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Permit for road through township dune preserve: DENIED!

The White Lake Beacon reports the permit application to build a quarter mile road..ahem..driveway through a township sand dune preserve outside Montague has been denied by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality!

Good news for one of Michigan’s most globally unique resources – our freshwater dune system.

You may recall developers tried to ram the road through under a creative interpretation of the Critical Dunes Act, which was weakened by our state legislature last year. MEC and dozens of others testified against the permit, which was strongly opposed by the community. It won’t be the last test of how vulnerable our once-solid laws are.

Michigan should be strengthening, not undercutting, protections for our most valuable natural assets.

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Does the state own too much land? No, and here’s why: A primer on Michigan’s land strategy and how to be heard

The state is on a fast-track to developing a land plan required by the Michigan Legislature as a condition of potentially removing caps on acquiring more state-owned land. MEC’s Brad Garmon has provided this helpful overview for MEC member organizations and others interested in tracking or influencing this process.

What is the “Land Plan”?

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is accepting public input on a draft document outlining a proposed strategy to guide how the state acquires, manages and sells public lands.

The plan is a requirement of Public Act 240, the so-called “land cap” law that was passed in 2012. It strictly limits how much acreage the DNR can own. According to the law, the acreage cap can be lifted if the DNR develops a land strategy that is approved by the legislature.

More on the Land Cap can be found here, here and here.

What is the “land strategy” process and where are we now?

The “land cap” law gave the state until October, 2014, to come up with a draft plan, but the Governor has tightened the timeframe, giving the DNR until next month (May).

The DNR assembled the current draft in a few short months, pulling in many of the department staff to help and meeting three times with a “stakeholder” advisory group that included MEC, MUCC, Parks and Recreation professionals, and representatives from timber, oil and gas industries.

The DNR is currently presenting the draft plan at regional meetings around the state and in focus groups with local and regional economic development professionals and key leaders. The schedule of public meetings can be found on the DNR’s land strategy website, along with a ton of maps and background information.

In addition to the public meetings below, written comments on the draft strategy will be accepted until April 30 at: [email protected]

Too much land?

We at MEC hear all the time from legislators who say that the DNR owns “too much land.” The primary reasoning behind this argument is that the DNR either 1) doesn’t have the money to properly care for what it has, or 2) the locals are not being compensated fairly for the land, i.e., the DNR isn’t going to allow them to develop the land and yet it’s not paying local property taxes like private landowners would.

Both arguments seem pretty flimsy to us, especially coming from the legislature (i.e., the folks who are responsible for appropriating enough money to pay the local governments their full Payments in Lieu of Taxes to replace tax revenue that otherwise might have been generated on the land, and who have cut nearly all general fund support for the DNR, forcing them into a “pay to play” model that too often favors revenue-generating activities over good natural resource policy).

Accurate or not, those two arguments were the driving forces behind the draft land strategy that’s currently out for review. But more importantly, we think both questions miss the point – why does the DNR own land?

What are we talking about when we say “public land?”

There are lots of different owners of “public land” in Michigan, from your local parks department to the National Park Service. But the conversation in Michigan right now is all about the DNR, which currently “owns” about 4.6 million acres of land.

The DNR has about 100 State Parks catering to campers, swimmers and travelers, and various game areas and recreation areas for hiking, biking and hunting among other activities. But by a long shot the vast majority of DNR land (more than 3.5 million acres) is timberland, and it’s all in the northern reaches of the state. The entirety of the parks and recreation system that most of us will know and use, by contrast, amounts to about 350,000 acres—barely a tenth of the state forest system.

So in reality, the big number – 4.6 million acres — that legislators like to throw around doesn’t tell the true story. Read more

Consequences of assault on Michigan dune laws comes clear: Developer plans to ram road through township dunes sanctuary

Since the late 1980s, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been charged with running a permitting program for development and construction occurring within a narrow band of majestic sand dunes along lakes Michigan and Superior.

The goal was protection of the state’s most unique and fragile coastal sand dunes – rare and globally significant landscapes that are among Michigan’s most recognizable and defining natural features.

Legal safeguards for those dunes were gouged last year by ill-advised legislation that undermined chunks of the state’s Critical Dunes act. The legislature and Governor Snyder severed protections that allow millions of Michiganders and visitors to enjoy these marvels at the behest of a handful of builders and property owners who found the land’s unusual and historic contours, well … troublesome.

When the pro-development lobby, led by the Michigan Association of Homebuilders and Michigan Association of Realtors, launched their fast-moving assault on Michigan’s landmark dune protection law, one of their stated goals was to eliminate the DEQ’s legal oversight of driveway construction in Michigan’s protected Critical Dunes.  In the Realtors’ terms, “Efforts as simple as permitting driveway access to an owner’s property have been stifled due to a lack of clarity on how the law should be applied.”

Gov. Snyder signed the legislation back in early 2012. For background read our analyses here and here.

Unfortunately, they won that fight and passed their law. However, those driveways are quickly proving to be anything but the “simple” issue the lobbyists wanted everyone to believe.

First test

The new provisions are being put to the test with an application to the DEQ for a proposed residential development in the coastal dune area in White River Township, outside Montague. It will be one of the first high-profile tests of the state’s revised law. And the prospects are scary. Read more

Governor Snyder: Call us maybe!?

What? Doesn't everyone read MEC's newsletter??

It was just an innocuous brief in our winter newsletter:

“Governor Rick Snyder reads each issue of the Michigan Environmental Report cover-to-cover. At least that’s what he told MEC President Chris Kolb during an informal chat at a University of Michigan basketball game recently. Kolb suggested – and the governor denied – that Snyder’s picture on the front page of a recent edition might have had something to do with his interest in the newsletter! Hey, governor – if you’re reading this, drop use a line!”

On Tuesday he did, dialing the MEC office and speaking briefly to  Kolb.

“’You said to drop you a line, so I am,’”  Kolb recalled Snyder telling him. “Never in a million years did I think the Governor would actually call, if I had only known it was that easy….!”

He said he doesn’t always get to read it cover-to-cover but he does try to read as much as he can, and zeros in on the articles that interest him.

We’re thinking of pushing our luck a little further next issue….there are a couple of bills we’d like him to veto, some energy standards that need upgrading, some adjustments to the state budget…. …..governor? Governor? Still there? Governor? Hello?

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Consider signing petition against “anti-biodiversity” legislation

The “anti-biodiversity” Michigan Senate Bill 78 recently passed the state Senate and is now headed for a vote in the House of Representatives.

This bill modifies Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to explicitly prohibit state agencies from designating or classifying an area of land for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.  In addition, the bill redefines the goals of biological conservation to be more aligned with managing public lands for economic interests, eliminates text about managing forests for sustainability, and eliminates text saying that biodiversity loss is primarily caused by humans.

You can read more about this terrible legislation in previous Michigan Distilled entries.

A petition against SB 78 has been formed that we’d like to call your attention to. Please consider reading the bill and, if you are so inclined, consider adding your name to the petition.

MEC

Lead Education Day at the State Capitol was personal for one mother and daughter

Maria and Brisa

“Your daughter is lead-poisoned,” said a health worker who showed up on Maria Ellena Gonzalez’ doorstep nine years ago. Gonzalez had no idea what to think. She does now.

Brisa Gonzalez, then 2 years old, was eating lead paint chips and inhaling lead dust in the Grand Rapids home the family recently moved into.  Because lead paint tastes sweet, the toddler had been seeking out the paint chips in the home.  “She was eating it,” said her mother.

The early intervention from the Kent County Health Department, the State of Michigan and federally supported lead prevention programs caught Brisa’s poisoning early. Not all Michigan kids are so lucky.

Close to 5,700 children in Michigan were above the Centers for Disease Control recommended action level for lead poisoning in 2012, according to state officials. Most of those children probably ingested the poison from old paint applied prior to the ban on lead in paint in 1978.  Also troubling, less than 60% of at-risk kids who should be tested for lead poisoning actually are, so there are likely thousands more undiagnosed cases.

Lead paint poisoning is permanent and irreversible.  It lowers IQ, causes restlessness and hyperactivity, is linked to lower graduation rates and poor MEAP testing, and is shown to cause aggressive behavior and increase incarceration rates.  In the body, lead damages the heart, liver, bones, brain, reproductive system and even hearing.  At very high levels, lead poisoning can cause death.

To help make sure no more kids are poisoned by lead in Michigan, Gonzalez and her daughter Brisa were part of the March 6 Lead Education Day at the State Capitol, coordinated by the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Housing and led by the Michigan Environmental Council. Several dozen advocates, parents, policymakers, lead contractors and health experts met with legislators and staffers to outline the problem and urge forward-thinking solutions.

Unlike many public health issues where solutions are elusive, lead poisoning prevention is straightforward and solvable.  Lead causes lead poisoning, it’s cut and dried.  With a price tag of $4.85 billion a year in lost earnings from lead poisoning, this is both a moral and economic issue for our state.

“We know exactly how children are harmed – almost exclusively from old paint that is peeling, flaking or has turned to dust during renovations,” said Tina Reynolds, MEC’s health policy director. “Removing or encapsulating the old paint solves the problem and keeps children safe. It’s not rocket science, it’s simply a matter of money and willpower.”

Both money in the budget for programs like the ones that saved Brisa – and willpower from lawmakers to protect Michigan’s children – were on the “ask” list during the education day.  Michigan has boots on the ground now to combat this problem.  Foundations, donors, community partners, health departments, service organizations and the Department of Community Health have been at work in our hardest hit communities.

As federal funding begins to dry up however, many local service providers are closing their doors leaving families in jeopardy.  State money for lead poisoning prevention and abatement have been slim to none for years now.  Michigan has relied on the federal government for funding and the free ride is over.

This is the message that was shared with 24 key legislators on March 6th.  Coalition members got a good response from policy makers and are hopeful, but will continue to press the case.

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Update: SB 78 “Anti-Biodiversity Bill” passes full Senate

SB 78, the “Anti-Biodiversity Bill” passed the full Michigan Senate on March 5.

It was approved on what appeared to be a strict party-line vote of 26-11.

Notably, Sen. Rebekah Warren took a courageous stand against SB 78 on the Senate Floor, arguing eloquently on behalf of Michigan’s history of science-based natural resource management. You can watch her statement here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYkQvY3i0a8

She also offered several helpful amendments including language that would have reinstated the original, science-based definition of biodiversity; another to keep original language saying that human activity is the primary cause of biodiversity loss; and a substitute bill that would have ensured humans could access any designated Biodiversity Stewardship Areas — an attempt to address an unfounded concern about “locking up land’ often reiterated by the bill’s Republican sponsor. All amendments were rejected on what again appeared to be party-line votes.

The fight for biodiversity will next move to the House Natural Resources Committee.

We will alert you when a bill is up for consideration there, but feel free to reach out to House Committee members about this issue now. They are:

 

For complete background on this issue, we recommend the following links:

State Senate bill puts forests at risk of disease, pests, environmentalists say.” Detroit Free Press.

Legislation redefining conservation puts Michigan’s diversity of nature at risk:  MEC Commentary.” Detroit Free Press

Biodiversity: Key to healthy forests, yet target of terrible proposed law.” MEC blog Michigan Distilled

Anti-biodiversity bill hearings continue.” MEC blog Michigan Distilled

 

“Anti-Biodiversity Bill” Hearings Continue

Another hearing on SB 78, the “anti-biodiversity bill,” has been scheduled for Thursday, February 21. Last week’s hearing was packed and those who were allowed to testify did a great job. Thank you League of Women Voters, Michigan Botanical Club and others! I have added some commentary below to explain and highlight some issues that were raised there.

Please keep the pressure on! Consider testifying in person at the committee hearing (note earlier start time, especially if you attended last week but weren’t give time to talk), and please contact legislators and encourage others to contact those listed below. It’s time to let the committee members know where you stand!

Committee Hearing Time and Location:

•    Room 210, Farnum Building, 125 W. Allegan Street, Lansing, MI 48933
•    Time: 8:30 am, Thursday, 2/21/2013


Please call and email the following:

Senate Natural Resources Committee Members:
Chair,
Senator Tom Casperson (primary bill sponsor): 517-373-7840, [email protected]gov
Michael Green (sponsor): 517-373-1777, [email protected]
Arlan Meekhof (sponsor): 517-373-6920, [email protected]gov
Patrick Colbeck (sponsor): 517-373-7350, [email protected]gov
Mike Kowall: (517) 373-1758, [email protected]
Phil Pavlov: (517) 373-7708, [email protected]
Rebekah Warren: (517) 373-2406, [email protected]
Morris W Hood III: (517-373-0990), [email protected]

Other bill sponsors (especially if you are in these legislators’ districts):
David Robertson: 517-373-1636, [email protected]gov
Darwin Booher: 517-373-1725, [email protected]
Howard Walker: 517-373-2413 [email protected]


What is SB 78? Confusion With DNR Biodiversity Stewardship Areas (BSA) Program

At the recent committee hearing and in the media, the lead sponsor and author of SB 78, Sen. Tom Casperson, has repeatedly claimed that the intent of his legislation is to stop implementation of a very specific program — the Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) proposed “Living Legacies” (often referred to as the Biodiversity Stewardship Area, or “BSA”) program.

While this may the sponsor’s intent, we as advocates and concerned citizens must deal with the actual bill language that has been introduced.

Read more

Governor’s energy hearings start on Valentine’s Day, end on Earth Day! Be heard!

Since we love energy efficiency and clean renewable power here at MEC, it is quite appropriate that today – Valentine’s Day – is the first of seven public forums on Michigan’s energy policy called for by Governor Rick Snyder.

The findings will be assembled and delivered to policy makers by the end of this year as the basis for legislative action in 2014.

The last forum – in Traverse City – convenes, fittingly, on April 22. That’s Earth Day, the day we celebrate the planet and recommit ourselves to protecting it. What better symbolism?

A little background.

Read more

Biodiversity: Key to healthy forests, yet target of terrible proposed law

A proposal in Michigan’s legislature (SB 78) would needlessly undercut longstanding and important protections that are helping restore Michigan’s natural resources and safeguard the genetic diversity of plants and animals managed on state lands.

MEC opposes this ill-advised legislation, and has provided the following testimony to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

We’ve asked supporters to call or email the bill’s sponsors and let them know you support managing state lands for biodiversity. Please consider joining the effort!

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 Sponsor, Senator Tom Casperson: Call: 517-373-7840, Email: [email protected]:

Other bill sponsors:

Patrick Colbeck: 517-373-7350, [email protected]
Arlan Meekhof: 517-373-6920, [email protected]
David Robertson: 517-373-1636, [email protected]
Michael Green: 517-373-1777, [email protected]
Darwin Booher: 517-373-1725, [email protected]
Howard Walker: 517-373-2413 [email protected]

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Comments on Senate Bill 78 – Michigan Environmental Council Opposes

 What Is Senate Bill 78?

SB 78 would amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994). Specifically, the bill would amend PART 355 (Biological Diversity Conservation) and Part 525 (Sustainable Forestry on State Forestlands) to do the following:

  • Revise the definition of “conservation” with regard to biological diversity, removing key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities.
  •  Prohibit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity, and provide that no other state agency would be required to do so either.
  • Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.
  • Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.
  • Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.

The bill also would repeal several sections pertaining to the Joint Legislative Working Committee on Biological Diversity (which was dissolved on December 30, 1995).

Read more