river.  It was not the first time the Cuyahoga had caught fire. Described by Time magazine as a river that “oozed rather than flowed,” the Cuyahoga had erupted in flames many times over decades, with the largest fire dating back to 1952. Yet it was the 1969 fire that ignited public concern and helped galvanize political action, culminating in the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

The Cuyahoga emptied its industrial wastes into Lake Erie as did the Detroit, Sandusky, Raisin, and Maumee Rivers. Many other rivers delivered nutrient loadings of nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural watersheds and municipal sewer systems. Untreated wastes and nutrients took their toll, and Lake Erie, an integral part of the largest freshwater system in the world, was declared dead.

The foundational laws and regulations in the modern era aimed at protecting public health and the environment were born in crises.

The last half century has witnessed sweeping changes in the public perception of government and its role in advancing the public interest and improving public welfare. Surveys today show public trust in government is in sharp decline and criticism of government has become a bipartisan social norm. To many, “government regulation” connotes undue interference with markets, competition, and the economy, yet, at the same time, surveys show overwhelming bipartisan support for the protection of air, water, public lands, and natural resources – an essential function of government.

To explain these contradictory outlooks, FLOW is publishing a series of four policy papers that trace the history of environmental regulation, illustrating how it protects individuals, families, and communities while fostering innovation and economic gains. FLOW advocates for greater application of the Public Trust Doctrine, a model for stewarding public resources, addressing the growing challenges of maintaining water quality and confronting the climate crisis, and at the same time, restoring public trust in government’s critical oversight role.

FLOW’s four policy papers—to be published once a month between late June and late September—will articulate the costs and benefits of environmental regulatory systems, explain how environmental regulations prevent harm, narrate how regulations protect people and support our economy, and cover market failures, subsidies, and negative externalities.

Report’s Key Facts

  • Surveys show overwhelming bipartisan support for the protection of our air, water, public lands, and natural resources. But the public lacks confidence in the effectiveness and competency of government to afford such protections.
  • “Deregulation” has become a meme that resonates to many as a desirable goal and a public good, but is rarely contextualized as undoing necessary, appropriate, and successful government interventions.
  • Absent from the public dialogue are informed discussions of the purpose and value of the protections afforded by regulations and the wide array of benefits that regulatory structures provide to the public.
  • Studies show that the quantifiable benefits of environmental regulations greatly exceed the costs imposed on business and the economy.
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), under President Trump, has found that the benefits of major regulations have exceeded costs by hundreds of billions of dollars.
  • OMB also found that the benefits provided by EPA regulations are the most efficient in terms of providing the most benefits at the least cost.
  • Environmental protections afforded by federal law are under siege as the Trump administration aggressively pursues efforts to broadly roll back environmental regulations and expedite fossil fuel development, while expressing open contempt for climate concerns.
  • Government, according to the Michigan Supreme Court, has a “high, solemn and perpetual” fiduciary responsibility as trustee, under the doctrine, to protect and preserve the trust for future generations.
  • The accepted means of determining the economic impact of regulations—cost-benefit analysis—has been subverted under the Trump administration, producing an imbalanced accounting of costs over benefits.
  • The Public Trust Doctrine has the potential to apply as a compelling legal framework to protect the public interest in all commonly held natural resources—our air, our non-navigable waters, wetlands, forests, and public lands.

Executive Summary:

Using the Public Trust Doctrine to fight the war against government 

Environmental regulations are often assailed as unduly interfering with free markets, undermining competitiveness, and adding unnecessary costs to the production of goods and services. At the same time, public surveys and polling show strong and consistent support for efforts to protect natural resources and the environment.

While the public at large displays a strong consensus for measures that protect our air and water, the public has less appreciation for the full array of benefits government regulations provide and lacks confidence in the effectiveness and competency of government to afford such protections. 

The benefits of government regulation are measurable and are overwhelmingly favorable in the realm of environmental protection, where the quantifiable benefits of regulations greatly exceed the costs imposed on business and the economy.

The discontinuity between the need for regulatory interventions to protect human health and the environment and the distrust of government’s regulatory mandate is attributable, at least in part, to a strong line of critical commentary from conservative “think tanks” and right-of-center media animating suspicion and distrust in government’s effort to advance the public interest.

Environmental protections afforded by federal law are under siege as the Trump administration aggressively pursues efforts to broadly roll back environmental regulations and expedite fossil fuel development, while expressing open contempt for climate concerns. Meanwhile, former Governor Rick Snyder in late 2018 signed into law a bill that limits new regulations in Michigan to the weakened regulatory standards defined by federal law.

The field of government regulatory activities is vast. This paper provides a historical perspective on environmental regulations, illustrating the many ways government regulatory systems provide cost-effective interventions that protect human health and the environment. The effect of regulations can and should be measured and monetized as a means of ensuring sound government policies that minimize harm to the public and avoid imprudent and costly impacts.

Environmental regulations are intended to protect every citizen’s common interest in this wondrous natural resource heritage and to prevent further harm so that future generations can continue to enjoy and derive the same benefits we have today. We have charged government with this awesome responsibility and the corresponding “duty to protect” and safeguard our common natural resources is deeply embedded in Michigan’s jurisprudence.

The Public Trust Doctrine is the legal framework to protect shared natural resources also referred to as “the commons.” The Doctrine holds that the Great Lakes and their tributary waters, and by extension, all water-dependent natural resources, are held in trust for the benefit of the people. Government, according to the Michigan Supreme Court, has a “high, solemn and perpetual” fiduciary responsibility as trustee, under the doctrine, to protect and preserve the trust for future generations. In so doing, public trust in government can be enhanced as well.

Michigan lies at the heart of the Great Lakes—the most magnificent freshwater system on the planet.  The good news is that there exists a broad public consensus to protect this extraordinary natural resource endowment, as well as the availability of a long-standing set of legal principles that, if better appreciated and activated, can empower our citizens and leaders to hold government accountable for protecting our commonly held natural resource heritage.

The paper offers the long-recognized Public Trust Doctrine as a legal framework to address the challenges of protecting and enhancing our natural resources and combatting climate change while rebuilding public confidence in the role of government.

Mike Vickery chairs, Lisa Wyatt Knowlton joins FLOW Board

Mike Vickery

Mike Vickery recently became Chair of the Board of Directors at FLOW (For Love of Water), the nonprofit Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. Vickery is an advisor on strategic environmental communication, community engagement, and organizational capacity building. He is an Emeritus professor of Communication, Public Affairs, and Environmental Studies at Alma College, where he was founding chair of the Department of Communication and served as Co-Director of the Center for Responsible Leadership.

Vickery holds a PhD in Communication. His graduate work focused on public discourse and controversies related to technical and social value-conflicts. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. His areas of teaching, consulting, and applied scholarship include environmental rhetoric, risk communication, public health communication, and organizational communication.

“We are excited by Mike Vickery’s ascension to serving as FLOW’s Board Chair, where his well-honed skills in strategic communications, public engagement, and capacity building are sure to strengthen our reach and influence,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW. “Our future is bright with Mike at the helm, guided by his deep commitment to the Great Lakes and safe drinking water for all.”

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton has joined FLOW’s Board of Directors. Wyatt Knowlton’s Education Doctorate includes specialties in management and policy. She holds a Masters of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. Twice she has served as CEO; with a trade association and a foundation. Additionally, her work history includes extensive assignments as senior counsel for a broad range of management and leadership issues in the private and public sectors. Past clients have included the Gates, W.K. Kellogg, Ford, and Ball foundations, as well as renowned associations, non-governmental organizations, and network charities such as Feeding America.

Wyatt Knowlton has managed complex change initiatives and has served as a strategic planner, facilitator, and trusted advisor. As a Kellogg Leadership Fellow, she worked in Central America, Europe, and Asia focused on microenterprise. Her areas of specialization include organization effectiveness, leadership, change management, systems thinking, and strategy. Wyatt Knowlton is a learning leader. She speaks Spanish, is an adjunct university faculty (Notre Dame and Grand Valley State University), and authored a text on logic models used by Harvard University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Bank, Packard Foundations, and leading development institutions worldwide. Wyatt Knowlton is managing principal for Wyatt Advisors, a resource for effective people and organizations. She is an advocate for adoption, Great Lakes protection, and an avid cyclist. Wyatt Knowlton is a board member with a refugee-serving collaborative. Recently, she established an education fund for girls in Peru.

“Lisa Wyatt Knowlton is an extraordinary agent for change,” said Kirkwood. “As FLOW enters a period of growth and opportunity, Lisa is just the leader we need to help us tackle complex problems, identify systemic solutions, and maximize our impact in protecting the Great Lakes and the public’s right to clean water.”

Wisconsin Judge Upholds Foxconn Decision, Undermining the ‘Compact’ Designed to Prevent Great Lakes Diversions

By Jim Olson, FLOW President and Founder

In a major ruling involving the Great Lakes Compact, a Wisconsin administrative law judge (ALJ) has upheld a decision by the State of Wisconsin to authorize a major diversion of Lake Michigan water primarily to benefit a single customer, the Foxconn Corporation, a Taiwanese multinational electronics manufacturing company. 

The ALJ ruling involves an exception to the Compact’s ban on diversion in the case of “straddling” communities or counties that are partly in, and partly out, of the Great Lakes watershed.  FLOW filed an amicus brief in March opposing the diversion, and we will continue to press the case that the Foxconn diversion is in conflict with both the plain language and the intent of the Compact.

In short, under the Compact a diversion out of the Great Lakes Basin or watershed to a straddling community must be “solely for public water supply purposes,” defined as “largely residential,” with some recognition of commercial or industrial customers.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource (DNR) in April 2018 approved this new diversion of up to 7 million gallons a day of Lake Michigan water delivered via the city of Racine into a neighboring, mostly vacant part of the Village of Mount Pleasant to serve one customer, Foxconn, and its planned 1,000-plus acre manufacturing complex to produce liquid crystal flat-screen panels.

Petitioner public interest organizations challenged the approval because diversions to straddling communities are prohibited unless “solely for public water supply purposes,” which means “largely residential customers.” The administrative law judge (ALJ), like the Wisconsin DNR, rejected these arguments, and instead interpreted the exception broadly, in effect, changing the very definition and plain meaning of the Compact and standard. 

The Compact calls for strict application and narrow interpretation of the “straddling community” exception because the intent of the Compact is to keep water in the Basin and protect the integrity of water and needs of communities inside the Basin.

But the Wisconsin ALJ basically rejected the arguments made by FLOW and others, reasoning for himself that public water supplies serve both residential and industrial customers, so it was well within the exception standard. The judge completely ignored the “largely residential” limitation. In short, he added new words to the “straddling community” exception standard in the Compact to justify a diversion of Great Lakes water to aid a private international corporation. 

The Foxconn diversion is hardly “residential.” The decision threatens the integrity of the Compact’s ban on diversions and could result in massive quantities of water to flow outside the Basin —not a good outcome for the

Jim Olson, FLOW President and Founder

Great Lakes and the 40 million people who live in the Basin. The decision also ignored the legal principle that these waters are subject to the public trust doctrine, which prohibits transfers of public trust resources for primarily private purposes.


Actress Amy Smart and writer and producer Geoff Johns urge Michigan Gov. Whitmer to protect our Great Lakes and shut down ‘Line 5’


Actress Amy Smart and comic book writer, screenwriter, and film and television producer Geoff Johns urge Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to protect our Great Lakes and shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

Amy: Hi, I’m Amy Smart.

Geoff: Hi, I’m Geoff Johns.

Amy: And we’re here to urge you, Governor Whitmer. We’re so excited that you are the governor of Michigan, and we’re so excited that you believe in the Great Lakes and keeping them clean. We both grew up — you grew up in Michigan.

Geoff: I grew up in Michigan. I have a lot of family still in Michigan. I love Michigan, and Michigan is known for its lakes. It’s the Great Lakes State, and there is nothing more important than those lakes to the whole state and the people in it.

Amy: Yes, nothing more important. I now am a resident of Michigan, and we really need your leadership more than anything to shut down Pipeline 5. It’s way too risky, and it would be completely catastrophic if anything happened, so it’s urgent right now that you do that. We also would highly recommend not letting Enbridge build a tunnel because we don’t need any oil problems in our lakes at all.

Geoff: We don’t want to risk it, and we know you’re in a really tough situation right now, but we ask you to please use your judgment and make the right call. Thank you!

Amy: Thank you!

Enbridge Attempts to Resuscitate a Terminally Flawed ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel Deal

By Jim Olson, FLOW President and Founder

The lawsuit filed by Enbridge in the Michigan Court of Claims on Thursday, June 6, is an attempt to resuscitate a Line 5 oil tunnel law and related agreements that are so riddled with entanglements by the former Governor Snyder Administration with Enbridge, a private corporation, that it cannot be upheld. Here’s why:

  1. The 2018 lame-duck oil tunnel law was a deceit on the public in violation of the state constitution.

The 2018 lame-duck oil tunnel law was a deceit on the public in violation of the state constitution because the title of the law represented the project would be entirely owned and controlled by the public. But when you read the law, it is a state deal or “partnership” with a private corporation primarily for the benefit of Enbridge.

  1. The tunnel and related agreements call for private occupancy and takeover of the public trust bottomlands.

The tunnel and related agreements call for private occupancy and takeover of the public trust bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac by private easement and 99-year lease controlled by Enbridge.  

  1. The agreements and tunnel deal sought to suspend and waive the laws and constitution of Michigan.

The agreements and tunnel deal sought to suspend and waive the laws and constitution of Michigan that protect citizens, communities,  and our Great Lakes; a governor and private corporation can never enter into agreements that escape the rule of law.

  1. There are alternatives to the existing Line 5 that do not require a tunnel.

Despite the posturing and rhetoric of Enbridge’s media scheme, there are alternatives to the existing Line 5 that do not require a tunnel; these include delivering propane for those pockets of customers in the Upper Peninsula, the use of excess capacity in other Enbridge pipelines that run across southern Michigan and northern Indiana to Canada and Detroit, and lack of necessity for a 99-year tunnel and pipeline in light of plummeting demand for crude oil as the world economy rapidly shifts to renewable energy.

  1. This lawsuit is a diversion.

This lawsuit is a diversion from the reality that the 540,000 barrels of oil are pulsating through a 66-year old pipeline, which is peppered with design flaws, gouges, dents, and cracks, and unavoidably threatened with another anchor strike at any time.

Jim Olson, President and Founder


Walking the Water Line — a Legal Right, But Difficult as Great Lakes Levels Rise

Pack away those dreams of walking miles from bay to bay along the shores of Lake Michigan this summer—unless you want to get wet, that is—reports Linda Dewey for the Glen Arbor Sun.

The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the public’s right to walk the Great Lakes shoreline in February when it declined to hear an Indiana case filed by riparian landowners who live along the south shore of Lake Michigan. But with near-record breaking high water levels this spring, the reality isn’t so simple.

“Public spaces, infrastructure, and Great Lakes beaches are underwater,” says FLOW founder and president Jim Olson. “We see the effects of rising Great Lake water levels everywhere, from Chicago’s treasured waterfront, to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, to Clinch Park here in Traverse City.”

“The question becomes: What does this mean, and what might citizens do about it?”

Legally, the Public Trust Doctrine protects the rights of citizens to walk along the beach or shore in the area below the Natural or Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) along the Great Lakes, along with the rights of fishing, boating, and swimming, explains Olson. But what happens when the water rises above the Natural High Water level or mark?

The Public Trust Doctrine assures walking the beach along the shore above the Natural High Water Mark as long as people walk within the so-called “swosh” or wet zone. This is why the doctrine relies on the definition of “natural”—the beach defined by wave action and other natural forces. Generally, this means that if you stay within the wet, compacted sand or stones you are safe and not trespassing on the property of riparian landowners.

So when the water is high, that means that walking the Great Lakes shoreline along private property is allowed. Plopping down with your beach towels, cooler, or firewood is not.

Climate Change Infringes on Public Trust

“The public is also right to wonder: what happens when the water rises to the toe or up a bluff, completely shutting off public access along the shore?” Olson said.

Legally, the Public Trust Doctrine prohibits any interference or impairment of the public’s right to access and walk along the shore. Members of the public can insist, by court action if necessary, that the interference or impairment must be prevented or minimized by those who are responsible.

In the case of the current extremely high water levels, the most recent United Nations International Panel on Climate Change pins the cause of  unprecedented high water levels in the Great Lakes on the effects on climate, evaporation, precipitation caused by greenhouse gases.

So, legally, citizens have a right to demand—through lawsuits if necessary—that government and industries causing higher and higher levels of global warming reduce their greenhouse gases. Why? Because their action or inaction is impairing one of the public’s valuable protected rights—access to walk along the shore–in violation of the Public Trust Doctrine.

Danger at Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Glen Arbor Sun reports that with the “Ordinary High Water Mark” on Sleeping Bear Bay currently under water and cliffs marking the Natural High Water Mark, the question of where one can walk the beach becomes more than a question of trespassing or the Public Trust. Now the issue is safety.

That has prompted staff at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, in northwest lower Michigan to discourage the public from running down popular water-facing dunes or cliffs like the overlook from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

The issue is serious—and potentially dangerous. National Lakeshore Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich said that Lakeshore staff recently had a meeting to figure out how to help climbers stuck on the dune below the Pierce Stocking overlook. They used to help those not in need of immediate life support walk back down to the shoreline and then south to North Bar Lake (sometimes with the help of their ATV, if needed).

“No more!” Ulrich said. “That route is impossible now. You cannot walk to North Bar Lake.” The only alternative is calling a boat out of Leland, which will take an additional 30-60 minutes to arrive.

“That’s why, this year, we’re going to try to let people know this is a really bad choice … to descend that slope, because our rescue is so limited.”

The problem exists up and down the Lake Michigan shoreline. One beach at the Indiana Dunes National Park is temporarily closed because wave action has created a cliff-enclosed beach. Walkers are also warned not to walk out on piers when waves break over them for fear they will be washed away.

On May 20, ABC Channel 57 in Indiana reported that last year was the deadliest ever for Lake Michigan with 42 deaths. This year has already seen seven fatalities, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

The Latest on ‘Line 5’

By Liz Kirkwood

MACKINAC ISLAND, Michigan – The biggest news coming from the Mackinac Policy Conference held here this week wasn’t even listed on the official agenda. Instead, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel made headlines in interviews conducted on the margins of the main affair.

Nessel’s message: She intends ASAP to keep her campaign promise to shut down Line 5, the decaying oil pipelines underwater in the Straits of Mackinac, just west of the island the Mackinac Bridge. The danger is imminent. Her legal duty is clear. The Great Lakes belong to all of us, not a private Canadian oil pipeline company.

And by the end of June, absent a satisfactory agreement between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Line 5-owner Enbridge to decommission Line 5, the attorney general will take legal action. Her goal: halt the oil flow to protect the drinking water supply for Mackinac Island and half of all Michiganders and the lifeblood of the Pure Michigan tourist economy.

“How are we going to entice people to come here from other states with oil along hundreds and hundreds of miles of shoreline? With all due respect to Enbridge, this is a Canadian oil company. We utilize here, 5%, at very most 10% of the oil that goes through those pipelines but we take on all the risk,” said Nessel, in an interview with WWMT-TV in West Michigan.

“I’m tired of it and we can’t have a private company be more important than the natural resources and residents of our state. They don’t own us, they don’t own the natural resources in this state and I think it’s time that we had elected leaders in office that recognize that.”

It’s exactly the leadership Michigan needs to solve the environmental and existential threat posed by Line 5, while it continues to operate more than a decade past its life expectancy and pump whopping 80 percent more oil than the pipeline’s 1953 original design capacity. The majority of Michiganders, business leaders, environmentalists, and state and federal politicians all agree that Line 5 poses an unacceptable risk every day of operations, and that’s because Enbridge pumps up to 23 million gallons of oil through the heart of the Great Lakes, the worst possible place for an oil spill, according to a University of Michigan study. 

Enbridge is desperate to continue Line 5’s risky oil operations. Why? Because Line 5 continues to be a critical piece of Enbridge’s Canadian tar sands infrastructure, not Michigan’s.  Enbridge’s latest announcement is that the company thinks it could expedite completion of a tunnel by 2024 – by steamrolling through the environmental review process. But it’s 2019, and Michigan cannot lawfully waive environmental laws nor allow Enbridge to operate Line 5 for another five years, regardless of any proposed “safety measures” the company heralds.

Gov. Whitmer: Not Open to 5 More Years of Line 5 Risk

In response, Gov. Whitmer today declared the compressed 5-year timetable for opening the tunnel and shutting down the existing pipes in the Straits of Mackinac is not fast enough. “I think we’ve got a duty to get it out quicker than that, and I think that the attorney general feels the same way and that’s my goal,” Whitmer said.

What we do know is that Line 5 is a failing piece of oil infrastructure located in our Great Lakes and across 547 miles in Michigan where it endangers nearly 400 other water crossings.  And let’s not forget what Enbridge still does not know: the feasibility of constructing a tunnel through the unknown geology under the Straits for its oil transport operations, which it wants to run for the next 99 years despite global trends to decarbonize and address the climate crisis. 

The operation of the current 66-year-old pipelines must cease now based on the State of Michigan’s fiduciary duty under public trust law as held by the Supreme Court of the United States in the seminal 1892 case, Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois: “The State can no more abdicate its trust over property in which the whole people are interested, like navigable waters and soils under them, so as to leave them entirely under the use and control of private parties.”

FLOW’s latest legal memorandum to the State of Michigan underscores this very point: the state cannot negotiate away its high, solemn, and perpetual legal duty by accommodating private interests that jeopardize waters, bottomlands, public trust, public property, private property, and public health of the citizens and tribes of Michigan.  Public trust law simply does not allow Enbridge to continue operations of Line 5 in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, while this Canadian company contemplates building a new oil tunnel under our Great Lakes.

Gov. Whitmer’s and A.G. Nessel’s legal duty, which aligns with the campaign pledges both made in their quest to gain office, is to shut down Line 5 and protect the Great Lakes, which define Michigan, drive our economy, and provide drinking water to half the state’s population.

Take Action: Click here to sign the petition calling on Michigan’s elected leaders to stop the Enbridge oil tunnel and shut down Line 5 to protect the Great Lakes, drinking water, and the Pure Michigan economy. The petition is sponsored by the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, co-led by FLOW and other groups and tribes committed to protecting our freshwater and way of life from a disastrous oil spill.

DDT: The 50th Anniversary Everyone Forgot

Photo: Michigan State University ornithologist George Wallace

By Dave Dempsey

Engulfed in a mammoth chemical crisis involving a family of chemicals known as PFAS, Michigan has something to learn from a 50th anniversary that passed unnoticed last month.  In April 1969, Michigan became the first state to effectively ban DDT.

It wasn’t easy or quick.  Michigan State University ornithologist George Wallace found as early as the 1950s that mass die-offs of robins on campus were directly attributable to DDT application — research that Rachel Carson cited in her 1962 classic Silent Spring.  Most state and federal officials, however, and the all-powerful farm lobby, opposed tough action on the pesticide.  But gradually, things began to change.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Ralph MacMullan became a leader in the fight to ban the so-called “hard pesticides.”  Defying the state Agriculture Department and Governor George Romney, he campaigned for bans on DDT, dieldrin, and other bioaccumulative chemicals.

“The effects of this storing-up of pesticides in animals,” MacMullan wrote, “from the smallest to largest is not completely known, but gaps are beginning to be filled in. Man, for the first time in his history, has chemicals at his disposal that can completely alter his own food chain.  By wiping out certain insects or minute sea-creatures he removes link after link in the very delicately balanced chain of life on which he depends… [T]here is enough evidence for us to be greatly concerned and to start bringing the unnecessary and widespread use of these persistent chemicals to a halt.”  Fears of harm to human health, as well as fish and wildlife, from DDT exposure mounted.

In the late winter and early spring of 1969, government agencies found alarmingly high levels of DDT in coho salmon, which in just three years had become the centerpiece of Michigan’s lucrative sportfishery. In February 1969, the Michigan Department of Agriculture – which had regulatory responsibility over commercial food sales as well as control of pesticides application – tested Lake Michigan salmon captured by a Grand Rapids packing company at weirs on spawning streams.  The company had pulled two million pounds of fish from the state’s waters in the fall of 1968 for dressing, canning, or storage in freezers. To its dismay, MDA found relatively high levels of dieldrin in the salmon and embargoed from sale 500,000 pounds of fish.

Soon after, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration examined interstate shipments of coho, found high levels of DDT, and seized 14 tons of fish. Federal agencies moved to set a “tolerance” level – a limit on the amount of DDT residue permitted in fish sold in interstate commerce – of 3.5 parts per million. Only Lake Michigan smelt might pass inspection under that level, said Dr. Wayne Tody, the DNR’s fish chief. Now more was at stake than the elusive matter of ecosystem integrity.  Two industries, commercial fishing and sportfishing-based tourism, were at risk from the use of pesticides to protect another, agriculture. “End of Sports Fishing Near?” asked a headline in the April 10, 1969, Lansing State Journal.

Since 1962, the Michigan State University Agricultural Experiment Station had already eliminated DDT from many of its recommendations for insect control, and recommended reduced dosages in the remaining instances.  In February 1969, under Dr. Gordon Guyer, the Station decided to eliminate DDT from its recommendations altogether. This would have the effect of phasing out, over time, the use of DDT by Michigan farmers.

Notified of this decision and worried about losing his pesticide control authority if left alone defending DDT, Michigan Department of Agriculture Director B. Dale Ball chose a more aggressive route: he proposed cancellation of DDT registrations for all but three minor uses, to take effect within 60 days.  The Commission of Agriculture agreed with the proposal in April 1969, thus making Michigan the first state to cancel most uses of DDT.  MacMullan cheered the action.

The state’s current struggle with PFAS is analogous in only one way — in the aggressiveness, or lack of same, with which our state agencies tackle the problem.  DDT is a particular chemical, while PFAS are a family of thousands. Yet the basic issue persists — will Michigan wait for the feds, or exercise its own powers as a guardian of the Great Lakes as well as its 10 million people?

There are good signs in both the aggressive public drinking water supply testing program that began under former Governor Rick Snyder and the directive by Governor Gretchen Whitmer  for development of a drinking water standard for PFAS (there is no federal standard).  Both of these actions put Michigan in the vanguard of states grappling with PFAS.

But it’s only the beginning.  The state must develop plans for handling and disposal of stocks of the key PFAS chemicals, address the health concerns of citizens exposed to PFAS in their drinking water or through direct contact, and coerce polluters into paying for necessary cleanup, among other things.

In Praise of Lana Pollack

By Dave Dempsey

Today, after nine years of service on the International Joint Commission (IJC), Michigan’s Lana Pollack steps down as chair of the U.S. Section.  It’s a milestone in a career of public service spanning 40 years.

In her role on the IJC, Lana has been a forceful voice for environmental protection and government transparency as the Commission has gone about its work in preventing and resolving disputes involving the boundary waters shared by the U.S. and Canada.  She has been a thoughtful advocate for protection as the IJC exercises its oversight responsibilities under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and has worked to engage a broader community in Great Lakes discussions than the usual suspects.

It was largely because of Lana‘s persuasion that the IJC endorsed consideration of the public trust doctrine in two reports, one on rehabilitation of Lake Erie and one on water use and diversions.  The institutional support has given the doctrine, FLOW’s central organizing principle, a new relevance in Great Lakes policy discussions.

“Lana Pollack is one of those rare leaders who combines vision, smarts, passion and communication to achieve the common good,” said FLOW President Jim Olson. “She has been a true champion of the Great Lakes.”

Lana’s leadership is palpable here in the Great Lakes. Lana has been a friend of clean water and the environment throughout her career, beginning with her election in 1982 to the Michigan State Senate for the first of three terms. Her polluter pay law, enacted in 1990, generated close to $100 million for cleanups from those who generated or profited from pollution, before a hostile legislature repealed it after she left office in 1995.

She served from 1996-2008 as president of the Michigan Environmental Council. In addition, Lana was a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, taught at the University of Michigan and was an elected trustee of the Ann Arbor Board of Education. Other professional experiences included co-founding a statewide general interest magazine, and co-directing a school for elementary education in Lusaka, Zambia.

She served on a number of educational, non-profit and corporate boards, including the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, which annually directed $35-50 million in discretionary public funds to protect, purchase and enhance parkland and open space for preservation and recreation.

“Lana’s public career is truly inspiring, accented by visionary leadership and an enduring legacy to benefit the people and ecosystem health of the Great Lakes,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. 

Lana, who grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan in Ludington, earned a BA in political science from the University of Michigan (U-M) in 1965 and an MA from U-M in 1970. She is married to Henry Pollack, with whom she raised two children.

Lana has done much for the Great Lakes, and even more for the environment overall. She deserves thanks for her years of service, and her unflinching commitment to the principle of environmental protection.

‘Line 5’ Threat to Great Lakes Won’t Be Solved By Proposed Anchor Rules

Let’s be clear: the ‘Line 5’ oil spill threat to the Great Lakes won’t be solved by emergency anchor rules that Gov. Whitmer called for today,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW. “The real solution to the threat of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac is to shut it down now.” 

The Enbridge oil pipelines are past their life expectancy, bent, and battered. The governor’s duty is to protect the Great Lakes from Enbridge, which has a well-documented track record of deceiving the state of Michigan about the condition of Line 5. The fastest way to protect the driver of Michigan’s economy and drinking water source for half of all Michiganders is to revoke the 1953 easement allowing Enbridge conditional access to the state’s waters and bottomlands. Burying this risk in an oil tunnel, which the Whitmer administration is negotiating now with Enbridge, is not a solution. It’s a recipe for another century of risk to our waters and our climate.

Images and video were released yesterday showing damage to the Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac from an April 1, 2018anchor strike. The footage showed a gash across the east pipeline and several dents, exposed steel, and scrapes on the west pipeline. The longest dent is nearly twofeet long. Enbridge supplied the video and photos to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is investigating the anchor strike. Enbridge told the committee they considered the evidence confidentialand didn’t want it published. U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) released the footage this week, after conferring with the Coast Guard.

Today, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer directed the state Department of Natural Resources to proactively file an emergency rule to prevent anchor strikes in the Straits of Mackinac. According to the governor’s office, the emergency rule “will require large vessels to verify no anchors are dragging before passing through the Straits.” Whitmer also made a formal request to the U.S. Coast Guard to create a similar rule for all foreign vessels, which lie beyond state authority.