Author: FLOW Editor

Environmental Justice and Climate Justice Movements a Powerful Force for Good

The Groundwork Center’s Michigan Clean Energy Conference and the Michigan Climate Action Network’s (MiCAN) Climate Action Summit are joining forces this year to present the virtual Michigan Climate & Clean Energy Summit, May 24-27. The upcoming summit will bring together Biden Administration and Whitmer Administrative officials, community leaders, activists, policymakers, advocates, and businesses from across Michigan to move forward equitable and ambitious climate and clean energy solutions.

FLOW spoke with MiCAN director Kate Madigan about the summit, climate change in the Great Lakes, the racial equity and environmental justice movement, and what gives her hope.

We also interviewed Madigan on Thursday, May 13, at the Straits of Mackinac, about the 8-year effort to #EvictEnbridge and #ShutDownLine5. Watch that video below.

FLOW: What are you most excited about for the upcoming Michigan Climate & Clean Energy Summit?

Kate Madigan: I’m excited to bring together so many people leading the work to address the climate crisis. We are bringing together leaders from the Whitmer administration, the Biden administration, and national speakers on environmental and climate justice plus so many advocates and leaders in Michigan doing this work. This is a really important moment for climate and justice. We now have a President who is prioritizing climate, our Governor has put our state on a path to be carbon neutral, and racial and social justice is a priority in our country. This is a dream situation compared to where we were just a couple of years ago. However, we know that we have to make major cuts in climate emissions within this decade, so there is a lot of work that needs to get done on a pretty intense timeline. We have shaped this summit to help move our state forward to the equitable climate solutions that we need with the urgency science demands and it is our hope to help move the needle.

FLOW: How can we better message the importance of climate change strategies and educate the public on how they can protect the Great Lakes?

Kate Madigan: If there is one thing that all Michiganders can agree on, it is our love for the Great Lakes. The impacts climate change is having on the Great Lakes are huge — from algae blooms, to changes to lake levels, to beach closures, and invasive species. It is not talked about enough. In fact, the Great Lakes region is warming 33% faster than any other region in the country. MiCAN and FLOW should partner on a project to better connect climate change and solutions to the Great Lakes!

FLOW: How is the environmental justice movement shaping climate activism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement for racial equity?

Kate Madigan: The environmental justice and climate justice movements have been shaping climate activism for a long time. Many national leaders like Jacqueline Patterson with the NAACP (who will be speaking at the summit) and many Michigan environmental justice leaders have been working to center justice into climate solutions and coalitions for years. There is a coalition of climate, social and environmental justice, and labor groups that came together five years ago in New York State and were able to pass the most ambitious climate law in the country that includes very strong equity and jobs components. Stephan Edel, the coordinator of the NY Renews coalition will be speaking at the summit too, and I think this is a powerful model of what can happen if we all come together.

And also this year the injustices in our country were laid bare. BIPOC communities have experienced more deaths and health impacts from the pandemic, and this was connected to environmental justice and health inequities. Then there were the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black people that brought national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. The tragedy and injustice of it all was staggering, and changed our country, and the climate movement, to center equity in significant and, I hope, permanent ways.

FLOW: What gives you hope right now; what are positive signs for the environmental movement?

Kate Madigan: What gives me hope is the fact that many of the “extreme” things we climate advocates were calling for five years ago are now things that the President of the United States and the Governor of Michigan are saying and doing. Things like keeping fossil fuels in the ground, moving rapidly to 100% renewable energy for all sources, and transitioning to clean energy in ways that are equitable and benefit everyone.

It also gives me hope that President Biden and Governor Whitmer have surrounded themselves with really smart, competent, and hard-working people who are committed to climate and justice and know what an urgent moment we are in. And that we have a pro-climate majority in Congress and a window to make some major progress.

It fills me with hope to see just how big this movement has grown. And how there are so many young people, like MiCAN’s Engagement Director Jamie Simmons, who are bringing new energy and ideas to this work and shaping this movement to be a powerful force for good.

Michigan Moves to Acknowledge and Address Environmental Injustice

By Dave Dempsey    

Michigan, the state that became notorious for one of the worst episodes of environmental injustice in American history, this week staked a claim to being a leader in ensuring environmental justice.

The lead poisoning of thousands of children—and the lead exposure of 99,000 residents of Flint from tainted drinking water in 2014 and 2015—put Michigan on the map in an unwanted way. Preventing another such disaster and promoting equal treatment of all citizens was the goal of a state-sponsored environmental justice conference Tuesday through today. The conference’s theme is “Rebuilding Trust, Reimagining Justice, and Removing Barriers.”

The conference comes at a time when the Biden Administration, under EPA Administrator Michael Regan, is making environmental justice a priority. I feel like environmental justice is having a moment,” said Regina Strong, appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer as the first state environmental justice advocate. Administrator Regan also was one of the speakers at the virtual conference, along with Gov. Whitmer.

“At EPA, it’s our obligation to empower the people who have been left out of the conversation for far too long,” Regan told the conference. “Our legacy will be based on compassion, understanding, and most importantly action, and our legacy will be sealed by partnerships with states like Michigan.”

The conference featured presentations and panels on environmental justice screening and mapping, meaningful engagement in the air pollution permit process, water and public health equity, and tribal perspectives.

In Flint, lead was released into the city drinking water supply when the source was switched from the southeast Michigan Great Lakes Water Authority system to the more corrosive Flint River in order to save money. This, in turn, corroded lead from the pipes, exposing city residents and resulting in elevated blood levels in hundreds of children. State officials at first denied the problem and waited more than a year to restore the city’s drinking water source to the Authority. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission said the failure of government to protect the city’s residents was an example of systemic racism.

One of Pres. Biden’s proposed infrastructure initiatives is a direct response to the Flint disaster—$45 billion to replace lead service lines that carry drinking water to residences nationwide. This would affect an estimated 6 to 10 million homes, and 400,000 schools and child care facilities.

Multiple environmental justice issues affect Michiganders. Typically, neighborhoods with a high percentage of minority and/or low-income residents are disproportionately exposed to an array of environmental pollutants. Michigan is no exception. Dealing with these issues requires empowering people, said Sylvia Orduño, a member of the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.  “How do you get accountability? … We need to make sure impacted residents are getting the information they need to acquire the resources to make those changes,” Orduño said.

The conference also addressed tribal perspectives on required consultation between federal and state governments and tribes. Bryan Newland, former tribal President of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan and now Principal Assistant Deputy Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of Interior said, “One of the things that we do at the [Department of Interior] in the federal government in tribal consultation is that our policies require that it be meaningful engagement … That can be replicated with stakeholders and affected communities on any issue.” 

Whitmer told the conference, “It’s important that Michiganders have partners in state government fighting for their health. We know that we have to invest in communities and marginalized populations who have been burdened by [environmental injustice].”

In creating the Office of Environmental Justice Advocate and an interagency response team, Gov. Whitmer said her goal was to make certain that “all Michigan residents benefit from the same protections from environmental hazards,” and that the state should become a national leader in achieving environmental justice.

The Office of Environmental Justice Advocate in the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) receives and investigates complaints and concerns related to environmental justice. The office establishes and implements processes and reporting of environmental justice complaints and assists with resolution of complaints.  The office is also responsible for preparing regular reports on the complaints received, resolution, and recommendations. The office partners with EGLE divisions to coordinate hearings and public meetings aimed to facilitate interactions with environmental justice communities.

Eviction Day for Enbridge Line 5

Photo (from left): Winona LaDuke, Holly Bird, and FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood on May 13 at the Straits of Mackinac. Photo by Beth Price.

By Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director

May 13 marked an inflection point in FLOW’s water and climate work to shut down Line 5. It was a day of action and a show of force to evict Enbridge as an occupier—a rogue Canadian pipeline company pumping oil through our public waters and lands of the Great Lakes. It was a day highlighting the power of community and solidarity, and the power of indigenous leadership in protecting the source of all life: water.  

Just the day before, Enbridge blatantly defied and violated Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s deadline ordering the shutdown of the Line 5 pipelines. Defending our waters in her usual bold style, Governor Whitmer warned that Enbridge’s failure to obey would result in intentional trespass and disgorgement of 100 percent of Enbridge’s oil profits gained every day from illegally operating Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. (Read Gov. Whitmer’s reasons for shutting down Line 5 in her own words).

Organized by the first peoples of North America and the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, this day-long event drew over 400 allies to deliver an eviction notice to Enbridge, to participate in a water walk and ceremony, and to hear from leaders about the urgent need to tackle climate change and shift to a clean energy economy. As water protectors, women tribal members led the group in traditional water ceremonies and told stories of our relationship to water. Tribal President Whitney Gravelle from the Bay Mills Indian Community conveyed that her tribe had voted to formally banished Enbridge and its pipeline from their legally recognized treaty waters. (Read coverage here of tribal protests that began the day prior at the Straits and continued into May 13). 

Nationally recognized indigenous voice, author, and anti-pipeline organizer Winona LaDuke, who directs Honor the Earth in Minnesota, spoke passionately about the danger posed by Line 5 to the Straits, which have played a key role in both tribal and non-tribal heritage and culture for centuries.

“This rogue Canadian corporation is basically holding the Great Lakes hostage,” LaDuke told FLOW in an interview after her speech. “In state after state, they are scaring officials. But here in Michigan, your governor, your attorney general have stood up for the people and for the water. We don’t need a Canadian multinational holding us all hostage. And that’s right now what they’re doing.”

“The question I would ask is, ‘Who gets the honor of being the last Tar Sands pipeline? Who gets that honor?’ It’s kind of like being the last guy to die in Vietnam, isn’t it? Who wants to tell that soldier he’s the last man to die for an unjust war? Who wants to tell some Ojibwe that they’re the last people to have their water contaminated so that Enbridge can make a buck?” 

Demonstrating the deep commitment and solidarity among indigenous nations, tribal members from Minnesota, where they are fighting another Enbridge pipeline—Line 3, actively participated in the May 13 event.

I joined the event on behalf of FLOW, representing our eight years of effort making the case that public trust principles and law give the State of Michigan the authority—and the duty—to expel Line 5 from the Straits in order to protect the world’s greatest freshwater system. Enbridge’s track record of pipeline mismanagement and deception—leading to the largest and most devastating oil spill in Michigan’s history in the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010—bodes ill for the Straits, their ecology and the jobs that depend on them.

I am proud that it was FLOW that first identified the public trust doctrine as the basis for protecting these waters from the pipeline.  Now Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have explicitly invoked that doctrine in seeking to shut down the pipeline.

Photos by Beth Price Photography

 

 

FLOW Business Partner Beth Price’s Innate Connection to Water

Mackinac Bridge photo by Beth Price

In this week’s installment of FLOW’s business supporter spotlight, Development Specialist Calli Crow connected with Beth Price Photography to talk about Beth Price’s love of water, passion for Great Lakes protection, and ongoing partnership with FLOW.

Beth Price Photography is a Northern Michigan-based company and longtime FLOW business supporter drawing inspiration from the natural beauty of the abundant freshwater of the Great Lakes. Beth’s colorful, light-infused, textural Freshwater Photography is visually gorgeous, and, perhaps more meaningfully, inspires that deep connection to life-giving water in others that fuels positive action! You can see her inspiring photography featured frequently in FLOW’s advocacy campaigns. 

The meaningful and continuing collaboration between Beth Price Photography and FLOW began back in December 2016 with the gallery opening of In Water: A Photographic Exploration at Space in Traverse City, following her works’ debut at the Fresh Coast Film Festival in Marquette, Michigan. Price generously donated the proceeds from the 2016 Traverse City opening to FLOW and has been inspiring Great Lakes protection through her photography ever since.

The synergy continues on May 13, one day past the state deadline to stop the flow of Line 5 oil in the Straits of Mackinac. Beth Price and FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood today are joining hundreds of advocates led by the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign  at the May 13 Shut Down Line 5 Rally in Mackinaw City. We invite you to look for real-time updates and Price’s stunning photography live from the rally on FLOW’s Instagram and Facebook.

Calli Crow: Beth, can you tell us about your relationship to water and how it inspires your creativity and connection to community?

Beth Price: My connection to water feels innate, like it has always been me. When I was nine, my family moved to Long Lake near Traverse City, and that’s where I gained my love and foundation. I learned to meditate there and formed a relationship with water. When I’m in the water, I lose sense of time and all obligations. I’m in my FLOW! Pun intended! The spiritual connection to the water and the light and color palette of Northwest Michigan inspire me to endless creativity. Regarding community, the dynamic beauty draws like-minded people. I love the people who love the water and adventure with me in the unpredictable weather and sometimes adverse conditions. We are connected through our shared experiences and love, and it continuously inspires new ideas in me. 

CC: What is your favorite thing about living near so much fresh water?

BP: I daily think about how fortunate I am to spend days, weeks, months, years in Northwest Michigan around so much fresh water! Fortunate, where my great fortune lies. Fortune isn’t always monetary!

CC: You’ve been collaborating with FLOW for almost 5 years now! Why do you support FLOW’s work? 

BP: When I launched the Great Lakes Surf Photography project, my goal was to partner and collaborate with organizations that advocate for the water. FLOW came highly recommended by Jim Bruckbrauer of Groundwork, and it was a natural fit. FLOW is unique in offering an intelligent, experienced, dedicated legal team, and I’m so appreciative because my brain can’t wrap around the technical aspects of the issues that FLOW tackles. I’m so grateful to be able to align myself with that caliber of work and through collaboration mutually increase our impact. Personally, another positive impact of being involved with FLOW is how it has elevated my knowledge on issues and helped me be a better advocate for freshwater and the Great Lakes through my camera!

CC: What do you think is the biggest threat to the Great Lakes?

BP: Human beings are the biggest threat even though we have the knowledge and power to change. In my lifetime, we’ve seen so much change: in little things like packaging and big things like educating the masses on important issues. But to save our Great Lakes from the threats like Line 5, it’s going to take a collective. Collective is a big word, and it needs to be across the board, all of us taking care of the public trust.

To learn more about how your business can collaborate with FLOW, contact Calli Crow, Development Specialist, at calli@flowforwater.org.

Defying Today’s State Deadline to Shut Down Line 5, Enbridge Is Risking the Great Lakes and Privatizing the Public Trust

The following is a media release issued by FLOW on May 12, 2021.

In refusing to shut down Line 5 by the state-ordered deadline today, Enbridge is flatly rejecting the authority of the State of Michigan to regulate and safeguard its own public trust waters and bottomlands —the very same state authority that Enbridge has recognized and relied upon since 1953 for conditional permission to occupy the Straits of Mackinac in the first place. 

Enbridge’s brazen disregard for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lawful order and the Great Lakes is outrageous and indicative of the Canadian company’s troubling track record. In acting last November, the governor fulfilled her duty under public trust law and article 4, section 52 of the state constitution to uphold the “paramount public concern” for protecting Michigan’s air, water, and other natural resources from “pollution, impairment and destruction.” That’s when she gave Enbridge six months to plan for alternatives and stop the oil flowing through the battered and propped up pipelines at the bottom of the Great Lakes. Line 5 is a clear-and-present danger in the Straits, a location local tribes hold as a “sacred wellspring of Anishinaabe life and culture.

“In refusing to shut down Line 5, Enbridge’s flagrant disregard for the law exposes a deep-rooted and reckless corporate culture of exceptionalism. Michiganders have not forgotten Enbridge’s epic failure and legacy of the million-gallon, Line 6B oil spill disaster into the Kalamazoo River that drove about 150 families permanently from their homes and properties.” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW (For Love of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, Michigan. “The scale and impact of a Line 5 oil spill would be an unprecedented ecological and economic disaster in the Great Lakes, threatening some 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water. Enbridge is courting disaster with the drinking water supply for Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and dozens of other communities that draw from the Great Lakes.”

“Given the evidence, we firmly support the Governor’s position that Line 5 violates the public trust and poses an unacceptable grave risk to the future of Michigan’s economy and environment.” said Kirkwood, an environmental attorney.

The State of Michigan says Line 5 is an “environmental ticking time bomb.” Built in 1953 to last 50 years, Line 5 has pumped oil for nearly 70 years through the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac. The steel pipes risk failure from periodic anchor strikes and bending in the fierce currents. 

Enbridge’s repeated and ongoing legal violations on Line 5 are both pervasive and well documented. They include at least three known anchor strikes against the underwater pipelines, a vulnerable engineering design not designed to withstand the powerful lakebed currents, a lack of adequate insurance to hold the state and its people harmless, 33 documented known Line 5 oil spills in Michigan alone, and much more. After extensive legal review of Enbridge’s incurable violations in public trust waters, the Governor and the Department of Natural Resources took decisive legal action to defend the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill under the state’s sovereign public trust law. 

Line 5 also threatens our climate and water security in an increasingly hot and thirsty world. The greenhouse gas emissions from Line 5’s oil and natural gas liquids, at more than 57 million metric tons a year, are greater than the annual yield from the combined operation of the nation’s three largest coal plants. Line 5 is a recipe for ruin.

“Enbridge’s refusal to respect the State’s order is an arrogant attempt to control and take over the paramount rights of the citizens and sovereignty of the State and Tribes of Michigan in the Great Lakes,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s Founder and Senior Legal Advisor. “In effect a private, foreign corporation wants to control us, our democracy, and ignore the rule of law.  It is simply unacceptable that Enbridge is trying to privatize the Great Lakes and the public trust.”

“Enbridge is not above the law of Michigan, the public trust law and rights of people in the Great Lakes, and the rights of our Native Americans,” Olson said. “Enbridge is not above the overarching duty that Michigan has to shut down Line 5 to prevent the most catastrophic damage to 20 percent of the world’s freshwater.”

For more information, see FLOW’s Line 5 fact sheets and blogs:

Reckless and Defiant, Enbridge Won’t Defuse Its ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ in the Great Lakes at Today’s Deadline to Shut Down Line 5

Mackinac Bridge photo by Nancy May

By Liz Kirkwood and Nora Baty

Every hour, Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines pump nearly a million gallons of oil through the heart of the Great Lakes at the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lakes Michigan and Huron. This location with its powerful currents is “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes,” threatening over 700 miles of Lakes Michigan and Huron coastline, according to the University of Michigan. Governor Whitmer calls Line 5 “a ticking time bomb” that Enbridge has refused to defuse.

This morning along East Grand Traverse Bay, the drinking water source for Traverse City, Liz Kirkwood explains why Enbridge’s decision to ignore the law amounts to privatizing the Great Lakes and the Public Trust.

Sixty-eight years ago, Enbridge’s predecessor, Lakehead Pipeline Company, chose this vulnerable location as the shortest distance to transport Canadian oil back to Canada. In 1953, the public, political leaders, and pipeline operators had not yet experienced catastrophic oil spills like the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, BP Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, or Enbridge’s own Line 6B Kalamazoo River disaster in southern Michigan. 

Now, despite the well-documented and lasting economic and ecological harm of oil pipeline disasters across the globe, we are witnessing intense, orchestrated opposition from Canada’s Enbridge and its allies to shutting down a clear-and-present danger to Michigan’s waters and way of life. A Line 5 oil spill would be an unprecedented ecological and economic disaster in the Great Lakes, threatening 84% of North America’s surface fresh water and some 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water, devastating coastal communities, and causing billions of dollars of damages to the environment and local and regional economy.  

Enbridge has continually failed to adequately maintain the pipeline, committing repeated and ongoing legal violations that are both pervasive and well-documented. They include at least three known anchor strikes against the underwater pipelines, a vulnerable engineering structure never designed to withstand the powerful lakebed currents and erosion, a lack of adequate liability insurance to hold the state and its people harmless, 33 known Line 5 oil spills in Michigan and Wisconsin, and much more. Now, despite Governor Whitmer’s revocation and termination of the easement, Enbridge continues to operate Line 5 in violation of state law. 

Line 5’s original design intended the dual pipelines to lie upon the lakebed and was subject to a detailed and comprehensive engineering evaluation of 20 specific areas, including written determinations of fitness that were certified by consulting engineers. Now, after decades of patchwork repairs to shore up the decaying infrastructure, as much as 3 miles of pipelines are elevated above the lakebed floor and prone to physical hazards such as anchor strikes in the busy shipping channel of the Straits of Mackinac.

After extensive legal review of Enbridge’s incurable violations in public trust waters, the governor and the Department of Natural Resources took decisive legal action to defend the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill under the state’s sovereign public trust law. Leaders in 16 states and the District of Columbia and four tribes have taken Michigan’s side in its fight to have a state court, not a federal judge, decide whether the state has the authority to shutter Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

In refusing to shut down Line 5 per the Governor’s order, Enbridge’s flagrant disregard for the law exposes a deep-rooted and reckless corporate culture of exceptionalism that includes the following: 

Gov. Whitmer on Tuesday pledged in a letter to seize any profits that Enbridge makes from operating Line 5 after today’s midnight shutdown deadline, alleging it would constitute trespass and unjust enrichment. Also on Tuesday, several federally recognized tribes in Michigan took legal steps under tribal law to limit Enbridge and the threat from Line 5. Bay Mills Indian Community in the Upper Peninsula, as well as a five-tribe organization including Bay Mills that manages the fishery in the Straits of Mackinac, voted to banish Enbridge’s Line 5 from its territory. Banishment is a legal action that is considered a punishment of last resort in tribal law.

“This was the first, necessary step in banishing Enbridge from these waters,” said Bay Mills chairperson Whitney Gravelle, who said the move applies to the reservation and treaty-ceded waters. “We’re calling on the state and the United States to enforce this banishment.”

Michiganders have not forgotten Enbridge’s epic failure and legacy of the million-gallon, Line 6B oil spill disaster into the Kalamazoo River in 2010 that drove dozens of families permanently from their homes and cost an estimated $1.2 billion in cleanup costs, damages, and restoration. 

“The Enbridge Kalamazoo River spill of 2010 was a real thing — people remember it,” said David Holtz, spokesman for the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign. “They understand that oil still lies at the bottom of that river, and that a million gallons were spilled. They understand that could happen again times 10 in the Straits of Mackinac — no matter what Enbridge says in its million-dollar ad buys.”

After causing one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, Enbridge rebuilt the Line 6B pipeline and gained approval to double its capacity. The economic and environmental costs of a Line 5 oil spill would be much worse to Michigan and the Great Lakes.

As part of “a sophisticated public affairs strategy,” Enbridge and its ally Consumer Energy Alliance—a national oil industry front group—continue to claim that shutting down Line 5 could lead to propane and oil shortages and increased prices harming Michigan consumers. However, the vast majority of the liquids shipped via Line 5 do not supply Michigan, and an independent analysis found that shutting down Line 5 was unlikely to significantly impact consumer prices at the pump (less than one cent per gallon) and that Michigan’s energy needs could be met without Line 5. Research conducted by former Dow Chemical engineer Gary Street found that in August 2020, after more than 50 days with at least one leg of Line 5 closed due to damage from an cable strike, gasoline prices and supply were unaffected in Michigan and Canada.

At the same time, the energy landscape is rapidly changing with the adoption of electric vehicles, accelerating commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and the slowdown of oil and gas production. Enbridge has been on notice for several years that the State of Michigan was seriously considering the shut down of Line 5. 

But not everyone is waiting around. In fact, several oil companies seeking alternatives to Line 5 have contingency plans put in place. Suncor Energy purchased a stake in the Portland-Montreal pipeline to import oil from Maine to Montreal if Line 5 is shut down. Toronto’s Pearson Airport has stated that its fuel sources are “diversified and consequently not at risk.

Line 5 also threatens our climate and water security in an increasingly hot and thirsty world. Each year, Line 5 pumps out more than 57 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equivalent to the combined operation of the nation’s three largest coal plants. Dismissing the climate emergency, Enbridge and its political allies in the U.S. and Canada promote energy security alone and insist that “the operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable.” 

This strident reaction from Canadian politicians stems in part from the fact that Canadians have rejected building any new pipelines in the last decade in their own country going east or west to the coasts for export. In this pipeline battle, the Anishinabek Nation says the Canadian government is putting the oil and gas industry ahead of the Great Lakes with its support for the Line 5 pipeline. The Great Lakes are international water bodies, and Canadians should be just as concerned for their protection as the United States.

The Great Lakes support over 1.3 million jobs that generate $82 billion in U.S. wages annually, with 350,000 of those jobs in Michigan alone. More than 48 million Americans and Canadians draw their drinking water from the Great Lakes. Line 5 represents an unacceptable risk to the jobs and economy of the Great Lakes region, drinking water, and tribal treaty and fishing rights. While Enbridge might refuse for now to stop Line 5’s oil flow or collaborate in the global energy transition, for the future prosperity of Michigan, the Great Lakes, and the planet, we all must transition away from Enbridge.

About the authors:

Liz Kirkwood is FLOW’s executive director. Nora Baty is a third-year law student at the University of Michigan Law School and currently serving as FLOW’s Milliken Law and Policy Intern.

3M and PFAS: An Attack on Public Health and Michigan’s Drinking Water Rules

Photos of Clark’s Marsh by Anthony Spaniola

By Dave Dempsey

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

It’s not often that two high-ranking officials in Michigan’s state government lash out at a company in strong language. But that’s what happened May 7 when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Liesl Clark, the director of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) slammed 3M.

The trigger for their statement was a lawsuit filed April 21 by 3M in the Michigan Court of Claims to block state drinking water rules adopted in August 2020. The standards, which protect public health by setting maximum allowable levels of seven toxic PFAS compounds in public drinking water supplies, were promised by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in her 2018 campaign. They are among the strongest standards in the nation for these “forever chemicals,” which remain in the environment indefinitely. 3M has manufactured PFAS chemicals since the 1950s.

PFAS are a group of chemicals used to make coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. These coatings can be used in such products as clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces, firefighting foam, and the insulation of electrical wire. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), PFAS have been linked to human health effects, including an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, decreased vaccine response in children, an increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and decreased birthweight. PFAS have been found in at least 166 locations in Michigan. The CDC conducted a study between 2000-2014 that found 98% of Americans have some amount of PFAS in their blood, according to the State of Michigan.

3M knows it is responsible to address contamination in Michigan and it has been unwilling to do so,” said Attorney General Nessel. “Now, it wants to change the rules so that it can continue to shirk its responsibility to Michigan residents and to the health of the water resources that define our state.”

Nessel added, “We will not tolerate these poisons in our environment and our drinking water, and we will not tolerate a corporation like 3M putting its dollars ahead of our health and our water.” 

3M’s lawsuit argues that the rules adopted by Michigan are scientifically flawed and were approved via a process that the company terms hasty and designed to suit the Governor’s timeline. But the Michigan PFAS rules went through a rigorous process, including the establishment of an expert science panel to review studies and recommend appropriate standards. The draft rules were then subject to a public comment process and public review by two state committees.

Michigan’s decision to set state PFAS drinking water standards was due in part to the failure of the Trump Administration to pursue national standards. On Trump’s last full day in office January 19, his EPA finally announced a plan to set standards for the two most well-studied PFAS compounds, PFOS and PFOA, five months after Michigan’s PFAS rules took effect. Federal rule-making can take several years.

Last month, the state’s Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) announced that Michigan’s approximately 2,700 municipal and other large public drinking water supplies are meeting the state’s new PFAS standards.

Attorney General Nessel in January 2020 sued 3M and 16 other companies for damaging Michigan’s environment by deliberately concealing the dangers of PFAS and withholding scientific evidence, and “intentionally, knowingly and recklessly” putting at risk Michigan’s natural resources and public health. In August 2020, she sued 3M and other manufacturers of firefighting foam containing PFAS. The litigation is still pending.

In 2018, the state of Minnesota settled a lawsuit against 3M Company for $850 million. The state sued 3M in 2010, alleging that the company’s production of PFAS had damaged drinking water and natural resources in the Twin Cities metro area. About $720 million of the settlement is being invested in drinking water and natural resource projects in the Twin Cities east metropolitan region.

Peggy Case: FLOW Advocates for Better Policy, Better Legal Systems, Better Ways to Protect Waters

For 10 years, FLOW has worked to keep our water public and protected. During 2021, our 10th anniversary year, FLOW supporters and collaborators are sharing reflections on what our work together has meant to them, and to the freshwaters of the Great Lakes Basin.

Click here to view our video series featuring the testimonials of key FLOW supporters and stakeholders.

Meet Peggy Case, executive director of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC).

“It’s not just a matter of saving water in a creek or a stream here or there. It’s a matter of engaging in global human rights activities. Resources that should be available for everybody,” says Case.

“I had friends who had been alerted to what was going on with the new bottling plant in Stanwood that Nestlé was building. They were protesting and demonstrating. They were part of the original groups that were trying to stop Nestlé from coming into Michigan.”

“FLOW came out of MCWC. [FLOW founder] Jim Olson’s work with MCWC prompted the need for FLOW. Showed that there was a need for a policy and legal organization that would gather together experts, researchers, and legal minds to do something about the flawed laws that we have to advocate for better policy, better legal systems, and better ways to protect waters.”

“Water is a public trust. Government must protect it. Each of us has a right to water and a responsibility to care for it,” says Olson. “FLOW launched in 2011 following a successful campaign to protect the streams and lakes from Nestlé’s large water wells, and stop the sale of our public water.”

“Our work is grounded in law and science,” says FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “We empower communities and citizens to assert their rights. From the Straits of Mackinac where the Line 5 pipelines threaten our precious fresh waters, and across the Great Lakes Basin.”

“FLOW has had a unique opportunity to be able to take a leadership role in some really important legal issues. Line 5 in particular,” says Case. “It’s made a big difference to have an organization like FLOW taking on that role.”

“Michigan boasts a proud environmental legacy of protecting our lakes and streams, our groundwater and our drinking water. It’s time to once again embrace our duty to protect that world-class resource,” says FLOW senior policy advisor Dave Dempsey.

“Your support, your investment, your commitment these past 10 years have made our work possible. A decade of keeping our water public and protected. Please stand with FLOW in the decade to come as the eyes of the world focus even more on our freshwater,” says development director Diane Dupuis.

Business Partner Kristin MacKenzie: Fresh Water Keeps Me Centered and Grounded, Brings Me Inspiration

On Wednesdays, FLOW will feature one of our Business Partners who draws inspiration for their artwork or lifestyle from our precious fresh water.

Meet Leland, Michigan-based watercolor painter Kristin MacKenzie Hussey, who is donating 50 percent of sales (until June 15) to FLOW from her museum-quality Giclée fine art print, which features Lake Michigan waves lapping the shoreline.

“Lake Michigan has always been my safe place, my center,” writes Kristin. “I feel most at peace when I am on the shore, watching the waves roll in, listening to them crash on the stones. And it is so incredibly important to keep this space pure and protected.”

Click here to follow Kristin MacKenzie Design on Instagram.

FLOW Development Specialist Calli Crow chatted with Kristin about her inspiration to support FLOW.

What is your favorite aspect of living near so much beautiful, fresh water? 

I love being able to visit the water so easily. It helps keep me centered and grounded, and also brings me so much inspiration for my artwork. I feel very lucky to have my little girls grow up surrounded by the beauty of the Great Lakes. There’s nothing like spending a summer day playing in the water with them.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the Great Lakes?

The biggest threat to the Great Lakes is people being apathetic toward keeping it safe, and taking the beauty that surrounds us for granted. It is so important to actively protect our waters; whether it’s voting for legislation that is in favor of protecting the Great Lakes, cleaning up our shoreline, donating to organizations like FLOW, or creating artwork that highlights the beauty of the area and reminds people to treasure this special place that we call home.

How did you learn about FLOW, and why do you support our work?

I learned about FLOW through the local community and support them because of their work toward protecting the Great Lakes. I support their fight against using plastic water bottles, their fight to shut down Line 5, and am impressed by their mission to teach the community about the importance of our local freshwater ecosystem.

What’s your perfect spring day on or near the Great Lakes?

My perfect spring day would be hiking through the woods overlooking Lake Michigan, walking along the shoreline looking for Leland Blues and Petoskey stones, having a picnic with friends on the beach, and finishing the day with a sunset paddleboard.

To learn more about how your business can collaborate with FLOW, contact Calli Crow, Development Specialist, at calli@flowforwater.org.

During Drinking Water Awareness Week, FLOW asks, “Do You Know Where Your Water Comes From?”

Do you know where your drinking water comes from?

According to a poll undertaken by the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board in 2018, approximately one-fifth of surveyed residents of the Great Lakes Basin do not.

If the same ratio applies to Michigan, about 1.5 million adult residents of the state are uncertain where the water they drink originates.

During Michigan’s 2021 Drinking Water Awareness Week, May 2-8, filling knowledge gaps is a critical priority. The source of your drinking water is crucial, and so are threats to its safety and legal and environmental defenses to its contamination.

One surprising fact to many is that 45% of Michigan’s population drinks water from underground sources. Of that share, 1.25 million households with 2.6 million people are served by private wells; 1.7 million more people are served by community wells.

Awareness of that fact is vital for those who use well water. Unlike public water supplies, drinking water from private wells is not routinely tested for pollutants. Instead, the burden is generally on homeowners—and so is the testing cost, which can be steep. A test for toxic PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” with potentially major human health effects, costs up to $300. The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) has posted information and recommendations related to exposure to PFAS in drinking water.

Like all groundwater resources, private water wells are vulnerable to unseen pollution. FLOW has documented some of this pollution in two groundwater reports, including one released this March, Deep Threats to Our Sixth Great Lake. Toxic substances, nitrate, chloride, bacteriological, and other contaminants are found in private wells across Michigan. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development reports that elevated nitrate levels have been identified at 18 percent of private sites tested for nitrate, and half of these contain nitrates above public drinking water standards. Some contaminants, such as nitrate, do not affect the taste and appearance of drinking water and thus could be consumed without people noticing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that private well users have their water tested annually for contaminants. CDC also recommends keeping household hazardous materials such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil far away from wells.

For Michigan residents who receive drinking water from public water supplies, safety and contamination are regulated. Federal and state Safe Drinking Water laws require regular testing and treatment of public water. Customers of public water supplies are entitled to receive annual consumer confidence reports.

According to the state, 15 violations of drinking water quality standards detected in community water systems in 2017 involved indicators of fecal coliform, and all were corrected. There were 17 violations of chemical standards that year, two for nitrate, 12 for arsenic, and three for combined radium.

However, the dangerous lead contamination of the Flint public water supply in 2014-2015 exposed 99,000 residents of the city to this neurotoxin. The state and the city of Flint have established a lead exposure registry to identify eligible participants; monitor health, child development, service utilization, and ongoing lead exposure; improve service delivery to lead-exposed individuals; and coordinate with other community- and federally funded programs in Flint.

Many Michiganders drink bottled water—some as a short-term replacement for contaminated public or private water supplies, but far more for convenience and hydration. Many bottled water customers, however, do not realize that much bottled water comes from public supplies—they are drinking bottled tap water from systems paid for by taxpayers and marked up for significant profit by the private sector. Aquafina and Dasani labels in Michigan are drawn from the public supply for Southeast Michigan. And most of the remainder of bottled water packaged in Michigan—such as some of Nestlé’s operations—comes from groundwater that is tributary to Michigan’s streams and lakes—in effect, it and consequent private profits come from sources that belong to the people of Michigan under the public trust doctrine.

Drinking water is not to be taken for granted. Becoming aware of sources and threats is vital to our health. You can learn more about FLOW’s efforts to protect groundwater here on our website.