From the Headlines

December 4th, 2020

At risk: More than 317,000 households in Michigan and 800,000 people are behind on their water bills and may be at risk of shutoffs, according to a report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Detroit People’s Water Board Coalition. This follows the repeal of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s moratorium on shutoffs by the Michigan Supreme Court, a move that created a patchwork of policies among the state’s many water systems. An estimated 78,869 residents in Macomb County and roughly 11,452 people in the Upper Peninsula stand to be impacted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has emphasized the importance of handwashing for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and research suggests a link between inadequate hydration and dying from the disease. (NRDC)

Higher and higherDrew Gronewald, an associate professor at Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability predicts more precipitation this winter leading to new records broken for Great Lakes water levels this spring. What’s caused the remarkable rise in water levels since 2013 when some lakes were at record lows? Gronewald cites the polar vortex in the winter of 2013-2014, which slowed down evaporation and was followed by several years of heavy precipitation. (WDET)

Whoops: The Detroit River was the site of quite the cluster this week after the freighter Harvest Spirit ran aground near Grosse Ile at a section of the Livingstone Channel known as Hole-In-The-Wall. The Canadian Coast Guard reported that there was no pollution coming from the vessel. A backlog of 13 vessels was waiting to go through the channel once the Harvest Spirit became unstuck. And all that waiting around isn’t cheap. “We estimate that it costs $3,000 to $5,000 per hour for a 1,000-foot freighter to sit idle,” said Eric Peace, director of operations and communications for the Lake Carriers Association. “You can multiply that by the number of vessels sitting around, and it’s been over 24 hours.” (Detroit News)

The plume: A large plume of dioxane contamination from the former Gelman Sciences site continues to spread through Ann Arbor’s groundwater, showing up in levels ranging from one to 84 parts per billion in the city’s West Park neighborhood. Dioxane–a likely carcinogen–can be dangerous at very low levels and is associated with liver, kidney and respiratory problems. If it moves into basements, residents could inhale it as it volatilizes into the air. “Alarm bells should be going off,” said Vince Caruso, a member of the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane. He is calling on local officials to pursue a Superfund cleanup for the contamination. (MLive)

Jobs, jobs and also jobs: According to U.S. Rep Andy Levin, the effect of the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden on Michigan will be “jobs, jobs, jobs.” The future president plans to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and to push to a 100 percent clean-energy agenda, with net-zero emissions by 2050. That could be a boon for industries like electrical vehicle production and energy storage in Michigan. Howard Lerner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says that the clean energy sector creates more jobs in Michigan than coal, and that a shift away from non-renewable power generation would likely create a net gain of new jobs in the state. (Governing) 

‘Slap in the face‘: Representatives from Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) expressed their displeasure with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s (EGLE) dismissal of a case that sought to prevent Nestle Waters of North America from increasing its water extraction in Osceola County. “The slap in the face we received November 20th was an assault on all those who expect government agencies to serve in the public trust and protect natural resources,” MCWC said in a statement. GTB tribal attorney Bill Rastetter said that the decision ignores the state’s responsibility to protect “the Tribes’ treaty-reserved resources from diminishment”. MCWC is calling on Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to investigate potential ecological damage from Nestle’s water-bottling operation. (Great Lakes Now)

(Un)desirable precedent: Enbridge Energy is challenging Gov. Whitmer’s order that the company shut down its Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, arguing that it’s up to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to make the decision, not the state of Michigan. The company argues that the governor’s order “would create a disturbing precedent”. However, others might welcome such a precedent. Bryan Newland, chair of the Bay Mills Indian Community, applauded Whitmer’s order, which cited an 1836 treaty promising protection for tribal hunting and fishing rights. “It is always a struggle to get state governments to recognize the existence of our treaties, our rights and their responsibilities to not impair those rights,” he said. “…State governments have a responsibility to stop harming and degrading this fishery. This was a big step in tribal-state relations.” (Bridge, Pew)

Not mincing words: “Humanity is waging war on nature,” United Nations secretary-general António Guterressaid in a virtual speech entitled State of the Planet. “This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury.” Gutteres drew attention to the potential for inequality to make the climate crisis much worse for the most vulnerable members of society, even in wealthy nations. He called for governments to end subsidies for fossil fuels, put a price on carbon emissions, stop building coal power plants, and shift to taxing pollution rather than income. (Guardian) 

Amazon development sparks air quality concerns: A baseline air monitoring program for the Amazon project at the Michigan State Fairgrounds is set to begin prior to demolition and will continue through November 2024. The program is aimed at addressing community concerns around increased truck traffic. (Documenters via Detour Detroit)


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