Author: FLOW Editor

“I Have a Dream that Our Water Will Be Protected as a Commons Under the Public Trust Doctrine”

FLOW founder and president Jim Olson delivered the following remarks — inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech — on January 12 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse.

By Jim Olson

I had a dream in 2009-10. That was to bring the Public Trust Doctrine into the world of understanding of our world’s commons and what to do about them.

I had that dream not because of some artistic vision. It was a dream that came out of the battle over the privatization of water and the effort by Nestlé to use that water and sell it so that corporations make every person and being on the planet slaves. Thus was born FLOW For Love of Water.

That dream is a reality. That dream is a reality because of many people understanding that, at this time in history, we cannot afford to view the natural world as apart from us. It is a common gift from the creation. It preceded the human mind. The human mind is a tool. If we honor this dream of the commons as being paramount to all life, we will then defeat our human-natured desire to control, at short gain, at tremendous cost.

I have a dream that this commons will be protected by the Public Trust Doctrine, which many of you have heard us at FLOW continue to talk about. The dream started centuries ago. The dream was buried.

I have a dream that this commons that we lost in western civilization will come back, and we will understand that private property has no value, that all life has no value, unless we preserve and protect the commons of earth.

I have a dream that we understand that the hydrosphere is our being. The hydrosphere is the being in which we live, and it is the commons.

I have a dream that the hydrosphere and the beings in it are protected by the Public Trust Doctrine. I have a dream that a lawsuit can be filed to stop the tyranny. It will stop the tyranny of climate change, the fires in Australia.

I have a dream that it will stop the destruction of the people in Flint.

I have a dream that there will be no water shutoffs for any person, child, or grandparent on this earth, because they don’t have the ability to pay for water. Water is a commons. We must preserve and treat it with dignity for all.

I have a dream that this Public Trust Doctrine will assure that water is always public.

I have a dream that we will assure that this water is generational and it will be protected from one generation to the next.

I have a dream that it will apply to all people.

I have a dream that people will understand that we are a relationship. That the Public Trust Doctrine does not just protect the water, it protects people and life. It protects the relationship between people and life.

I have a dream that if we understand this relationship between beings and life, we can protect our Great Lakes like Lake Erie, one-third of which is a green toxic soup.

I have a dream that we understood that this is us, and that in the future we will come to a peace on this earth. The peace that was created in the relationship between the commons and us when we entered this earth, however that happened.

I have a dream that we can move forward together to accomplish what’s in our hearts.

Thank you.

Watch the full video below (Jim Olson begins speaking at 40:12).

“I Have a Dream that the Climate Crisis Awakens our Common Purpose”

Former FLOW board chair Skip Pruss delivered the following remarks — inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech — on January 12 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse.

By Skip Pruss

I have a dream where the urgency of the climate crisis becomes a unifying force, enabling all to recognize our mutual interests and independencies, and awakening the best within us to common purpose.

I have a dream that we realize that we cannot burn our way to a better world; that we, forthwith, enable a historic transformation to carbon free energy sources where energy producing technologies like wind and solar work with nature and not against it; and where infinite nature-based resources displace oil, gas and coal — which are finite and ecologically and climatically toxic.

I have a dream that government will someday soon be wise enough to account fully for the economic and ecological costs of activities that affect the planet when formulating and implementing public policy. And that government will recognize the value of maintaining the functionality, vitality, and resilience of natural systems.

I have a dream that we recognize the fragility and complexity of the biosphere and that we finally have the political will and wisdom to embrace the “precautionary principle” and enact laws informed by science, and policy informed by deeper knowledge and circumspection.

I have a dream that decisions will be made based upon how they will affect our children and future generations and that we recognize the importance of intergenerational equity and fully embrace the adage, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

Lastly, I have a dream where we all embrace an ethic of respect for all living things and a conscious appreciation of the gifts that nature provides; that the earth’s biodiversity and abundant resources are appreciated for the multiple benefits and ecological services they provide; and that we will garner the wisdom and the will to cherish the natural world, repair what we have broken, and begin to restore what we have lost.

Watch the full video below (Skip Pruss begins speaking at 27:30):

Why the Trump Administration’s Attack on National Environmental Policy Act Matters

President Nixon signs NEPA into law on January 1, 1970. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One of the first new laws of the 1970s reflecting the public’s concern about cleaning up the environment was the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). On the first day of the new decade—January 1, 1970—President Richard Nixon signed the legislation into law. A milestone in the protection of America’s environment, NEPA has been nicknamed the “Magna Carta” of American environmental law. On its 50th anniversary, it’s important to remember why NEPA has been so important—especially now that the Trump Administration is proposing to weaken it via regulation.

First, what did NEPA do? Former U.S. EPA Deputy Administrator Alvin Alm called NEPA “short, simple, and comprehensive. It established a national policy to protect the environment, created a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and required that environmental impact statements be prepared for major federal actions having a significant effect on the environment.”

That third requirement—the environmental impact statement, or EIS—was, indeed, short and simple, but it turned out to be revolutionary. For the first time, federal agencies had to “look before you leap.” They could not undertake or authorize projects having a significant effect on the environment without first considering alternatives having less impact.

This was a more profound change than it might seem. Using the law as leverage, third parties—often citizen associations and environmental groups—were able to go to court and force federal agencies to think twice about, or back down from, environmentally destructive actions that in prior years would have moved swiftly ahead. At the same time, many federal agencies began good-faith reforms to take environmental impacts into account.

Alm called NEPA’s early results “dramatic. The Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear licensing process was stopped dead in its tracks for more than a year … Outer Continental Shelf oil drilling was held up until a proper environmental impact statement was prepared. Controversy over the Alaska Oil Pipeline was brought to a close only when Congress decreed the environmental impact statement process was completed.”

A measure of NEPA’s success, Alm added, was that by the late 1980s federal agencies routinely considered environmental impacts in their decision making, and often redesigned projects to avoid or minimize those impacts.

As the 50th anniversary of this internationally recognized law arrived, President Donald Trump and federal agencies proposed eviscerating NEPA. Under the guise of “modernizing” NEPA rules, the Trump changes would make it easier for major polluting infrastructure projects, like petroleum pipelines, to move quickly through the federal permit process.

Project proponents would not have to consider—or disclose—the implications for greenhouse gas emissions or other forms of pollution. The rule would allow infrastructure projects to be built without consideration of stronger storms, sea-level rise, and other impacts of climate change, worsening the vulnerability of communities across the country.

Mitch Jones, the climate and energy program director for Food & Water Watch’s policy program, said Trump’s “intention to remove climate considerations from all new infrastructure decisions is akin to lighting the fuse on a bomb and standing idly by as it burns down.”

How would this be done? Primarily by eliminating a requirement that federal agencies must consider climate change impacts of major federal actions. This makes absolutely no sense. As evidence of climate change mounts—from unprecedented major runaway brushfires to torrential, year-in-a-day downpours—the Trump changes would effectively bar the federal government from even looking at the issue. It’s climate denial and a reward for polluting industries in one rule change.

When it took effect, NEPA was a response to decades of environmental deterioration. The changes it inspired helped save taxpayers billions of dollars in avoided costs from environmental boondoggles. The Trump changes would take us back to the days before 1970 in addressing climate concerns.

Before the proposed Trump changes take effect, there will be a 60-day public comment period. Below is information on how you can speak out.

 

You may submit comments, identified by docket number CEQ– 2019–0003, by any of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal. Follow the instructions for submitting comments. 

Fax: 202–456–6546.

Mail: Council on Environmental Quality, 730 Jackson Place NW, Washington, DC 20503. 

CEQ must receive comments by March 10, 2020.

Instructions: All submissions received must include the agency name and docket number for this rulemaking. All comments received will be posted without change to this website, including any personal information provided. Do not submit electronically any information you consider to be private, Confidential Business Information (CBI), or other information whose disclosure is restricted by statute.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, visit this site. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Edward A. Boling, Associate Director for the National Environmental Policy Act, or Viktoria Z. Seale, Chief of Staff and General Counsel, 202–395–5750, NEPA- Update@ceq.eop.gov.

Safeguarding and Reclaiming the Public Water Commons and a Human Right to Water and Health

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

Maude Barlow’s latest, “Whose Water Is It Anyway” is hot off the press

Photo courtesy Council of Canadians

By Jim Olson

It took me just a few hours to finish reading Maude Barlow’s incisive, inspiring new book, Whose Water Is It Anyway?: Taking Water Protection into Public Hands (ECW Press, 2019). This is not new territory for Maude.  She’s a world water policy guru and activist for the protection of the human right to water, the war against the schemes by the corporate elite to privatize and control water, and the fight to sustain water’s integrity in the watersheds where it flows. In 2002, she published Blue Gold with Tony Clark to go after global corporate thefts of water by taking over public water supplies or selling off public water in bottles. In 2007, she released Blue Covenant, enshrining the inherent obligation to assure the human right to water for people’s access to affordable safe water for all; and in 2015, she wrote Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever, in which she not only championed the human right to water, but called on governments and people to recognize the duty to care for the water on which the right to water and all life depends.

Her new book, Whose Water Is It Anyway, a convenient pocket-sized paperback, tells the story behind her life’s work. It was ignited when in the 1980s she glimpsed the under-the table hand of a widespread corporate scheme to parade as champions of the free market that would provide water to meet the needs of people everywhere. The scheme was actually to control the world’s sources and delivery systems of water. Her new book combines her story and the stories of many others facing blows from the corporate world order that cut off drinking water, metered the wells of peasants, or robbed residents and watersheds of the flow of freshwater to convert water into bottles at publicly subsidized massive private gain.

She hits the highs and lows—the death of a young man in Bolivia over a corporate takeover of the water of the peasants of Cochabamba, the conversion by Nestlé and other bottled water companies of the right to use water into the right to sell water on the private market at exorbitant profits. Then she traces the global awareness and growing movement that in the past 30 years has spread throughout the world, and raised a shield against the private ownership and ironfisted clench on the world’s water taps. Her story could have ended in 2010, when her life’s work, and the work of water warriors around the world—including the Blue Planet Project, Council of Canadians, Food and Water Watch, and Uruguay’s National Commission for the Defense of Water—culminated a decade of dedicated work to finally see the United Nations enact resolutions in 2010 declaring the Human Right to Water and Sanitation.

It would have been enough for Maude to tell this story, in a digestible, accessible paperback, but that wasn’t enough. Everything she writes is about her life, the conflicts over water, and the many unsung heroes on the front lines, which highlight the water crisis we face through privatization and waste of our most precious commons. The work is not done, the awareness and movement should be as much a part of quality of life, health, and dignity, and life itself. No, it wasn’t enough to stop with the success, but to chart the next steps she sees as essential, ones that are already taking root across the world—Blue Communities.

The Blue Communities movement is a citizen, grassroots, local movement that shifts the understanding of the sustainability of a community, its quality of life and economy on three basic principles: 1. Water is a commons in which everyone has a human right for drinking, health, and safety; 2. Water, including local public water infrastructure, is public, and must forever remain a commons, preserved for present and generations to come—a commons held in public trust, as FLOW has envisioned and worked for over the past 10 years; and 3. that natural water sources—our streams and lakes and groundwater—shall not be privatized by ownership or control, and public water should not be taken for free as bottled water, or the private takeover and control of access to public water supplies and infrastructure. Each local city or local rural government in the Blue Communities program adopts a resolution centering itself and its future on sustaining water for life, water that is public, a commons, safe, and accessible, common and secure for all. Already, cities in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Great Britain, and the United States have turned to resolutions and specific actions to commit to the Blue Community principles. The World Council of Churches, representing 590 million Christians, has declared itself a Blue Community.

Maude’s book is a combination of big picture world water crisis, personal story, water policy, conflicts, and solution. Here is a short readable book, a book you can slip into your purse, backpack, or even suit coat pocket, to take with you into the city hall, the boardroom, the classroom, or statehouse. It’s a story that should be read by everyone who cares about liberty, dignity, harmony, and the common good of people and planet. Here’s an author who walks the walk and helps show us the way forward. For further information on Blue Communities, water commons, privatization, and the public trust doctrine, visit The Council of Canadians or FLOW’s OUR20 Communities page.

Michigan DNR Takes Steps to Hold Enbridge Accountable

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Daniel Eichinger today set a 30-day deadline for Enbridge to submit key information regarding its ongoing violations of the state-granted easement conditionally allowing the Canadian company’s 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines to occupy the Straits of Mackinac.

Eichinger’s letter to Enbridge, which includes 20 questions to be answered by Feb. 12, is an appropriate step to conclude the DNR’s review ordered by Governor Whitmer last June, according to FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.

“It’s a welcome sign that Director Eichinger and his staff appear to be wrapping up their Line 5 investigation by asking for all other information and documentation that Enbridge has in its possession or control,” said Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director of FLOW (For Love of Water). “At the conclusion of this process, these serious and continuing violations of the easement by Enbridge should trigger the state to shut down the dangerous dual Line 5 oil pipelines in the Great Lakes before it’s too late.”

FLOW commended the DNR for taking this step to restore the rule of law on Line 5, the oil pipelines running through the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, which researchers have called the worst possible place for a Great Lakes oil spill due to the powerful underwater currents, strong waves, seasonal ice cover, and extreme difficulty in responding to an oil pipeline failure.

“It’s clear that Line 5’s original design in the Straits is failing, as the powerful currents scour the public bottomlands and undermine the pipelines placed there in 1953,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s President and legal advisor. “Enbridge’s continuing addition of more than 200 pipeline supports constitutes a risky redesign that never has been evaluated or authorized under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and public trust law.”

The State of Michigan already has documented evidence on Line 5 of anchor strikes, exposed metal surfaces, and deep scouring of bottomlands that undermine the pipelines and even bend some of the newly installed supports. There also has been evidence of bending of Line 5 beyond curvature limits, Enbridge has failed to provide proof of liability insurance and other financial assurances, and missing protective pipeline coating and delamination.

FLOW filed formal comments in mid-November 2019 to assist the State of Michigan’s Line 5 review, citing new and ongoing legal violations by Enbridge and rising risk to the Great Lakes, jobs, and drinking water. In those Nov. 13 comments, FLOW called on the state to increase and strictly enforce the requirement for comprehensive oil spill insurance and terminate the 1953 easement that conditionally allows Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac, triggering the orderly shutdown of the dual oil pipelines as soon as practicable after securing alternative sources for residential propane in the Upper Peninsula (which a state task force is studying).

FLOW’s request followed recent revelations that Enbridge and its subsidiaries lack adequate liability insurance for a potentially catastrophic oil spill from the Canadian company’s decaying dual pipelines snaking across the public bottomlands, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. The new evidence further supports FLOW’s long-standing contention that Enbridge is operating Line 5 illegally while the risk rises to the Great Lakes, jobs, and the drinking water supply for half of Michiganders.

Until Enbridge has applied for and obtains authorization under the rule of law or Line 5 is shut down, FLOW urges the state to impose immediate emergency measures that reduce the flow of oil in Line 5 to its original limit of 300,000 barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons of oil). Enbridge currently pumps 540,000 barrels a day through Line 5 in the Straits, which is 80% more than the original design approved by the State of Michigan.

Pending such authorization or shutdown, state officials also should implement more stringent requirements for a mandatory emergency shutdown, including when there is a wave height of 3.3 feet or more in the Straits or winds in excess of 18 miles per hour, conditions that render oil spill response equipment ineffective. Based on the level of risk from Line 5 to public waters, the state also should require Enbridge and its subsidiaries to secure adequate insurance, bond, surety and/or secured assets in the total amount of at least $5 billion, based on a study commissioned by FLOW that found that a Line 5 oil spill could deliver a multibillion-dollar blow to natural resource and Michigan’s economy.

When State Government Favored Environmental Regulations Over “Fries with that Permit”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources historically has played an important role in protecting the environment, particularly during the environmental awakening of the 1970s, when Seth Phillips got his start in state government. In this photo from 2018, an angler speaks with a DNR creel clerk. Photo: Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

By Seth Phillips

My career in environmental protection really began as a youngster. My parents had built a cottage “Up North” in the early 1960s, and I was fortunate to spend my summers on the shores of Lake Michigan, climbing and playing on the Sleeping Bear Dunes before anyone knew it existed and hiking in the north woods. Notwithstanding the big alewife die off that made one summer stink, I fell in love with the northern Michigan outdoors that so many have come to love.

Growing up in southeast Michigan, I was also very familiar with the industrial, urban side of our state. As the years passed, I began to understand the troubled relationship between these two sides of the Great Lakes state. While in college, and struggling to chart my path forward between the urban professional life I knew and was expected to follow, and the natural world I wanted to know better, I discovered the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources, to which I eagerly transferred, and graduated in 1974. My life-long journey to work for our environment had begun.

Starting in 1977, I spent 30 years working for the Michigan Departments of Natural Resources (DNR), Environmental Quality (DEQ, now EGLE) and Transportation (DOT), managing a wide variety of environmental programs, including cross-program planning, hazardous waste management, toxic waste cleanup, emergency response, solid waste management, recycling, field compliance, storm water management, and environmental policy for transportation. I was able to spend a lot of time on policy, legislation, and litigation support—all of which were very interesting and knowledge-expanding work. The dedication to the environment that I shared with all my co-workers never faltered.

But the world in which we worked changed a lot.

I started working as a state regulator in the late 1970s, at a time when there was a strong growth in environmental consciousness in society, and of course, a serious commitment in government to environmental improvement. William Milliken was Michigan’s Governor when I started, and he and the legislature were national leaders in addressing the many challenges our environment faced.

In particular, 1970 was a seminal year for environmental protection in Michigan and nationwide. In January of that year—50 years ago this month— Gov. Milliken unveiled a broad agenda of proposed environmental reforms. In March 1970, students and faculty at the University of Michigan held an environmental teach-in. The first Earth Day was held on April 22.

To work in these programs was great fun back then. New programs were also being enacted at the federal level, which meant money and better program tools. So many programs were new, and we had the freedom and funding to design how they worked and to implement the core values the programs were enacted to foster. 

Our direction was to implement the laws. There was little political interference, and there was broad support in the legislature as well as from the Governor. Michigan enacted new laws to manage hazardous waste, clean up toxic waste sites, end open dumping, build state-of-the-art landfills, and protect wetlands. I used to wake up early to get into work before others just so I could get started. Work was fun, my colleagues were great to work with, and many became life-long friends. Together we accomplished a lot. Michigan’s environment is much better today because of the work so many did back then.

But then the dark ages came. John Engler, a new governor not so friendly to our work, took office in 1991. He sought to gain control over us to stop us from allegedly harming his friends in the business world. But we weren’t anti-business. We were anti-polluter. Unfortunately, these categories were often one in the same.

Under Gov. Engler, the DNR was split into two departments with all the environmental programs moving to a new Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), whose director answered solely to the Governor. And all the fun went away. Upholding environmental standards became a discretionary function. Permit denials were simply outlawed. Inside the agency the morbid joke became, “Do you want fries with that permit?” Funding was cut, and staff was slashed and reorganized (in other words, moved from what they knew how to do to what they didn’t know how to do). Enforcement became almost non-existent. Similar changes happened at the federal level as well.

Michigan desperately needs a return to those heady days when protecting the environment meant more than just saying nice things about it. We keep finding new problems without the wherewithal to address them. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the current federal administration is doing enormous harm to our environmental future. Destruction can happen quickly. Restoration takes a very long time. And in the era of climate change, we don’t have a very long time left.

Seth Phillips retired from service for the state of Michigan in 2007 and is currently the Kalkaska County Drain Commissioner.

The Case of the Green Ooze

Green liquid oozing from a retaining wall along I-696 on Dec. 20, 2019. Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Transportation

By Dave Dempsey

It’s disappointing that it took creeping green ooze to awaken state officials in Lansing to a monumental environmental problem — thousands of hazardous groundwater contamination sites across the state. But that’s exactly what has happened.

When a stream of green liquid began to flow onto a metro Detroit freeway in December 2019, alarm bells clanged. It soon turned out that the ooze contained, among other contaminants, hexavalent chromium, which is associated with cancer, as well as kidney and liver damage. Fortunately, homes and businesses in the area have municipal drinking water supplies instead of private wells, so the immediate health impact on people has been minimal.

The now-defunct Madison Heights electro-plating facility believed responsible for the ooze had 5,000 containers of haphazardly stored toxic waste when government inspectors arrived in 2016. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a $1.5 million emergency cleanup but did not address contaminated soils under the building. That’s the source of the I-696 ooze.

Although the owner of the company reported last week for a one-year prison term, state officials missed the opportunity to deal with the mess before it became a crisis when they failed to take decisive enforcement action against the firm after inspections found major problems beginning in 1996. Instead, they wrote letters and notices of violation for 20 years. Now another expensive cleanup is underway.

The green ooze is a symbol of a much bigger problem — thousands of groundwater contamination sites across the state where little or no cleanup has taken place. Many of these sites do threaten drinking water supplies or direct contact hazards — and there is little public money available to clean them up.

Until 1995, state policy dictated the full cleanup of contaminated groundwater in most instances, and from 1990 to 1995 state law also assigned strict liability for owners of contaminated sites. But the Michigan Legislature dramatically weakened both protections, allowing contaminants to be contained rather than cleaned up in many instances, and making it much more difficult to hold polluters accountable for the costs of cleanup. The public has been burdened with much of that cost.

A state that likes to think of itself as “Pure Michigan” has a far-from-pure groundwater resource, even though 45% of the state’s population gets its drinking water from wells. This intolerable condition cannot continue.

Responding to negative headlines over the green ooze, Governor Whitmer last week called for the restoration of Michigan’s polluter pay law and other actions to address the problem of lingering groundwater contamination. But the Legislature is in no hurry to comply.

It’s unclear how many messes it will take before policymakers wake up. But their action can’t wait. Had a fire broken out at the Madison Heights facility, and firefighters who responded sprayed water on the blaze, it might have resulted in an explosion like one that killed 173 people, including 104 firefighters, in China in 2015.

The antidote to green ooze is better business stewardship, tougher environmental enforcement, and a polluter pay law. It’s time for Michigan to get its groundwater act together.

Dave Dempsey is FLOW’s senior policy adviser.

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

Protecting Michigan’s Drinking Water from PFAS – the “Forever Chemicals”: Action You Can Take Now

Michigan residents have an opportunity throughout January to speak up and defend our families and public drinking water from a group of chemicals known collectively as PFAS, also called “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment and are known to be in the water supply of at least 1.9 million Michiganders.

PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of human-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many others. PFAS build up in our bodies and pose threats to our health, including cancer, thyroid conditions, autoimmune diseases, and reproductive issues.

PFAS have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s, including in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.

Opportunity for Public Comment until January 31, 2020

The state of Michigan is proposing science-based protections (rules that have the force of law) for known, dangerous forms of PFAS chemicals toxic to our health that have been found in Michigan communities’ public drinking water. There are currently no limits on PFAS compounds in public drinking water in Michigan.

Please read the information summarized below regarding public health threats from PFAS, the standards that the state is proposing, and changes that we and our allies suggest that Michigan make to the proposed protections from PFAS. And then make comment via:

  1. E-Mail: EGLE-PFAS-RuleMaking@Michigan.gov
  2. S. mail:

Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division

Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Attention: Suzann Ruch

PO Box 30817

Lansing, Michigan 48909-8311

  1. Public hearings scheduled by the state of Michigan for public comment:
  • Jan. 8, Grand Valley State University, Eberhard Center, Grand Rapids, 5 p.m-8 p.m.
  • Jan. 14, Washtenaw Community College, Morris Lawrence Building, Towsley Auditorium, Ann Arbor, 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
  • Jan. 16, Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center, Roscommon, 5 p.m.-8 p.m.

If you are interested in attending a public meeting, you also have the option of filling out this sign-up form developed by our allies at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, who also have set up a template comment form for you to tailor and send. Feel free to reflect your personal concerns, as well as the scientific rationale, to support why you believe the state should set a strong standard for PFAS.

What the State of Michigan Is Proposing

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has directed state agencies to establish science-based protections for known, dangerous forms of PFAS chemicals toxic to our health that have been found in Michigan communities’ public drinking water. There are currently no limits on PFAS compounds in public drinking water in Michigan.

The state is considering limits for the following chemicals in Michigan’s public drinking water supplies:

  • PFNA (6-parts per trillion)
  • PFOA (8-parts per trillion)
  • PFOS (16-parts per trillion)
  • PFHxS (51-parts per trillion)
  • GenX (370-parts per trillion)
  • PFBS (420-parts per trillion)
  • PFHxA (400,000-parts per trillion)

Michigan’s proposed limits are generally in line with those proposed in states with strong environmental programs (Click here and scroll down for State Regulatory and Oversight Challenges).

The proposed science-based limits for PFAS contaminants are a significant step forward to assure Michiganders have safe, clean drinking water. However, some industries that use PFAS and business associations will fight these protections and there are improvements that can be made to the proposed limits, which is why it’s important for Michiganders to weigh in with their public comments by Jan. 31 to ensure the state hears our priorities.

The Dangers of PFAS

Here are some key points to make in your public comment via email, U.S. mail, or attendance at a public hearing on the proposed limits for PFAS in drinking water:

PFAS contamination affects the drinking water of more than 1.9 million Michiganders, and we can’t delay action on protecting the health of our communities:

  • PFAS build up in the body over time and can lead to significant health complications, like cancers, thyroid conditions, autoimmune diseases, and reproductive issues.
  • We know PFAS chemicals pose health threats, and we know where it is coming from (directly from past and present industry pollution and from the wastewater treatment plants receiving their tainted wastewater), which is why the state must move swiftly to pass a standard that is protective of the health of Michigan communities.
  • Michigan should be a leader in addressing the PFAS contamination crisis, and that starts with strong standards for these toxic chemicals.

The PFAS limits proposed by the state are a step in the right direction, but key changes need to be made to ensure those standards protect the health of Michigan communities:

  • Michigan should be leading the country on setting the toughest standards for toxic PFAS chemicals in our drinking water.
  • Establishing a combined total standard for PFAS contaminants will set the baseline for ensuring Michiganders have safe, clean water to drink.

The PFAS standards must be protective of our most vulnerable populations and be based on the best available science:

  • Instead of considering just adults, state standards should consider PFAS impacts to children, pregnant women, those suffering from chronic illness, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations who are the most susceptible to the negative health impacts of exposure to PFAS.
  • Michigan’s PFAS standards should take into account the best available research and studies, like those done in New Hampshire, to ensure the limits are protective of public health.

FLOW in Focus: Doing the Next Right Thing For the Love of Water

Above: FLOW Board Chair Mike Vickery and Executive Director Liz Kirkwood gather with FLOW staff and board at The Workshop Brewing Company in Traverse City to celebrate Liz and her family before their planned journey in early January 2020. (Photo by Jacob Wheeler)


By Mike Vickery, FLOW Board Chair

While visiting my grandchildren during the holidays, I went with them to see Frozen 2. In the movie, Princess Anna confronts a moment of frightening and overwhelming uncertainty and sings her resolve not to give up, but to, “Just do the next right thing.”

“Do the next right thing” keeps coming back to me as I reflect on FLOW’s work in 2019 and on the challenges of this New Year.

Our staff, board, supporters, and partners all know well that FLOW has done more things in the last 12 months than an organization our size should even be able to imagine, much less accomplish. But we are all intensely aware that the challenges we face and the threats to fresh water in the Great Lakes basin are persistent and daunting.  Many, many things will need to be done next and done right if we are to be successful stewards and become good ancestors. 

As an organization, FLOW is now the living result of the right thing that founder Jim Olson did eight years ago when he got environmental attorney Liz Kirkwood to bring her singular talents and passion to bear on the task of building FLOW’s capacity to influence water policy through application of the public trust doctrine.

As FLOW’s Executive Director, Liz demonstrates the rightness of Jim’s decision every day. She is a courageous advocate for public water and the public trust, a champion of water justice and water literacy, and a valued counselor to many other professionals and organizations. Liz has earned every accolade and deserves every expression of respect and admiration that comes her way. 

Nowhere has Liz’s masterful leadership been more clearly demonstrated than in all the “right things” she has done to assemble and catalyze the talents and passions of an utterly extraordinary professional staff of five full-time and four part-time employees.

FLOW’s board and staff are thrilled (and pretty envious) that Liz and her family are able to take advantage of an amazing sabbatical opportunity to study, reflect, and renew during the first three months of 2020. FLOW has become an organization with the mission clarity, operational maturity, and organizational culture to keep doing the next right things during this incredibly exciting sabbatical period for Liz and her family. (Click here to read Liz’s article about where the Kirkwood clan is headed and how Liz views this inflection point at FLOW).

FLOW’s capacity, productivity, and influence are the result of many right things done every day by an organization of extraordinarily talented and passionate professionals who are also simply excellent human beings.  Kelly Thayer, our Deputy Director, along with Jim Olson, Dave Dempsey, Diane Dupuis, Nayt Boyt, Lauren Hucek, Jacob Wheeler, and Janet Meissner Pritchard will not miss a beat during Liz’s sabbatical.  We are profoundly grateful for FLOW’s amazing staff and for all of the dedicated supporters who make their work possible. 

We enter this consequential year of 2020 with a deep appreciation for your support as we confront the significant challenges ahead and a profound sense of earned confidence in FLOW’s capacity to meet those challenges. My mantra for the 2020, no matter what it brings, is “just do the next right thing”… for the love of water.

Mike Vickery serves as chair of FLOW’s Board of Directors and as an advisor on strategic environmental communication, community engagement, and organizational capacity-building. He is an emeritus Professor of Communication, Public Affairs, and Environmental Studies at Alma College, where he was founding chair of the Department of Communication and served as Co-Director of the Center for Responsible Leadership.