Tag: Climate Change

Cleaner Energy = Cleaner Water

 

The Michigan legislature is poised to require that 100 percent of electric power come from carbon-free sources by 2035, in what would be among the most comprehensive clean energy initiatives in the country. The ambitious legislative agenda, fulfilling Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan, would also increase energy efficiency standards, address energy equity in disadvantaged communities, and empower the Michigan Public Service Commission to consider climate change, affordability, and equity in its decision-making. The passage of the bills would save Michigan ratepayers an estimated $5.5 billion through 2050

These benefits to Michigan are on top of the energy investments flowing from the federal Inflation Reduction Act that have catalyzed an estimated over $21 billion in new investment in Michigan, helped create almost 16,000 good-paying clean energy jobs, and brought 24 major new clean energy manufacturing projects to Michigan – more than any other state.

But these are not the only measurable benefits that the energy transition brings to Michigan. As we celebrate Michigan’s newfound leadership in clean energy, it’s vitally important to underscore the positive impact the energy transition will have on Michigan’s water resources.

Decarbonizing Michigan’s Economy Will Dramatically Improve Water Quality

Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan will not only accelerate Michigan’s clean energy transition and decarbonize our economy, it will provide long-term benefits to Michigan’s water resources.

As we retire fossil fuel-based energy sources and replace them with clean energy technologies – wind and solar power, green hydrogen, electric vehicles, and energy storage devices – we will markedly and measurably reduce the harmful impacts that producing and burning fossil fuels have on our Great Lakes, rivers and streams, and groundwater. 

Unlike fossil fuels which are finite, costly, inherently dirty, and cause billions of dollars of negative environmental and health impacts, wind and solar energy are free, clean, and are almost without harmful impacts to the environment and human health.

Impacts from Thermoelectric Generation

Water and energy have always been highly interdependent. Producing power uses tremendous amounts of water. From the first water wheels used to ground grain 6,000 years ago, through the Roman age of invention where water was moved great distances to irrigate crops and provide drinking water, to the production of energy from hydropower, fossil-fuel, and nuclear power plants, water has always been an essential component of energy production.

Electricity generated by steam from burning coal or natural gas, and nuclear fission – called thermoelectric generation – accounts for 67 percent of water use in the Great Lakes Region, and 74 percent of all water use in Michigan. Thermoelectric generation causes significant, harmful, and destructive direct impacts on our water resources. 

Power plants need massive amounts of cooling water to operate. Water pumped from the Great Lakes and their tributary rivers “entrains” or kills millions of fish and aquatic organisms, including early-life-stage fish, eggs, and larvae. Once heated, water released from power plants causes thermal impacts that stress and kill fish and other aquatic organisms. Warm water also can change fish populations, decrease dissolved oxygen levels, propagate algae, and alter “benthic communities” – the broad ecological biome of animals (including crustaceans and mussels), plants, and bacteria that live in the water and the lake bottom.

Impacts from Coal

Michigan’s coal plants are also responsible for the widespread pollution of our Great Lakes. Available data show that Michigan-based coal-fired plants emit approximately 3000 lbs. of mercury (a powerful neurotoxin) every year.. Coal plants are responsible for 57 percent of all mercury present in the Great Lakes, resulting in  official health advisories cautioning the public to limit consumption of Great Lakes fish. In 2016 alone, thermoelectric power plants in Michigan also emitted 101,950 tons of sulfur dioxide, 57,819 tons of nitrogen oxide, and 58,644,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

In addition to these contaminants, coal combustion produces air emissions that contain lead, particulates, and various other heavy metals that are deposited in our lakes, rivers , and streams. Coal combustion also produces fly ash and slag, which have been deposited in unlined landfills for many decades. Recent research has revealed that of the 52 known coal ash landfills in Michigan, almost all are leaking heavy metals into Michigan’s groundwater. 

Mining coal also consumes huge amounts of water In 2021, 50 to 59 gallons of water were used for each of the 577 million tons of coal mined.

Impacts from Oil and Gas 

There are more than 900,000 active oil and gas wells in the United States. Oil and gas production from shale formations uses 1.5 to 16 million gallons of water for each well. This water becomes contaminated with a variety of chemicals and oil and gas constituents.

Oil and gas produced from shale formations require “hydraulic fracturing,” a process using large volumes of water, chemicals, and sand pumped under high pressure to keep pore spaces open so that oil and gas can be recovered. The drilling process yields contaminated “flow-back” water, as well as naturally occurring brine that is pumped out with the oil and gas. This chemical laden water is then disposed of by pumping it back deep underground. 

Burning natural gas produces emissions that include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter – all of which inevitably find their way into Michigan’s surface waters.

Pipelines transport crude oil and gas to refineries, and refined oil and gas to their end use. Between 1998 and 2017 there were 11,758 pipeline spills in the United States that were classified as “significant” by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Included among them is the most catastrophic pipeline failure in United States history. The Enbridge pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010, released more than 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into a direct tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The rupture of Enbridge’s Line 6B resulted in pervasive contamination and massive ecological damage to the waters and surrounding wetlands. 

Another oil pipeline now threatens the world’s most valuable fresh surface water system. The 70-year-old Line 5, also owned and operated by Enbridge, traverses the Straits of Mackinac at the confluence of Lakes Michigan and Huron. The free spanning underwater pipeline has been repeatedly struck by ship’s anchors and cables dragged by passing vessels have damaged the pipeline and its supports. Line 5 is uniquely vulnerable to multiple impacts that could result in irreversible environmental harm and billions of dollars of damage to the Great Lakes regional economy.

Climate Change and Michigan Waters 

We are only beginning to understand the pervasive impact climate change is having on our lakes, rivers, and other water-dependent resources. Climate change brings specific climate related impacts, risks, and challenges to the protection and management of public water resources.

The combustion of fossil fuels has raised regional temperatures 2.3 degrees since 1951. Warming temperatures destabilize lake, river, and stream ecology, altering conditions and habitat for fish and aquatic organisms. Like the oceans, the Great Lakes are absorbing excess heat. Lake Superior, despite its size, is one of the fastest warming lakes in the world with temperatures increasing 3-4 degrees fahrenheit.

Warming temperatures are changing our weather. The National Climate Assessment forecasts both increased frequency and severity of storm events in the Great Lakes region. Increased flooding will cause sewer overflows that reach our Great Lakes; increased soil erosion; and more fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides washing into our streams and rivers.

The Energy/Water Nexus. 

We can mitigate or even potentially avoid the most severe effects of climate change by implementing Governor Whitmer’s energy and climate plans. The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy cannot come soon enough. 

The benefits of the proposed energy transition to our water resources are not speculative, they are measurable and based in science. Wind and solar energy are now the cheapest new energy infrastructure available worldwide. Every megawatt-hour of wind and solar energy saves 8,240 gallons of water from being used for themal cooling.

An acre of solar panels producing electricity keeps 121 to 138 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, every year.  That same acre of solar panels can power an electric vehicle 40 to 100 times farther than ethanol produced from the same acre of corn. And ethanol production can require up to 865 gallons of water for each gallon of fuel produced. 

The benefits of clean energy, significant as they are, pale when compared to the harms that clean energy can help us avoid. The economics of clean energy do not include the difficult to quantify but very real aggregate cost of “negative externalities” – the harmful environmental and health impacts that flow from the use of fossil fuels. 

Annual environmental and health damages linked to coal mining, processing, and combustion have been estimated at $345 billion annually (2010 dollars). The annual environmental and health damages from burning fossil fuels has been estimated at up to $970 billion annually.

Globally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that pollution from fossil fuels cost the world’s economy more than $5.6 trillion in 2022. This amount, when added to the cost of fossil fuels, is roughly equivalent to total annual global energy expenditures. The favorable economics of clean energy technologies are undeniable. There is an overwhelming and compelling basis to transition from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Governor Whitmer’s clean energy and climate initiatives redound with multiple benefits to public health, the environment, the business community, and Michigan citizens at large.  And thanks to the Governor’s policies that are being advanced today, the largest, most extraordinary fresh surface water system in the world – our Great Lakes – will also enjoy long-term future benefits and be preserved and protected for our future generations.

Canadian Wildfires and AQI

If you’re in the midwest or the mid-Atlantic, chances are you’ve been affected by dangerous air quality this summer. Here in northern Michigan, the Air Quality Index (AQI) soared above 200 in late June, as smoke clogged the atmosphere. Our most basic, life-sustaining element was rated “Very Unhealthy” to breathe.

This unthinkable situation stems from over 500 wildfires burning across Canada, consuming a record 23,491,740 acres as of July 11, 2023. A dangerous cocktail of unrelenting heat, parched ground, and lightning strikes thousands of miles away has brought climate change to our doorstep and into our lungs. 

In the fight to stabilize the climate and heal the Great Lakes, everything is truly connected, and everyone has a role. Here are a few resources that can help us better understand the situation:

Record-breaking global temperatures, raging wildfires highlight effects of climate change
PBS News Hour, July 6 2023

A Climate Laggard in America’s Industrial Heartland Has a Plan to Change, Fast
Coral Davenport, The New York Times
Lawmakers in Michigan have long fought tough pollution controls. But the toll of flooding, lost crops and damage to the Great Lakes appears to be changing minds.

How wildfires are changing in Canada
Benjamin Shingler and Graeme Bruce, CBC News, June 7 2023

Canada Faces ‘long, tough summer’ of with even hotter temperatures
The Guardian, July 7 2023

Why Canada’s wildfires will affect air quality for weeks to come
Li Zhou, Vox.com, June 23 2023

Wildfires & Pollution: What Comes Next (recorded webinar)
A Michigan Environmental Council conversation with Nick Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Center, and Melody Reis, senior legislative and regulatory policy manager of Moms Clean Air Force. 

AirNow Real-Time Interactive Air Quality Map
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Satellite animations of wildfire smoke movement in late June
RAMMB-CIRA, Colorado State University

Progress and Hope for the Environment

Ten years to save the planet from climate change. PFAS, microplastics, and invasive species. Wetland destruction and failing, polluting septic systems.  Sometimes it seems as though the only environmental news is bad news.

Here’s an antidote, borne in a glass half-full.

Great Lakes Piping Plover

An endearing, small shorebird that nests on Great Lakes beaches, the piping plover is on the federal endangered species list.  Its preferred habitat is also a lure to people and their dogs.  But thanks to intensive recovery efforts by federal and state government officials and citizen volunteers, the population of Great Lakes piping plovers has rebounded from 13 nesting pairs in 1990 to approximately 65-70 nesting pairs today, and the outlook is favorable.

Protecting Wetlands

Wetlands are important because they filter water pollutants, store floodwaters, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.  Yet they were regarded as wastelands from the time Europeans arrived to the 20th Century.  Draining and filling cost Michigan 4.2 million acres of its original endowment of 10.7 million acres of wetlands.  But the passage in 1979 of Michigan’s wetland protection law has made a dramatic difference. It has sl

owed the rate of wetland loss to less than 2000 acres a year, from a former pace of tens of thousands of acres a year. Meanwhile, private groups are working to restore wetlands.

Michigan’s Recycling Rate Improving

For years, Michigan’s recycling rate was the lowest in the Great Lakes region.  But things are changing. Michigan has significantly improved its recycling rate from 14.25% prior to 2019 to 19.3%, based on an analysis released by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) earlier this year.  An EGLE survey found that Michiganders’ understanding of recycling best habits has increased in every corner of the state. The recycling rate translates to 110 pounds per capita each year.

Public Drinking Water

The twin lead-in-drinking water disasters in Flint and Benton Harbor have raised public doubts about the safety of community drinking water systems.  The good news is that community systems in Michigan and the Great Lakes region generally maintain a high degree of compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards. Of the 19.5 million U.S. residents served by public water supplies that rely on the Great Lakes as their source water, 99.1% had drinking water that met all applicable health-based standards in 2020. In the Province of Ontario, approximately 60% of the population is supplied with treated drinking water from the Great Lakes. In 2020, 99.8% of municipal residential treated drinking water quality tests met Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards.

Defending the Monarch Butterfly

The exquisite monarch butterfly is in trouble, but the Village of Elk Rapids has stepped up to do something about it, recently becoming the second Monarch City USA in Michigan. The designation commits the Village to several actions, including:

  • Converting abandoned lands to monarch habitat
  • Integrating monarch conservation into the Village’s future land use conservation
  • Working with garden clubs and citizens in planting milkweed and nectar gardens
  • Building sanctuary sites, installing signage and hosting an annual Monarch Butterfly Festival

The population of migratory Eastern monarchs (those east of the Rocky Mountains) declined 90 percent during the last 20 years. If more communities follow the lead of Elk Rapids, the monarch butterfly has a chance.

FLOW Press Statement—Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA

Traverse City, Mich.— The following is a press statement from Jim Olson, Senior Legal Advisor at FLOW (For Love of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, in response to the United States Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision today in West Virginia v. EPA, which cripples the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act from existing coal plants to combat climate change.


“It appears the Supreme Court has chosen a political agenda over the law and legal precedent established since the 1970 passage of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the EPA to set standards on emissions from air pollutants. The Supreme Court previously ruled that the EPA has authority to set standards on emissions because greenhouse gasses are pollutants. Today, the Supreme Court departs from this precedent by weakening EPA’s authority to limit emissions from coal-fired power plants.

“The effect of the Supreme Court’s decision cannot be overstated: At a time when coal plants are being shut down as states, the nation, and world shift to renewable, clean energy, the Court has sponsored the continued burning of coal that will accelerate the climate crisis.

“It is now even more important that states like Michigan step up to defend and strengthen their environmental safeguards. Fortunately, under the Clean Air Act, states can continue to limit and force the shutdown of existing coal plants under state laws and regulations. Just last week the Michigan Public Service Commission, after nearly a decade of contested energy and legal issues, approved a settlement and order that will require Consumers Energy to shut down its remaining coal-fired power plants within 3 years.”

You’re Never Too Old to Become a Water Warrior

The northern part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore along the shores of Good Harbor Bay is one of Mulherin’s favorite places.

Author Tim Mulherin

By Tim Mulherin

For the past two months I’ve been interviewing a host of people in northwest lower Michigan for a book concerning the impact of the pandemic and climate change on the region, as well as the increasing pressure from tourism, and how economic and population growth can be optimally balanced with environmental conservation. I’ve spoken with a wide range of professionals including realtors, developers, politicians, public safety experts (e.g., representatives of the United States Coast Guard and Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office), retailers, members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and leaders of local environmental organizations such as the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Saving Birds Thru Habitat, the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, and FLOW.

One question I ask of every interviewee is, what do you love most about living and working in the region? Although there are unique variations in the responses, there is always one predictable central word: water.

The inland sea, Lake Michigan, has a profound effect on everyone who encounters it for the first time.

I first laid eyes on Grand Traverse Bay in 1986. I was living in Indianapolis, and a friend who encouraged me to enroll in college at the “advanced” age of 26 invited me to come Up North for the first time upon my graduation four years later. I’ll never forget my initial exposure to the bay. I was driving west on M-72 from Kalkaska. As I crested a hill while nearing Acme, the expanse of the bay suddenly appeared. I pulled my car over, got out, and took in its stunning beauty. As a flatlander living in central Indiana where the glaciers had worn the terrain nearly bowling alley-smooth, I was totally enchanted by Grand Traverse Bay and its surrounding hillsides. The inland sea, Lake Michigan, has a profound effect on everyone who encounters it for the first time. Soon after, many start thinking about how to relocate to the area, whether ASAP or eventually as part of the “Silver Tsunami.” It’s completely understandable—for better and for worse.

Last week, I interviewed several experts from FLOW, including senior policy advisor Dave Dempsey and FLOW’s founder and senior legal advisor Jim Olson. Both enlightened me about the many threats to the Great Lakes while commenting on the specter of climate change. My conversation with Jim was, frankly, sobering. He characterized climate change as “the predominant force on the planet right now in terms of human impact.” Jim went on to say, “We’re existentially facing the end of the planet and severe suffering by our children and grandchildren.”

One question I ask of every interviewee is, what do you love most about living and working in the region? Although there are unique variations in the responses, there is always one predictable central word: water.

Now, thanks to what I’m learning from these environmental champions, I’m finally paying full attention to climate change—which is undoubtedly the highest stakes issue of our time. Simultaneously, my appreciation for the Great Lakes and what they mean to all living things that rely upon them is rising exponentially. I may be 66 years old, but it’s never too late to have one’s consciousness raised and to become extremely protective of this freshwater treasure—something we play in and on, drink from, and largely take for granted—and to recruit more “water warriors” to the cause.

If you ever have any questions about how vital and fragile the Great Lakes are and how climate change is impacting the region, our friends at FLOW will give you a straight answer, one that’s as hard to hear as it is hopeful and inspiring.

I may be 66 years old, but it’s never too late to have one’s consciousness raised and to become extremely protective of this freshwater treasure—something we play in and on, drink from, and largely take for granted—and to recruit more “water warriors” to the cause.

Tim Mulherin is the author of Sand, Stars, Wind, & Water: Field Notes from Up North, a nonfiction collection of stories and essays about his outdoor adventures in northern Michigan over the past 36 years. He can be reached at timmulherin@sbcglobal.net.

FLOW: State of Michigan Takes a Strategic Step Today in the Race to Prevent a ‘Line 5’ Oil Spill

Editor’s Note: The following is a media release issued by FLOW on November 30, 2021; please contact Executive Director Liz Kirkwood at (570) 872-4956 or Liz@FLOWforWater.org or Legal Director Zach Welcker at (231) 620-7911 or Zach@FLOWforWater.org.


“The State of Michigan took a strategic step today in the race to prevent a catastrophic Line 5 oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac by concentrating its legal efforts in state, not federal, court,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “The state’s legal fight and the citizen-led movement to protect the Great Lakes, jobs, and a way of life continue full speed ahead.”

In response to Judge Neff’s November 16, 2021 decision to assume federal jurisdiction over the state’s 2020 case to shut down Line 5, the state has chosen to voluntarily dismiss that case and rely instead on Attorney General Dana Nessel’s 2019 lawsuit against Line 5-owner Enbridge in state circuit court in Ingham County.

This procedural maneuver will shift consideration of the State of Michigan’s legal efforts to shut down Line 5 back to a state-court forum where the matter belongs. The State of Michigan has paramount sovereignty over the Great Lakes that cannot be severed.

While the timing of a decision on the merits is still uncertain, dropping the 2020 case will almost certainly expedite resolution of the State Michigan’s claims because it avoids protracted litigation in federal court, which would be necessary to guarantee the State’s right to appeal Judge Neff’s legally deficient remand decision in the 2020 case.

“It’s vitally important to recognize that the action by Governor Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger in November 2020 to revoke and terminate Line 5’s 1953 easement remains valid,” said FLOW Legal Director Zach Welcker. “While Enbridge continues to trespass in state waters and on state bottomlands, the State of Michigan can now move forward on Attorney General Nessel’s case filed on behalf of the citizens of Michigan in 2019 to shutdown the dual pipelines in the Straits.”

Background from FLOW:

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

FLOW Will Appeal Administrative Decision on Oil Tunnel and Pipeline that Ignores Critical Evidence on Climate, Public Need, and Looming Shutdown of Line 5

Photo by Barbara Brown.

Jim Olson, environmental attorney and senior legal advisor to FLOW (For Love of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, reacts to a narrow ruling released today by an administrative law judge on Enbridge’s oil tunnel proposed for the Straits of Mackinac:

Today’s ruling by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Dennis W. Mack ignores the declining public need for oil as the U.S. and world finally reckon with the climate emergency, and it is blind to the fact that Gov. Whitmer has ordered the permanent shutdown of the Line 5 pipeline that the tunnel would contain this May.

“The State of Michigan will never reach a just and lawful decision on the proposed oil tunnel by agreeing with Enbridge to ignore critical evidence and treat a proposed oil tunnel meant to last 99 years as simply a maintenance-and-replacement project. The tunnel is a Trojan Horse designed to push billions of gallons of oil through the world’s largest system of freshwater lakes in an era of water crises hastened by climate change.

“As a permissive intervenor in the case, FLOW again plans to file an appeal with the Michigan Public Service Commission, as we did in November, along with other environmental and tribal interests

The Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) enacted in 1970 was created to compel agencies like the MPSC to evaluate the cumulative environmental impacts and to examine alternatives to proposed projects. In the case at hand, MEPA requires the MPSC to examine the environmental, health, and climatic risks of the proposed tunnel and Line 5 pipeline. The greenhouse gas emissions from Line 5’s oil and natural gas liquids, at more than 57 million metric tons a year, is greater than the annual yield from the combined operation on the nation’s three largest coal plants.

“The law does not keep the MPSC frozen in time such that they can ignore these paramount issues.

“The State of Michigan has a perpetual duty as trustees under the Public Trust Doctrine to prevent unacceptable harm to the Great Lakes and the public’s right to use them, which led to the Governor’s and DNR’s November 13 order and lawsuit to revoke and terminate the easement allowing Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac. The ALJ rejected the argument that the Governor’s notice and revocation of the 1953 easement is a basis to evaluate the environmental effects of Line 5 or the consumption of the oil transported on the system under MEPA.”

Background: See FLOW’s ongoing coverage of the Michigan Public Service Commission review of the Enbridge oil pipeline tunnel proposed for the Straits of Mackinac here:

Biden Energy Plan Puts Science and the Public Trust First to Protect the Climate, Fresh Water

Skip Pruss is the former FLOW board chair, and former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

Above photo courtesy of Biden-Harris transition

By Skip Pruss

History will mark 2021 as the year the United States finally got serious about combating climate change and protecting water security.

The Biden administration appears to fully comprehend the depth and gravity of current climate trends and is prepared to take action commensurate with the challenges we face. The Biden transition team has already developed detailed plans integrating consideration of climate impacts into the federal government’s core mission, programs, and policies.

The Biden Plan for A Clean Energy Revolution And Environmental Justice is a call to immediate action, using existing federal agency resources and tools to jumpstart efforts to accelerate deployment of clean energy technologies, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at their sources, and adopt agricultural and public land management practices that sequester carbon.

“Every dollar spent toward rebuilding our roads, bridges, buildings, the electric grid, and our water infrastructure will be used to prevent, reduce, and withstand a changing climate.

– Biden Climate Plan

The climate crisis is time critical. 

As the global economy continues to pump billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the window of opportunity to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change is rapidly closing.  Climate science tells us that the warming effects of GHGs persist in the atmosphere, and the cumulative loading of these pollutants will soon increase global temperatures more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — unless we take immediate action.

The last four years brought federal policies aimed at increasing the development and use of fossil fuels, exacerbating the crisis and squandering precious time. Decarbonizing the global economy is now an existential imperative.

“Precisely because we’ve waited so long to take any significant action, physics now demands we move much faster than we want to.”

– Bill McKibben, founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org

That is why the incoming Biden Administration’s climate plan is so important. 

The Biden plan represents a radical departure from status quo policies that created the climate crisis. Key directives include:

  • Achieving a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050 with an enforceable 2025 interim goal.
  • Committing that every federal infrastructure investment should reduce climate pollution and requiring any federal permitting decision to consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
  • Banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, demanding a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies, eliminating international financing of dirty energy, and “naming and shaming global climate outlaws.”
  • Requiring public companies to disclose climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains.
  • Developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be electrified.
  • Designing a framework to limit greenhouse gas emissions related to land use, forests, and agriculture and promulgating new standards for the greening of manufacturing, mining, and tourism.
  • Protecting biodiversity, slowing extinction rates, and helping leverage natural climate solutions by conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. 
  • Implementing community-driven approaches to develop solutions for environmental injustices affecting communities of color, low-income, and indigenous communities.

      Effectively attacking climate change entails eliminating the carbon contribution of the global energy system, reforming land and water management practices, and greatly enhancing the capacity of government to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It also requires putting science first and recognizing that the earth’s hydrosphere is one inextricably interconnected global system — a “commons” upon which we all depend that must be protected by the government as a public trust and managed using the best science available.

      FLOW has long advocated broad application of the Public Trust Doctrine as a framework for recognizing that the atmosphere, land, and water is one dynamic, integrated natural system upon which the health and vitality of all life depends. FLOW’s efforts to shut down Line 5 are motivated not only by the need to protect the Great Lakes — the largest and most valuable freshwater system in the world — from a catastrophic pipeline failure, but also by the recognition that continued long-term investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is inconsistent with our responsibility to protect the planet.

      FLOW’s approach to advancing policy to protect our Great Lakes has been ambitious and cutting-edge. We have advocated for broad application of the Public Trust Doctrine as a legally required fiduciary duty of government to protect the common interest in public trust resources for the benefit of all citizens.

      FLOW has been steadfast in carrying out its mission, and today FLOW’s successes have measurably enhanced state, federal, and international governance to better protect the environment:

      • In response to FLOW’s advocacy, the International Joint Commission has embraced the Public Trust Doctrine as the management framework for protection of Great Lakes waters.
      • FLOW’s constant efforts to prevent commodification of water by private corporations have successfully pushed back on efforts to expand water extraction for private sale.
      • Most recently, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have moved to shut down Line 5, the 67-year-old oil pipeline that presents a clear and present danger to our environment and our regional economy. As advocated by FLOW, the Governor’s and Attorney General’s legal actions are based upon the application of the Public Trust Doctrine.

      FLOW commends the Biden Administration’s unprecedented efforts to address the climate crisis. We will continue to advocate for science-based, state-of-the-art policy, and we will continue to coordinate and collaborate with local, state, and federal agencies and commissions in implementing efficient, effective climate solutions.

      FLOW Appeals ALJ’s Decision on Proposed ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel

      Source of tunnel graphic: Enbridge’s 2020 application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

      Source of tunnel graphic: Enbridge’s 2020 application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

      ________________________________________________________________________________________________________

      FLOW on Nov. 6, 2020, filed an appeal with the Michigan Public Service Commission of the October 23 decision by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Dennis W. Mack granting in part Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership’s motion to exclude critical evidence from consideration by the MPSC in deciding whether to permit the siting of Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 oil pipeline tunnel through public trust bottomlands under the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

      FLOW’s appeal seeks to allow evidence that the proposed, roughly four mile-long oil pipeline tunnel under the Great Lakes would commit the citizens of Michigan for another 99 years to the unnecessary generation of more harmful greenhouse gases. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, greenhouse gas emissions already have resulted in the impairment of Michigan’s public health and natural resources – effects that will get worse unless CO2 emissions are abated.

      Nothing less than the authority of the MPSC to protect the people of Michigan, environment, climate, and public interest of the citizens of Michigan and the Great Lakes for years to come is at stake, according to arguments filed by FLOW and other intervenors and made orally at a September 30 hearing.

      “Authorizing a billion-dollar fossil fuel infrastructure project is fundamentally at odds with what science tells us must be done to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, a Great Lakes public trust law and policy center based in Traverse City. “Eliminating the determination of ‘public need’ when granting a Certificate of Necessity makes no sense.”

      FLOW’s appeal also contests the ALJ ruling that the MPSC need not make a finding of “public need” to transport up to 8 billion gallons of oil a year for nearly a century in an era of falling demand for crude oil and an economy rapidly shifting to renewable energy. The pipeline tunnel proposed by Enbridge is inseparable from the business of transporting oil through existing Line 5, the Candian company’s 67-year old pipeline that runs from Superior, Wisconsin, through Michigan and on to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario.

      Several market indicators suggest that investment in new pipeline infrastructure is highly questionable in light of clear trends indicating a precipitous drop in oil consumption in future years. Analysis released on August 9 by BNP Paribas, the world’s 8th-largest bank, reports “that the economics of oil for gasoline and diesel vehicles versus wind-and solar-powered EVs [electric vehicles] are now in relentless and irreversible decline, with far-reaching implications for both policymakers and the oil majors.”

      FLOW is joined by several other intervening parties in the case in appealing to the three-member MPSC to overturn the ALJ ruling. Lawyers filed a joint appeal on behalf of the Michigan Environmental Council, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, and National Wildlife Federation, as well as a joint appeal on behalf of the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Michigan Climate Action Network. Bay Mills Indian Community also appealed. Attorney General Dana Nessel also sought to support and join in the appeals filed by the groups and tribes.

      FLOW’s appeal requests that the MPSC:

      1. Reverse the ALJ’s granting of Enbridge’s motion to exclude evidence of public need and likely environmental effects and alternatives related to the new tunnel and tunnel pipeline and the intended purpose of the tunnel project to engage in business and operations to transport crude oil as part of the tunnel project and the existing Line 5 in Michigan; and
      2. Remand to the ALJ to take appropriate action to incorporate the excluded evidence into the discovery and evidentiary hearing that will be submitted as a full case to the MPSC for final decision and order.

      “We’re talking about water, climate, and the plummeting demand for crude oil,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and legal counsel. “The MPSC by law should fully consider and determine the effect on, and potential impairment to, the substantial risks, alternatives, costs, and damages, and the future of the State of Michigan under the public trust in the Great Lakes, environment, fishing, fishery habitat, and the communities, including tribal interests under long-standing treaties.”

      “Enbridge’s attempted private takeover of the public’s bottomlands under the Straits of Mackinac for the tunnel project breaches the state’s duty to protect the public trust in the Great Lakes and is not good for the climate or Gov. Whitmer’s goals as the nation and world turn to clean energy for survival,” said Kirkwood.

      Many groups, including FLOW and Oil & Water Don’t Mix, have articulated scientific and legal deep concerns about the Canadian pipeline company’s tunnel proposal and its lack of necessity, and risks to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the fishery in the Straits, Tribal rights, the Pure Michigan economy, the climate, and a way of life.

      In more details, FLOW’s appeal asserts that:

      1. The ALJ erroneously restricted the Broad Authority of the Commission under Act 16 by excluding review of the new or extended business and operations to transport crude oil through the new tunnel and pipeline.
      2. The exclusion of evidence of “public need” under Act 16 is contrary to the law and deprives the parties the right to introduce evidence on questions of fact related to public need.
      3. The State of Michigan has made new commitments to integrate climate change into government decision-making.
      4. The duty to consider and/or determine the likely effects and alternatives under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) and its case law applies to the new tunnel and tunnel pipeline, and the intended purpose to extend the business and operations of Enbridge to the Straits and all of Line 5.
      5. MEPA requires an evaluation of feasible and prudent alternatives, including a “no action” alternative.

      Enbridge’s giant tunnel, at roughly 20-feet in diameter, would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan connects to Lake Huron.

      For more information, see:

      Comment by Oct. 19 on Permits for Risky Line 5 Oil Tunnel

      enbridges-line-5-under-the-straits-of-mackinac

      On Monday, October 19, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will conclude its public comment period on pending state permits for the expected wetland and wastewater impacts, and alternatives to constructing and operating Enbridge’s proposed, roughly four mile-long oil tunnel under the Great Lakes. The proposed tunnel, at roughly 20-feet in diameter, would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

      It’s important for the members of the public—including individuals, families, business owners, community leaders, and others—to submit comments. Many people and groups, including FLOW and Oil & Water Don’t Mix, already have expressed deep concerns about the Canadian pipeline company’s tunnel proposal and its lack of necessity, and risks to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the fishery in the Straits, Tribal rights, the Pure Michigan economy, the climate, and a way of life. 

      Below is guidance from FLOW on what to include in your written comments and how to submit them online by Monday’s deadline. EGLE expects to issue its final decision on the oil tunnel permits and for wastewater impacts in late November and impacts to wetlands and submerged lands in early December.

      Points to Make in Public Comments by Oct. 19

      FLOW is providing this content for you to draw from and supplement with your own information and perspective in your comment to EGLE on the proposed Line 5 tunnel permits:

      • Not authorized by the state — EGLE cannot properly proceed on administering the Enbridge permit applications unless and until the December 2018 Easement and tunnel lease have been authorized under sections 2 and 3 of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and the Public Trust Doctrine.
      • Not good for the climate or Gov. Whitmer’s goals  — EGLE must take into account the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the proposed petroleum tunnel, particularly in light of Governor Whitmer’s Executive Directive 2020-10 setting a goal of economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. Extending the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years with  the tunnel project is fundamentally at odds with the reduction of greenhouse gases necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
      • Not good for public health, safety, and welfare — EGLE is required to determine whether extending the life of an oil pipeline that will emit approximately tens of  million tons of greenhouse gases annually for the next 99 years, under the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, “is consistent with the promotion of the public health, safety and welfare in light of the state’s paramount concern for the protection of its natural resources from pollution, impairment or destruction.”
      • Not a public need for the oil tunnel — EGLE must make a number of specific determinations, including whether the benefits of the project outweigh reasonably foreseeable detriments, the extent to which there is a public and private need for the project, and whether there are feasible and prudent alternatives to the tunnel project. Unless these determinations are clearly demonstrated by the applicant Enbridge, the permit is prohibited by the Michigan Environmental Protection Act and the Wetlands Protection Act.

      How to Submit Your Comments to EGLE by Oct. 19

      Be sure to submit your comments on Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 oil tunnel by the Monday, Oct. 19 deadline. The public can submit comments either by email to EGLE-Enbridge-Comments@Michigan.gov — referencing Application Number HNY-NHX4-FSR2Q — or via two EGLE web pages for commenting separately on each of the permits. Click on each link below and follow the instructions provided by the state:  

      • EGLE public comment page for Part 303 wetland impacts and Part 325 Great Lakes submerged lands impacts.
      • EGLE public comment page for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater impacts.

      How to Learn More about Line 5 and the Risky Oil Tunnel

      To learn more about Enbridge Line 5 and the proposed oil tunnel, see these resources on FLOW’s website:

      Thank you for speaking up for the Great Lakes, drinking water, and a way of life here in the Great Lakes State!