Last Summer on Lake Huron

A slender journal of a summer on Lake Huron will become available in two weeks through Amazon.  Coming in at just under 100 pages, it will retail at $6.95. Any proceeds will go to Lake Huron protection. More details coming the day the book is...

Punt, pass and kick

It is now three years, three months since the formation of the first of two State of Michigan task forces to examine petroleum pipeline safety — and the end of the pipeline is not in sight. In fact, the end receded another 6 months this week when state officials decided to complete a study of spill risks posed by Enbridge Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac — which they had shelved due to conflicts of interest on the part of the contractor.  Putting Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Director, the respected Guy Meadows, in charge of bringing the study is not a bad idea.  But completing the study is a waste of time in the first place — unless your game is delay. Punting has been the political game from the start.  Put on the spot by Enbridge’s record-breaking pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo watershed in 2010, and then a compelling video of the ill-maintained Line 5 commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation Ann Arbor office (thanks, guys!), the Snyder Administration created the Petroleum Pipeline Task Force in 2014 — an election year.  That deferred any charges that the governor was lax past his re-election.  Now the second board, the Petroleum Safety Advisory Board, is plausibly on a path to kick any tough decision down the road to Snyder’s successor. After all, when Dr. Meadows’ study comes in, a 60-day comment period will be needed, then a 90-day period for the Board to cogitate, and then… All this after Enbridge has convincingly demonstrated its incompetence at stewardship and communications. Two takeaways: Gov. Snyder has a chance to become...

The Untouchables

Here we go again. It happens at least once per year, usually many times per year: government agencies issue a news release announcing with pride the spending of millions of dollars to help agriculture clean up its contribution to the harmful and nuisance algal blooms that plague bodies of water like Lake Erie. The gist of these news releases is that cutting edge science will be deployed to ascertain how much phosphorus goes from which fields under which practices into waterways. This, in turn, will lead to improvements in environmental stewardship by farmers.  How will that happen?  Voluntarily, of course. The projects are funded, the results come in, and western Lake Erie continues to deteriorate. The cycle is unbreakable because big agriculture has managed to exempt itself from most major environmental laws. That is, this industry gets special treatment. It is not nearly as consistently and aggressively regulated as are others. Another way of putting the last is that the ag lobby has over the years made it taboo to talk about any serious regulation of farm practices to protect the environment.  Yet an estimated 85% of the phosphorus delivered to Erie from the Maumee River is of agricultural origin, much of it from factory farms. If we had waited for municipalties and non-agricultural businesses to be inspired to reduce phosphorus rather than required to do so, Lake Erie would be beyond redemption. The business as usual approach will not work.  When will policy change to reflect...

Great Lakes State Governor

Less than 15 months until Michigan elects a new governor, and it’s still not clear what the candidates are for, as opposed to what they’re against. And it’s all too easy for candidates to escape from talking environmental specifics during an entire campaign. That can’t be allowed to happen in 2018.  Not after Flint and so much else that has further shredded Michigan’s reputation as an environmental leader among the states. The governor of Michigan has a responsibility like no other governor. She or he governs the state with the most at stake in the health of the Great Lakes. Further, she or he has an awesome responsibility to assure that future generations will enjoy all the values and beauties of the Great Lakes. Michigan is the only state that borders four of the five Great Lakes. Michigan has 3288  miles of Great Lakes shoreline. Michigan has 40,000 mi.² of water surface within its borders. When you add that water surface to land, Michigan grows from 22nd largest state to 11th. These are some of the reasons why Michigan is called the Great Lakes State. And here are just a few questions that a good journalist should put to all of the candidates for governor: Where will you find state money, and how much, to restore the Great Lakes instead of relying almost entirely on the federal government and its money? How specifically will you prevent another Flint from happening? Do you oppose or support the extraction of Michigan water by multinational corporations for private profit while they pay the state $200 a year in fees? Will you support...

A Vanishing Type

The news that former Congressman and state legislator Vern Ehlers has passed away prompts reflection as well as sadness. A Republican, Vern was also a conservationist.  During a time when I worked for a Democratic governor and he chaired the State Senate’s environmental committee, he collaborated on significant state environmental legislation.  He was often the author of it, or improved our work. I remember sitting in his office discussing amendments to a bill while he successfully toyed with a Rubik’s cube and cracked bad puns.  Opponents and members of the Democratic Party were treated in his office with respect and dignity. When he moved to Congress, he championed Great Lakes cleanup and restoration and got the ball rolling on big-time cleanup of contaminated sediment. What has happened to Vern’s brand of Republicanism — civil, science-friendly (he was a physicist) and committed to advancing environmental protection?  It is not just the Republican Party’s loss, it is everyone’s loss that there are few Verns today. On the bad pun front, there is this from the floor debate in the State Senate in 1987 on his bill making the brook trout the official state fish:  “”I’m glad the Senate did not flounder around on this bill. I recognize it’s not the sole issue before us. I’m glad no one took me for a sucker.”  It was a halibut...