Thanks for taking action to support clean water in Michigan. Now take the next step. This kind of thing works best when thousands of comments are sent. Please share this action with your network using these links:
Thanks for taking action to support clean water in Michigan. Now take the next step. This kind of thing works best when thousands of comments are sent. Please share this action with your network using these links:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy
Attention: Suzann Ruch
PO Box 30817
Lansing, Michigan 48909-8311
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:
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:
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:
The PFAS standards must be protective of our most vulnerable populations and be based on the best available science:
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.
Above: Liz Kirkwood, who has been standing guard over the Great Lakes since 2012 as FLOW’s executive director, will be on sabbatical with her family from January through March 2020.
By Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director
sab·bat·i·cal /səˈbadək(ə)l/ noun: a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.
I always wondered why academics singularly embraced the tradition of sabbaticals and not other knowledge professionals. Having lived and worked overseas and across the United States, my husband, Pete, and I always dreamed of traveling with our kids and exposing them to different people, cultures, histories, and languages. After my seven years serving as FLOW’s founding executive director, what better way to do this than a sabbatical for the entire family?
Starting today, my three-month sabbatical to Argentina is one of both personal and professional exploration. Personal because this is the last time Pete and I and our kids can take a deep cultural dive together before our daughter heads off to high school next fall. Professional because I cannot not think about our relationship to water and how our children and all living creatures are counting on us to step up and become true stewards of this small blue planet.
Sabbaticals afford us knowledge workers the space and time to ask and to ponder the most important questions. New cultural contexts also help us identify and articulate what is most important, why, and how we can increase our impact toward a shared mission. These types of questions guided inspiring people like Pat Brown, founder of Impossible Burger, on his sabbatical. As a Ph.D. biochemist and an M.D., Pat focused on what he could do to make the largest positive impact on the world. Pondering climate change, the environment, and human dietary preferences, he realized that making an alternative to meat from plants would become his most fulfilling lifework.
I feel inspired by the thought of what we can do both individually and collectively to make the biggest difference. For me, I am interested in transformative changes and choices that we can make to establish a new course towards sustainable, carbon net-zero, and climate-resilient communities and regions in this century. To this end, I plan to spend a lot of time observing, listening, asking questions, and finding space to think about differences, similarities, and completely new concepts. I also plan to examine storytelling as a primary vehicle for advancing and accelerating human behavioral changes.
I don’t know what I will bring back, but I know that things will shift for me and serve to bring greater clarity to my Great Lakes work. Thinking about systemic change is at the heart of the work I do at FLOW, and finding new perspectives, new ideas is part of the work in which I am keenly interested.
I cannot begin to express my deep gratitude to my staff and board for agreeing to my sabbatical. Without exception, everyone has fully supported me in this pursuit. And I am so confident in our team to continue this critical work. This extraordinary opportunity is a true testimony to the culture of who we are at FLOW as an organization. My passion for the Great Lakes and for FLOW remains stronger than ever before.
With gratitude and solidarity,
P.S. You can find me on social media and occasionally on FLOW’s website as I plan to blog and post photos, short films, and observations about our family travels in the Southern Hemisphere.
Photo: Students and faculty at the University of Michigan organized an environmental teach-in attended by 50,000 people in March 1970. It led to the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
By Dave Dempsey
Although American environmentalism reaches back to the early 20th century, public demands for clean water, clean air, and healthy ecosystems reached a crescendo in 1970. As 2020 dawns, FLOW believes it’s time to remember and reflect on all that happened that 50 years ago—and how we can make the next 50 years a time of further dramatic progress for our precious waters and the environment.
In the minds of some who were present then, the most prominent environmental memory of 1970 is likely the first national observance of Earth Day, April 22—with Michigan out front on that one. In March 1970, students and faculty on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor organized what they called an Environmental Teach-In.
At the five-day teach-in, in which an estimated 50,000 people participated, Victor Yannacone, a nationally recognized environmental attorney, spoke on use of the courts to halt pollution. He told students, “This land is your land. It doesn’t belong to Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler…it doesn’t belong to any soulless corporation. It belongs to you and me.” A new student group called ENACT organized the week’s events, which included an “Environmental Scream-Out,” a tour of local pollution sites, music by singer Gordon Lightfoot, and speeches by entertainer Arthur Godfrey, scientist Barry Commoner, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and Senators Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and Edward Muskie of Maine.
The national observance of Earth Day followed on April 22.
Earth Day 1970, however, was just one of many events and accomplishments—and a few crises—both nationally and in Michigan. During 2020, FLOW will note these and other milestones from 50 years ago:
The first milestone, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), was co-authored by the late Congressman John Dingell of Michigan. As its title suggests, the law established a federal policy on the environment, created a federal Council on Environmental Quality, and required environmental impact statements on proposed major federal activities affecting the environment.
President Richard Nixon, who signed the legislation, said, “I have become convinced that the 1970s absolutely must be the years when America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters and its living environment.”
In 1970, there was a broad bipartisan consensus that the United States and Michigan needed to do a much better job of protecting our environment. It’s a lesson from which we can learn today.
FLOW is looking for contributions from you for this 50th anniversary year of Earth Day and related milestones. Here’s how you can help:
If you are interested in submitting material, please contact us at email@example.com.
Dave Dempsey is FLOW’s senior policy advisor.