“This couldn’t be just a lake. No real water was ever blue like that. A light breeze stirred the pin-cherry tree beside the window, ruffled the feathers of a fat sea gull promenading on the pink rocks below. The breeze was full of evergreen spice.”
— Dorothy Maywood Bird, “Mystery at Laughing Water”
2018 should be the year that Michigan recommits itself to protecting its water better than any other state does. There is hope out there, if you look closely.
On Sunday, the Detroit Free Press observed that when Michiganders are asked what defines Michigan, they almost invariably cite water and the environment. Water is our identity. Water surrounds us and water flows through our state.
That’s why policies that have been pursued in recent years by politicians in Lansing are so out of step with the character of our state. The Flint drinking water disaster is just one of many serious offenses against our water legacy. The failure of the state to shut down the antiquated Line 5 petroleum pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan DEQ’s recent authorization of a 60% increase in Nestlé’s water extraction operation, proposed legislation granting automatic approval to large agricultural water withdrawals and even worse legislation that would grant veto power over DEQ’s rulemaking to polluters are all examples.
This is not right for Michigan. This is not what Michiganders want.
The answer to the problem of poor state water policy is in the hands of all of us. If we educate ourselves on these issues and communicate with elected officials, nothing can stop us from restoring Michigan is leadership. It’s that simple, and that difficult. It requires sacrificing a little time, and making an effort. But over the decades, the lesson of Michigan’s environmental history is that when the people lead, the politicians follow.
It is entirely possible that within a year, if all goes well, the people of the state will unite behind a common sense water agenda and use the legislature as an instrument to enact it. That will mean funding for clean, safe and affordable drinking water, restoration of the Great Lakes, protection of our wetlands, and clear public control of the water that we own as a people.
The Michigan legislature has introduced what is a sure contender for the worst Michigan environmental bill of the 21st century. The bill, HB 4205, would prohibit all state agencies from promulgating any administrative rule that is more stringent than an applicable federal standard. With the federal government actively seeking to dismantle historic environmental protections by lowering or eliminating a whole host of environmental standards, HB 4205 could result in irreparable and irrevocable harm to Michigan’s priceless natural resource heritage.
We cannot assign the responsibility to protect Michigan’s natural resources to the federal government. We cannot surrender the safeguarding of Michigan’s natural resources to an administration that is contemptuous of efforts to protect land and water resources and boasts of its eagerness to eviscerate existing environmental rules.
The Trump Administration’s pledge to repeal two administrative rules for every rule promulgated and its promise to use the Congressional Review Act to void environmental regulations are indicators of the potential harm HB 4205 could create. The Trump Administration’s roll back of 23 environmental rules in its first 100 days is harm already incurred.
Michigan’s natural resources are globally unique, requiring vigilant protection and stewardship. Our Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh surface waters and harbor distinctive, specialized watersheds. Our shoreline of 3,288 miles is by far the longest freshwater coastline in the United States, shaping coastal dunes that are singularly unique natural features. Science affirms that our inland lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands are an integrated, interconnected, mutually dependent hydrologic system providing immeasurable services and benefits to all citizens.
In all, Michigan’s natural resources are magnificent, unparalleled and sublime – a natural endowment demanding extraordinary legislative safeguarding. HB 4205 is antithetical to Michigan’s values, laws and environmental legacy.
HB 4205 has eleven legislative co-sponsors. Their support of this bill is irreconcilable with their constitutional responsibilities. Michigan’s Constitution explicitly defines the primary duty legislators have to protect Michigan’s natural resources. Article 4, Section 52 of Michigan’s Constitution states:
The conservation and development of the natural resources of the state are hereby declared to be of paramount public concern in the interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the people. The legislature shall provide for the protection of the air, water and other natural resources of the state from pollution, impairment and destruction.
Complementing this constitutional mandate is the Public Trust Doctrine, embodying a set of foundational principles, long recognized by law, that require proper stewardship of Great Lakes resources. The doctrine creates a fiduciary responsibility of stewardship on the part of government for the preservation of these resources for the benefit of the public. Described in Michigan jurisprudence as a “high, solemn and perpetual duty,” the Public Trust Doctrine creates a foundational, unifying, coherent legal framework for defining and prescribing rights, obligations, duties and responsibilities for protecting public resources that government – and the legislators behind HB 4205 – cannot ignore.
Please encourage your friends and family to contact the eleven co-sponsors of HB 4205:
Congressman Dan Kildee Introduces Legislation to Protect the Great Lakes, Michigan’s Sport Fishing Industry
Kildee Seeks to Address For-Profit Fish Farming that Poses New Threats to Michigan’s Waterways, including the Au Sable River
FENTON – Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05), flanked by sports fishermen and conservationists at Red Fox Outfitters in Fenton, today announced that he has introduced new legislation in Congress to ban harmful aquaculture practices in both the Great Lakes and federally designated “Wild and Scenic Rivers,” which includes the Au Sable River. The new bills are part of Congressman Kildee’s continued efforts to protect the Great Lakes and Michigan’s rivers from pollution, disease and invasive species.
Aquaculture is the commercial raising of fish in ponds, rivers or lakes. If not done correctly, it has been shown to increase pollution, destroy sensitive fish habitats, spread disease and introduce non-native species. Sadly, other states have seen polluted waterways that have crippled local economies as a result of bad aquaculture practices. A commercial fish farm facility in Pennsylvania on Big Spring Creek – once a famous trout stream – collapsed the region’s fishing industry in the 1970s.
“Like many Michiganders, I have fond memories spending time up north on the lakes or fishing in the river with my family. For everyone in our state, our water is precious, and that’s why we have to always protect it from harm. Whether it is invasive species like Asian Carp, Canada’s plan to store nuclear waste on the shore of the Great Lakes or commercial fish farming, I will always fight to protect Michigan’s freshwater and the vital jobs that depend on it,” said Congressman Kildee.
Currently, a commercial aquaculture facility near Grayling has a state-issued permit, through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, to expand its fish farming operation by 15 times its current size. The expansion will pollute the “Holy Waters” of the Au Sable River, one of Michigan’s 16 rivers designated a “Wild and Scenic River” by the federal government based on its unique ecosystems and pristine scenery.
Congressman Kildee’s two bills include:
The Ban Aquaculture in the Great Lakes Act, which would ban aquaculture facilities in the Great Lakes, ending the current patchwork of state laws that attempt to regulate such commercial fishing.
The Preserving Fishing on Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which would ban aquaculture facilities on Wild and Scenic Rivers and its tributaries, such as the Au Sable River, unless such facilities are shown not to discharge pollutants into the river.
Banning aquaculture has support from a vast majority of Michiganders, as well as lawmakers and conservation groups. According to a recent poll, 68 percent of Michiganders oppose aquaculture in the Great Lakes. Additionally, this issue is not a partisan one; Republicans in the Michigan Legislature have previously introduced legislation to ban aquaculture in the Great Lakes and in Michigan waterways.
Congressman Kildee’s legislation also has support from the Anglers of the Au Sable, Michigan Trout Unlimited, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Michigan Salmon and Steelhead Association and For the Love of Water (FLOW).
“Anglers of the Au Sable applauds Congressman Kildee for addressing an overlooked Great Lakes water issue, the introduction of pollutants by fish farms into the Lakes and connecting waterways,” said Tom Baird, president of the organization that focuses on improving fishing on the Au Sable River. “It is vital that fish farms be operated in a way that protects the cleanliness of our rivers and lakes, which are in a delicate balance easily tipped by addition of wastes from aquaculture done improperly. Flow through systems that use rivers as virtually open sewers are of particular concern to those of us who fish for trout, which need clean, cold water to thrive. This legislation would ensure only properly regulated fish farms which don’t pollute are allowed on designated rivers.”
“The Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association is one of the largest sport fishing organizations in the Great Lakes Basin. Our mission is to protect, promote and enhance sport fishing in the Great Lakes and connecting water ways. We are proud to support legislation to prohibit aquaculture in the Great Lakes and to prohibit aquaculture operations that contribute to pollution of wild and scenic rivers,” said Dennis Eade, Executive Director of the Michigan Steelhead & Salmon Fishermen’s Association.
“We appreciate Congressman Kildee’s leadership on this very important sportsmen’s issue. Aquaculture facilities across the globe that are connected to public water bodies have proven to be disastrous for water quality and fish health. Our $4 billion fishery in Michigan drives local economies, creates jobs, and connects millions of Michigan citizens to our long and storied heritage as the premier fishing destination in North America,” said Michigan United Conservation Club.