From the Headlines- November 7 – 11

Michigan ‘trifecta’: A strong performance by Democrats in the 2022 midterm election and the passage of important ballot measures and millages may have changed the trajectory of environmental action in Michigan. Here are some key election outcomes:

  • Climate action: Michigan Democrats won control of statewide offices and the State House and Senate, giving them a “trifecta” for the first time since 1983. With Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer remaining in office, she and Attorney General Dana Nessel can continue their push to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. And Democratic lawmakers could potentially codify the state climate plan that the governor had passed by executive order, making it less vulnerable to reversal by a subsequent administration. Whitmer will also continue to appoint commissioners to the Michigan Public Service Commissioners (MPSC), which has a major influence over the state’s transition to renewable power. (Grist, Crain’s, Inside Climate News, E&E)
  • Transit wins: Regional transit efforts also fared well on Tuesday in Metro Detroit. Oakland County approved a countywide transit millage for the first time, ending a system that had previously allowed communities to opt-out of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART). And in Macomb County, 66% of voters approved a SMART millage. Communities in Wayne County with a SMART opt-in option also approved a four-year renewal of its millage. (Freep)
  • A2Zero: Ann Arbor voters approved a 20-year tax to support its A2Zero climate plan, which looks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The tax could raise upwards of $7 million annually to fund things like renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades. (MLive)
  • Ballot initiatives: Michiganders passed proposals 1, 2, and 3, which will, respectively, reform campaign disclosure rules for public officials, strengthen voting rights, and protect residents’ rights to abortion and contraception. Proposal 2 or “Promote the Vote,” may be especially important for environmental action by protecting democratic engagement. It makes it easier for Michiganders to vote by requiring nine days of early voting and state-funded absentee-ballot drop boxes, among several other measures. “All of our advocacy is premised on the fact that we live in a functioning democracy,” Christy McGillivray, legislative and political director for the Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter, previously told Planet Detroit. (MLive, Planet Detroit)
  • And more: Check out this great Twitter thread from U of D Mercy environmental law professor and Planet Detroit Advisory Board Member Nick Schroeck detailing a laundry list of potential policy actions that seem possible for the first time in his career under Michigan’s new Dem-controlled state government.

What policy actions do you hope move forward next year? Hit reply to let us know; we’re compiling a roundup of reader wishes!

Food sovereignty: This year, 50 farmers from Detroit and Highland Park will receive financial assistance from the Detroit Black Farmer Land fund, which was created to support food sovereignty in the city. “We’re supporting intergenerational Black farmland ownership, supporting people owning their farms in the City of Detroit, taking up this vacant land and turning it green,” said Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund co-founder Erin Preston-Johnson Bevel. A total of $100,000 will go to Detroit growers to help buy land or invest in infrastructure like hoop houses. So far, a little more than half of the growers have successfully bought land with money received from the fund, now in its third year. “We certainly want the city as a whole, including the land bank, to acknowledge more the reality that Detroit really is a mecca of urban agriculture,” Preston-Johnson Bevel said. “So, some old, outdated policies around the ability to grow in the city have to change.” (BridgeDetroit)

Toxic legacy: As utilities decommission coal-fired power plants, environmental groups are drawing attention to the coal ash dumps these facilities created. When coal is burned for power, coal ash is left behind and it’s usually stored next to the power plant, often near a body of water. “There are at least six neurotoxins in coal ash, like lithium,” said Abel Russ, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project and co-author of a recent report on the issue. “There are five or six known or suspected carcinogens, things like arsenic. And there are a bunch of pollutants that are toxic to aquatic life as well. And this stuff frequently migrates into streams and lakes.” In Michigan, 13 sites are listed in the report, including DTE’s closed River Rouge Power plant, where no clay lining exists to prevent toxic substances from leaching into the Rouge and Detroit rivers. Rob Lee, DTE’s environmental management and resources manager, said the utility was checking for contamination. (MI Radio)

Paying for PFAS: Ann Arbor will continue to pay the cost for Tribar Technologies’ PFAS pollution in Wixom after Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) issued a permit that allows the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant to keep discharging toxic PFAS chemicals into the Huron River. Discharges from the plant go into Norton Creek and then the Huron River and Barton Pond, which Ann Arbor uses for drinking water. Although Tribar has installed carbon filters to reduce PFAS discharges, Ann Arbor officials are pushing for stronger regulations. The company’s new permit includes a discharge limit for one type of PFAS, PFOS, and Tribar has until 2025 to get its discharges under 11 parts per trillion (ppt). However, there are thousands of types of PFAS and the Environmental Protection Agency recently set an advisory limit for PFOS of 0.02 ppt. Ann Arbor currently pays $150,000 yearly to remove PFAS from its water. Recent drinking water tests showed the total concentration from four types of PFAS was 17.9 ppt. Only one type, PFOS, was below detectable levels. (MLive)

Big trees: The 2020-2022 “Michigan Big Tree Hunt” has concluded and Eastern cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) made a strong showingAidan Presnell submitted a cottonwood from Washtenaw County with a circumference of 308 inches. This was the largest tree in the contest and the winner for submissions from those 15 years old and younger. Mike Antoszewski and Paul Funk both submitted a 301-inch circumference cottonwood from Monroe County to win in a two-way tie for the 16 and over category. Eastern cottonwoods commonly grow near rivers in the state’s southern half and across much of the Central and Eastern U.S. The largest known specimen of the tree is in Beatrice, Nebraska, with a circumference of 450 inches and a height of 88 feet. The contest sponsored by the tree-planting nonprofit ReLeaf Michigan, is used to update the Michigan Botanical Club’s Big Tree Registry and the National Big Tree Registry.

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