Tag: Milliken

Public Health, Water, and the Pandemic: We Are All as Vulnerable as the Most Vulnerable

During #WorldWaterWeek (August 23-28) FLOW asked Abdul El-Sayed, former executive director of the Detroit Health Department and public health professor at Columbia University, how the global pandemic has changed his connection to water.

Watch Abdul’s remarks and read a transcript below.

“If you remember back to the first days of this pandemic, which I know feels like eons ago, one of the first things public health officials were saying was that you’ve got to wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds. That remains really good advice, on top of making sure you’re remaining physically distanced, making sure you’re wearing a mask. These are important layered recommendations. Think about that basic recommendation. Warm soapy water for 20 seconds. Not everyone gets to take that for granted. It accentuates the fact that water is life. Public health started in the moment when we realized how to keep people from drinking polluted water and to make sure that the water they drank was clean and pure.”

“As I reflect on this pandemic on the advice that we gave on the nature of public health, itself, it reminds me that the resources that we have become that much more important when they become part of the set of barriers between us and an extremely deadly, extremely contagious disease. It has been that way from the very beginning. So recognizing that we in the Great Lakes region are blessed with 21 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, we have a responsibility to that water. That water is critical to our lives and livelihoods. I think it forces us to step back and appreciate the responsibility that we have, and the fact that in so many cases we’re not meeting that responsibility.”

“One thing that this pandemic ought to be teaching us, too, is that we are all as vulnerable as the most vulnerable, we are all as susceptible as the most susceptible. Unless and until we’re willing to invest in the wellbeing of people who are the most vulnerable and the most susceptible, then we will have failed our public responsibilities. Leadership like that of the late Governor Milliken is about centering those truths about collective action and the public good, and trying to bring us back to an ideal that says, ‘We all do this work of politics, we all do this work of government with the goal and the responsibility of protecting what is ours together.’ The key word there is TOGETHER. If we can’t find a together in this, then it’s going to be really, really hard to protect those resources, and we’re seeing that now.”

Happy Birthday, Governor Milliken

Celebrating a great former governor of Michigan

If Michigan has ever had an environmental governor, it was William G. Milliken, Traverse City’s son, who turns 95 on March 26.

The woods and waters of the Traverse City area, Milliken said, and particularly summer days at a family cottage near Acme, bonded him to nature in his childhood. That embedded appreciation carried forward into his political career.

Environmental Action

When Milliken became governor in January 1969, the public was clamoring for environmental action. He delivered.

In a January 1970 special message to the Legislature, he said, “The preservation of our environment is the critical issue of the Seventies.” The message contained a 20-point program, including proposals that ultimately became a shorelands protection act and a natural rivers conservation law.

An even bigger achievement that year was the passage, with Milliken’s support, of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, or MEPA. Granting any citizen standing to sue for the protection of natural resources and the public trust in these resources from pollution, impairment, or destruction, the law had national significance and was imitated in many states.

In 1976, he defied Amway Corp. co-founder and major Republican Party donor Jay Van Andel by backing a tough limit on phosphorus in laundry detergent, a product manufactured by the company. Reduction of the nutrient almost immediately shrank algal blooms in Michigan waters.

The same year, the legislature deadlocked on a proposal to attach a deposit to some beverage containers. Convinced the law would reduce litter and promote recycling, Milliken joined forces with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs to put the proposed container deposit law on the 1976 ballot. Voters approved the law by a roughly 2-to-1 margin. It is still considered the most successful law of its kind in the nation.

Milliken signed over a dozen major environmental bills into law, many of them evolving from his proposals: wetlands conservation, hazardous waste management, inland lakes and streams protection, and what is now the state Natural Resources Trust Fund, a public land acquisition and protection program capitalized by proceeds from oil and gas drilling on state lands. He left office on January 1, 1983 after almost 14 years in office, the longest tenure of any Michigan governor.

Defining Water

In 2011, Milliken said Michigan citizens must think of water “as something sacred, not to be treated as a commodity for barter and trade. If we Michiganders observe this principle in public policy and private actions, there will be no limit to the prosperity of our state. Water will then continue to define Michigan, enrich us in ways that include but reach far beyond dollar values, and be our legacy to generations to come. It is no wonder that our Supreme Court once declared that our streams, lakes, and Great Lakes are held in a ‘high, solemn and perpetual trust.’”

Happy Birthday, Governor Milliken.