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Legislature’s irresponsible budget plan slashes front-line protections for public health

MEC and our partners at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters released a report Thursday showing that deep budget cuts proposed in Lansing and Washington put at risk essential programs for protecting the Great Lakes, ensuring safe drinking water and cleaning up toxic contamination.

In the short time since we released the report, the state budget picture has come into clearer focus. And it’s worrisome, to say the least.

The report, prepared by Public Sector Consultants, compiles for the first time all the known environmental programs and public health protections threatened by the proposed cuts. President Trump has called for slashing the Environmental Protection Agency budget by nearly a third, while Michigan lawmakers aimed to cut state support for the Department of Environmental Quality by $13 million under a House plan and more than $26 million in the Senate proposal.

The analysis shows that the combination of the Legislature’s planned cuts and the president’s plans to gut federal programs could be disastrous for state-level environmental programs in Michigan. That’s because federal funds make up a significant share of the DEQ’s budget—more than a quarter in the current fiscal year. In 2016 the state received more than $168 million in EPA grants for water infrastructure and environmental protection activities, with the vast majority going to the DEQ—which puts those dollars to work supporting local governments and nonprofit partners like watershed councils, local cleanup groups, researchers and others.  The rest of the federal funds support 200 employees who are responsible for protecting our air, land and water quality.

Just after we released the report, House and Senate leaders held conference committee meetings to finalize an agreement between the two chambers that cuts nearly $10 million from the DEQ budget in 2018. While not as severe as anticipated, it remains an irresponsible budget that does nothing to address serious threats to public health. Read more

Life on the edge: Shoreland Stewards program provides conservation tools for lakefront property owners

With Memorial Day fast approaching, many Michiganders are preparing to re-open cottages on the state’s more than 11,000 inland lakes. If you’re lucky enough to have a summer place on the water or live lakeside year-round, the way you landscape and manage your property can have a big impact on water quality and lake-dwelling wildlife.

Enter the Michigan Shoreland Stewards program. Launched last year by the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership, the program recognizes property owners who are using healthy property management practices to protect their inland lake and recommends steps they can take to further improve shoreline health.

“Our goal is to not only educate people about the issues our inland lakes are facing, but to give them some easy ways to work toward protecting their lake,” says Eli Baker, education and outreach specialist with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, a Petoskey-based member group of MEC and of the shoreline partnership.

When it comes to the life of an inland lake, the real action is near the shoreline. Bass, bluegills and other popular game fish species spawn in the shallows, as do frogs, toads and salamanders. Mayflies burrow into the nearshore sediment. Ducks, loons and other water birds make their nests on the banks. Minks and raccoons stalk the shoreline for a meal.

Along with providing important habitat for fish and wildlife, natural shorelines also filter out excess nutrients, keep the water cool by providing shade and stabilize banks by minimizing erosion from waves and ice.

Unfortunately, the shorelines of Michigan’s inland lakes are threatened by development. Property owners are replacing more and more of this important habitat with seawalls, turfgrass lawns and impervious surfaces like driveways and buildings.

Ten years ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted its first-ever National Lakes Assessment. Working with the state Department of Environmental Quality, the EPA found that 40 percent of Michigan lakes had poor shoreline habitat and loss of that habitat was the biggest stressor on the health of our inland lakes. Read more

First #HowYouDune summit celebrates Michigan’s coastal treasures

More than 60 scientists, natural resource professionals, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and others gathered in Muskegon on Monday for the Freshwater Dune Summit, organized by MEC and our partners at Heart of the Lakes and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

The first-time event was made possible with funding from the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program, Office of the Great Lakes, Department of Environmental Quality; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The planning committee took a creative approach to the summit by building in opportunities to meet local outdoor recreation leaders and get out and learn about the local community assets alongside local partners, such as the Run Muskegon running club, and Guy’s Ultimate Kayak Service.  Guests arriving Sunday took their pick between running or biking in the dunes or kayaking down the Muskegon River, followed by a showing of outdoor films with a side of local pizza and beer. Monday’s participants had the option to take a morning field trip to the dunes in P.J. Hoffmaster State Park and return for afternoon sessions, or to participate in morning sessions.

The centerpiece of the event was the announcement of a new survey of dune users to be launched May 29. (Once it’s live, you can find it at howyoudunesurvey.com.) Michigan State University professors Sarah Nicholls and Robert Richardson—who has been very busy with media interviews lately—introduced the survey during a lunchtime keynote address. The online tool will ask participants to identify where they recreate in Michigan’s coastal dunes, what activities they do there and how much they spend, along with questions about the noneconomic values of dunes. Read more

MEC rallies with Michiganders at People’s Climate March

One thing you wouldn’t want during a Washington march for climate action is unseasonable cold. It wouldn’t do to sound the alarm on global warming on a spring day in coats and scarves. Bad optics.

Well, no need to worry about that. As it happened, the day of the People’s Climate March topped out at 91 degrees in the capital, tying a record for the hottest April 29 on the books.

It was decidedly shorts-and-T-shirt weather when we stepped off our charter bus from Ann Arbor—others came from Detroit, Flint and Traverse City—at RFK Stadium, around 9 a.m. It was just plain hot by the time we’d walked the couple of miles to the National Gallery of Art, on whose steps Michigan activists and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell gathered for a pre-march rally. And by 1 p.m., as we stood dazed on the fry-an-egg-hot blacktop of 3rd Street waiting for the procession to the White House to begin, the heat had lost its novelty and become downright oppressive.

“What a day for the climate march, eh?” said Shelly Cote of Novi. “If this doesn’t tell you something,” she trailed off, referring and yielding to the rising mercury. Read more

March for Science matters for Michigan

In Washington and around the country on Saturday, scientists and concerned citizens will march to defend science and champion its role at the heart of sound public policy.

As the event website puts it, “The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.”

There are 14 satellite marches planned in Michigan. Click here to find one near you.

The marches come as many members of Congress and top federal officials—including the head of the Environmental Protection Agency—dismiss basic climate science. And they take place on Earth Day, which is appropriate, because we can’t protect life on the planet without the tools science provides to understand our world and develop solutions to environmental problems.

Good science is fundamental to our work at the Michigan Environmental Council. Time and again, MEC has partnered with university researchers and others to inject the latest science into debates at the state Capitol about policies that affect public health and our natural resources.

As we look forward to this weekend’s demonstrations, here are five examples of how science has played or is playing a central role in safeguarding the health of Michigan families and protecting the wild places and natural communities we have a responsibility to care for.

1. Dr. Mona’s simple experiment

There was nothing fancy about Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s experiment that proved Flint residents were being poisoned by lead-tainted water, but it was good science that had a huge impact. As we wrote in a piece about why MEC chose her as the recipient of our 2016 Helen and William Milliken Distinguished Service Award, “Hanna-Attisha ran a simple before-and-after analysis of hospital records, which revealed that children’s blood lead levels had doubled—or tripled, in some parts of the city—following the drinking water switch. She called a press conference to announce her findings, but state officials immediately tried to discredit her announcement in the media as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘near hysteria.’ A week later, they acknowledged that Hanna-Attisha’s findings were accurate—that, in the middle of the Great Lakes, an entire city’s drinking water had been poisoned.”

Fittingly, Hanna-Attisha has been named honorary co-chair of the March for Science.

2. Michigan scientists stand up for biodiversity

In the past two legislative sessions, MEC and allies have beaten back proposals that would have prohibited state agencies from designating land to protect biological diversity, even though science tells us diverse ecosystems are more productive and more resilient in the face of disaster and disease. Read more

Snyder takes action to combat lead, enlists MEC staffer in the fight

MEC is proud to announce that Tina Reynolds, our health policy director, has been appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to serve on a new Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission. Snyder signed an executive order creating the commission on Thursday and said it will be a permanent body.

Also on Thursday, Snyder outlined tougher state standards for implementing the federal Lead and Copper Rule—changes he says will ensure that Michigan communities are able to provide safe, clean drinking water.

New commission to protect Michigan kids

The 15-member commission will advise the governor and the Department of Health and Human Services on policies and programs to meet an ambitious but achievable goal: ending childhood lead poisoning in Michigan.

That’s also the ultimate goal of the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MIALSH), which Tina has helped to lead since she joined MEC in 2010. Last year, MIALSH succeeding in maintaining funding at $1.75 million for the 2017 budget, bringing the total funding for the past four budget cycles to more than $6.5 million. Before MIALSH formed in 2010, there hadn’t been significant state funding for lead cleanup programs in decades.

Tina is one of three commission members appointed to serve an initial three-year term; other members will serve one- or two-year terms. The commission also includes MIALSH members Rebecca Meuninck, deputy director of the Ecology Center, and Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who became a hero of the Flint water crisis and won MEC’s 2016 Milliken Award, also will serve on the commission.

“I am honored to join this commission and grateful to Gov. Snyder for creating it,” Tina said. “Protecting Michigan kids from lead hazards has been a top priority of my work since I joined MEC. There’s an impressive level of collective expertise on this new commission, and I think we have a great opportunity to achieve real, meaningful progress toward making lead poisoning a thing of the past in Michigan. It’s not going to happen overnight, but the governor has demonstrated that he is serious about doing what it takes to make Michigan lead-safe.” Read more

With encouragement from Lt. Gov. Calley, advocates rally in Lansing to end lead poisoning

About 60 environmental advocates, public health professionals, lead-abatement contractors and other citizen-lobbyists gathered in Lansing on Wednesday for the fifth annual Lead Education Day organized by the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MIALSH). MEC Health Policy Director Tina Reynolds is coalition manager for MIALSH.

The group met with 40 legislators or their staff members to provide updates on MIALSH’s policy priorities for addressing the continuing statewide lead crisis. Among those priorities are:

  • Universal lead testing for all Michigan children at ages 1 and 2. In 2015 at least 4,791 Michigan kids had an elevated blood lead level. But the true total is likely much higher, because only about 20 percent of the state’s children under 6 years old are currently tested for lead exposure.
  • Switching the burden of proof in rental housing so that landlords must demonstrate their property has been made lead-safe if the rental unit has previously poisoned a child. Today, some rental properties repeatedly poison the children of tenant after tenant. The majority of Michigan’s lead-poisoned children live in rental housing.
  • Continuing state general fund support for the lead program to ensure state priorities and federal match requirements can be met. Last year, MIALSH succeeding in maintaining funding at $1.75 million for the 2017 budget, bringing the total funding for the past four budget cycles to more than $6.5 million. Before MIALSH formed in 2010, there hadn’t been significant state funding for lead cleanup programs in decades.

    MIALSH members meet with a staffer for Rep. Chris Afendoulis

“Your advocacy and your timing could not be more perfect, and it does make a difference,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who met with MIALSH members to answer questions and share insights on the recommendations issued in November by the state’s Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board, which he chaired.

Some of those recommendations—which focus on primary prevention of lead poisoning—align with MIALSH priorities, Calley noted. For instance, the board reported that rental properties represent a major opportunity to better protect Michigan children. He also said the state could pursue policies to take advantage of home sales as an opportunity for action to make homes lead-safe. Calley added that there are opportunities to weave lead abatement projects together with energy efficiency upgrades, noting for instance that windows are usual suspects for both containing lead-based paint and causing energy-wasting drafts.

Calley said that Gov. Rick Snyder later this week would announce additional steps he’s taking to protect Michigan families from lead poisoning, and emphasized that the ultimate aim is to end lead poisoning altogether in Michigan—a daunting goal, but one that is achievable.

“It’s not called the lead poisoning reduction board, it’s the lead poisoning elimination board,” he said. “It’s still realistically a generational issue. But why not start now, and start big?”

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Action opportunity: Speak out for clean air in Detroit

MEC and our partners at Zero Waste Detroit urge southeast Michigan residents to attend an important public meeting Wednesday night and call on state environmental regulators to get tough on one of the city’s worst polluters.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will host an information session and public hearing beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, at the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Hall of Nations, 111 East Kirby Street in Detroit.

Since January 2015, the Department of Environmental Quality has cited Detroit Renewable Power 19 times for violating emissions limits on carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter at the trash incinerator it owns and operates in Midtown.

However, a draft consent order between DEQ and DRP only penalizes the company for six of those violations, for a total of just $149,000.

By contrast, the health impacts of pollution from the incinerator total $2.6 million each year, according to Community Action to Promote Healthy Environments, a community-based research partnership housed in the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

In a letter to the department, MEC, ZWD and several other environmental justice and health groups call the incinerator’s history of illegal emissions “a clear environmental justice issue.” The letter notes that 87 percent of Detroiters living within a mile of the facility are people of color and 60 percent live below the federal poverty line. The community has a high rate of asthma and other respiratory illnesses that are triggered by pollution like that coming from the facility’s smokestack.

Adding to the injustice, about 65 percent of the waste burned in the facility is trucked in from Oakland County—the state’s wealthiest county—with just 25 percent coming from Wayne County.

If you plan to attend the meeting and have questions about this issue, please contact Zero Waste Detroit Convener Margaret Weber at (313) 938-1133. Thank you!

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Michigan farms among those most at risk from wild bee decline, study shows

Seven agriculture-heavy Michigan counties are among the nation’s most likely to be impacted by the loss of native pollinators, according to the first study to map wild bees in the United States.

Both honeybees and wild pollinator populations are shrinking, a trend that’s been linked to habitat loss, parasites, pathogens, pesticide exposure, climate change and other factors. A global assessment of pollinators published last February found a growing number of them threatened with extinction.

Scientists say more than $3 billion of the country’s agriculture economy depends on the free services provided by native pollinators, including more than 4,000 species of wild bees. That’s on top of the $15 billion impact from European honeybees raised to pollinate crops and produce honey.

The study, led by the University of Vermont with contributions from Michigan State and other universities, paired expert knowledge with models of land-cover change to estimate that wild bee abundance in the contiguous U.S. decreased by 23 percent from 2008 to 2013. The results also show that 39 percent of croplands that depend on pollinators face a widening gap between the demand for pollination and the supply of wild bees, suggesting that successful future harvests in those areas may depend more and more on managed honeybees.

“The shortfall is most dramatic in areas that focus on specialty crops like apples and berries, which are especially reliant on pollinators,” the Christian Science Monitor reported. That’s particularly worrisome news for Michigan growers, who produce the country’s second-most diverse array of food, including many pollinator-dependent specialty crops. Read more

Latest headlines show renewable energy going mainstream

I start most mornings at MEC by browsing the day’s environmental headlines, mainly from email newsletters that I highly recommend—Midwest Energy News, InsideClimate News, Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate and Food and Environment Reporting Network, among others—so I’m used to seeing plenty of promising news about the rise of renewable energy.

But the past few days have been exceptional, energy news-wise. One story after another has driven home the reality that a future powered primarily by clean energy is not far off. It wasn’t so long ago that wind and solar were seen as feel-good gimmicks for the tree-hugging fringe, but those days are gone. You don’t hear them called “alternative energy” much anymore. Renewables have gone mainstream.

That’s good, because we need to shift away from fossil fuels, fast. Last year was the hottest ever recorded, marking three consecutive years of record-breaking warmth. (To see how much warmer than average your hometown was last year, check out this cool tool.)

Here are some of the renewable energy stories that grabbed my attention over the past few days.

Surge in solar installations

The news: New solar photovoltaic installations in the U.S. totaled a record 14.6 gigawatts in 2016. That’s almost twice what was installed in 2015, which was itself a record year.

Why it’s a big deal: For the first time, solar was the largest source of new electric generating capacity nationwide. It made up 39 percent of new capacity, more than natural gas (29 percent) or wind (26 percent). To be clear, capacity is how much electricity a power source is capable of producing, and is different from generation, which is how much power actually gets produced. Solar was still less than 1 percent of U.S. generation in 2015, though experts expect that number to double by the end of this year and continue growing steadily.

“What these numbers tell you is that the solar industry is a force to be reckoned with,” says Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Solar’s economically winning hand is generating strong growth across all market segments.”

 

Wind power sets a record

The news: For a short time on the morning of Feb. 12, wind power met more than half of electric demand for the region of 14 Western and Midwest states whose grid is overseen by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). Read more