Great Lakes restoration initiative, Junior

Candidates for governor of Michigan are all talking up their commitment to the Great Lakes. They should be offering more than warm fuzzies. As long as the current president remains in the White House, the federal government‘s $300 million per year Great Lakes restoration initiative will be at risk. That’s why the governor of Michigan should be championing a state Great Lakes restoration initiative. Michigan can afford, and the public would support a $300 million a year Great Lakes protection program. But advocates can do even better. They should be agitating with the legislature to place a  $2 billion  clean water bond on the Michigan ballot for November 2018. The public has supported clean water bond programs in 1968,,1988, 1998, and 2002. There’s no reason to think they won’t do it again. But someone has to offer the vision. Michigan once was the leader in Great Lakes protection. It’s time for it to be the leader in more than rhetoric about Great Lakes...

Pass the Salt

Every time I see this decal, I think of another image. It is NOT true that the Great Lakes are unsalted.  In fact, the chloride trend in the Great Lakes is generally upward. Here’s a somewhat dated chart for Lake Michigan. This is part of a broader phenomenon   As one study of North American 371 freshwater lakes put it, “the potential for steady and long-term salinization of these aquatic systems is high.” The study predicted that within 50 years chlorides in many of the studied lakes would exceed EPA water quality standards.  Chloride concentrations in Chicago area rivers are already above “acceptable levels.”  A 2008 study of the Great Lakes found that even if the 2006 level of chlorides going into the Great Lakes remained the same in subsequent years, “concentrations in all lakes will continue to increase with the most dramatic rise occurring in Lake Michigan which will ultimately approach the level of Lake Erie.” That’s a problem.   Since road salt is the cause, I don’t have an...

Freedom from Information

Once upon a time many of Michigan state government’s decisions about the environment were made in the blinding light of day. It wasn’t a pretty process all the time but at least everybody knew the score. Now we find Michigan DEQ ingeniously avoiding the Freedom of Information Act.  According to the Capitol watchdog MIRS, “A number of state officials were directed to a website controlled by a former private contractor in an effort to shield certain Line 5-relation documents from the possibility of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).” It’s a long way from the sunshine days.  Citizen commissions appointed by the governor heard presentations from agency staff and the public and then made decisions about key pollution permits and some policies in public meetings. Frequently, they cast votes allowing everyone to see where individual members stood. Michigan had a water resources commission, air pollution control commission, and natural resources commission. It was a system that evolved over decades, and peaked in the sunshine in government 1970s. In 1991, Governor Engler scrapped most of the system and consolidated decision making within the DNR and finally the DEQ. It’s time to return sunshine to the DEQ. The next governor needs to create a citizen commission to oversee the department and assure transparency in decision-making — and assure respect for the citizenry. This is not an exciting plank in anybody’s platform, but it might do more work than all of the other initiatives that the candidates will be proposing. The environment belongs to all of us, and so does DEQ.  Special interests will always have access to the decisionmakers.  A...

A Dead-End Trail?

A stop at the northbound I-75 rest area just south of Grayling this weekend reminded me of something most people don’t know about. An historical marker at the rest area educates travelers on the remarkable recovery of the Kirtland’s Warbler. The warbler, which ought to be a Michigan‘s official state bird, since the bulk of its global population spends summers here, has become almost abundant by recent standards as a result of long-term habitat management and predator control. It’s another of those globally significant success stories Michigan once specialized in. The sign is part of a chain of historical markers dedicated to conservation and environmental protection. The Michigan Environmental Council has background information on the Michigan Conservation Trail and the first three markers here. Perhaps the most important piece of information in the MEC presentation is this: “Michigan’s environmental leaders are the people.” One can’t think of conservation history without reflecting on how our predecessors succeeded in the Herculean task of reforming laws, cracking down on the worst pollution, and saving some of the most spectacular places.  Citizens, not solons. By contrast, today, even the most fervent citizen lobbying activities to restore Lake Erie are having almost no impact on politicians even after the Toledo drinking water emergency of 2014. It’s remarkable. Last week’s repugnant bloom in the Maumee River was impossible to ignore.  But odds are it will not result in major policy change.  Why is that?  I credit the sophistication of corporate communications and the diffusion of public opinion.  More on these in upcoming posts. The point for now is that in 50 years we may not...