From the Headlines

Charged: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, his aide Rich Baird, former health department director Nick Lyon and several other city and state officials have been charged with 41 crimes related to the water crisis that exposed Flint residents to lead-tainted water and a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed 12 people. “Let me be clear, there are no velvet ropes in our criminal justice system,” said Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud. “Nobody, no matter how powerful and how well connected, is above accountability when they commit a crime.” Snyder was charged with two misdemeanors for willful neglect of duty — punishable by up to one year in jail or $1,000. Hammoud said that Snyder neglected “his mandatory legal duties under the Michigan Constitution and the Emergency Management Act, thereby failing to protect the health and safety of Flint’s residents.” Lyon received nine charges for involuntary manslaughter, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years or $7,500. Baird was charged with perjury, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice, and extortion. The extortion charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years or $10,000. (Detroit News) 

Detroit and South Africa: In 2018, the average Detroit resident reported spending more than 10% of their income on water bills, more than double the rate that the Environmental Protection Agency considers affordable. In South Africa, Black residents often have to pay for water up front, while those who can’t are forced to walk to a free tap with large buckets and wait in line. In both places, water is used as a means of generating revenue from low-income residents, while segregation forces many to live in areas where historical disinvestment has helped push water rates higher. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of water access for sanitation and health, resulting in a temporary moratorium on shutoffs in Detroit and efforts to distribute water by tanker in South Africa. “The global coronavirus pandemic and the work of advocates is forcing governments to reconsider the decision to treat water as an economic privilege,” said Dale McKinley, a researcher, and activist at the International Labour Research and Information Group, “and instead begin to look at water as an essential need.” (Slate)

A national moratorium? A coalition of more than 600 environmental, human rights, and religious groups is asking Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to institute a national moratorium on water and utility disconnections when they enter the White House next week. This follows a study from Duke University that showed COVID-19 infections decreased when shut-offs were discontinued. Nationally, only 20 states banned shutoffs in the last year and 56% percent of Americans or 183 million people risk losing their water if they can’t keep up with payments. “We must commit to a serious long-term solution that extends beyond the pandemic, wipes out existing debt, and ensures that nobody ever lives without running water,” said Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. (Guardian)

Enbridge says no: Enbridge Energy has announced that it won’t comply with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to shut down its Line 5 oil and natural gas pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac by May. Whitmer previously cited a number of easement violations by the company to justify her decision to revoke the lease for the pipeline. Enbridge disputes these and says the matter should be resolved through a discussion with state and federal regulators. Department of Natural Resources director Dan Eichinger said in a statement, “Enbridge cannot unilaterally decide when laws and binding agreements apply and when they do not.” (Bridge)

Carp control: Michigan, Illinois, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have reached a deal for a fish barrier on the Des Plaines River in suburban Chicago, which will use electric barriers, underwater speakers, an “air bubble curtain” and other technologies to keep invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. The $858 million dollar project at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois will move into the design and engineering phase, which is expected to take three to four years. The Des Plaines River links to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, connecting the Mississippi with the Great Lakes system. Although a network of fish-repelling barriers is already in place, critics consider these inadequate. “If Asian carp invade the Great Lakes, they would have a devastating impact on our fisheries, tourism and outdoor recreation economies, and way of life across the region,” said Marc Smith, policy director for the National Wildlife Federation. The Great Lakes fishing industry alone is valued at $7 billion. (Associated Press)

The end of winter: “When you can’t get ice at the Canadian border, how much farther north can you go?” asks Karl Schwartz, who has been having trouble finding places sufficiently cold for the snowmobile races he organizes as president of the Midwest International Racing Association. This is just one impact from Michigan’s increasingly warm winters. The Great Lakes region is seeing a larger increase in average temperatures from climate change than the rest of the U.S. and winters are warming more quickly than summers. Less consistently cold weather means there isn’t enough snow and ice for activities like cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and that old standby, dog-sledding. “These big changes should be major motivators to take on that carbon dioxide reduction problem,” said Richard Rood, professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the University of Michigan. (Detroit Free Press)

Back Forty 86’ed: Michigan’s Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) said it agrees with the decision of the Administrative Law Judge Daniel Pulter to invalidate a wetland permit for the Aquila Resources’ Back Forty mine in the Upper Peninsula. The state had previously backed the permit. The proposed mine near the Wisconsin border has been debated for decades and would extract gold, zinc, and other materials. The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin said the mine would harm wetlands, lower the water table and expose the Menominee River to acidic runoff. The tribe considers the river sacred. (Washington Post) 

More to come: Although U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell by 10% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced travel, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says that the year was still the hottest on record. The world’s seven hottest years have taken place since 2014. “This isn’t the new normal,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “This is a precursor of more to come.” Climate change likely contributed to the record hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and major wildfires that hit the western U.S. and Australia. United Nations secretary-general António Guterres said that the world was heading towards 3-5 degrees Celsius of warming this century, several degrees higher than the 1.5 C goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement. “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century,” he said. “It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere.” (Guardian)


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