When Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address at 7 p.m. tonight—virtually, in compliance with Centers for Disease Control guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic—we hope she continues to voice strong leadership to protect our Great Lakes and ensure access to clean water for all. Fresh water, for drinking, hand washing, and recreation, is more important than ever before, as our national struggle to contain the coronavirus reveals our deep, societal inequities.
Gov. Whitmer was in many ways a champion of the environment in 2020. In September, Gov. Whitmer created a council on climate solutions and set a 2050 goal for the state to become carbon neutral; in October, she unveiled a $500 million plan to upgrade drinking water and sewage lines; in November, she revoked Enbridge’s Line 5 easement in the Straits of Mackinac;and in December with the legislature, she extended a moratorium on water shutoffs. Here’s how Gov. Whitmer should continue to lead:
Continue Commitment to Public Health and Economic Recovery
As Michigan recovers from the pandemic, the Governor should stress that full economic recovery depends on sustained stewardship of our environment, especially protection of our water.
Continue to Enforce the State’s Termination of the Enbridge Line 5 Petroleum Pipeline Easement at the Straits of Mackinac
The Governor should stand firm in her opposition to continued operation of the 67-year-old Line 5 pipelines, which pose a risk of catastrophic harm to the Great Lakes. Whitmer last November announced termination of the easement effective May 2021, using public trust law language championed by FLOW. Enbridge has defied her order and is challenging her action in federal court.
Take a Tough Line on PFAS and Other Toxic Contaminants
Under the Governor’s leadership, Michigan last year adopted some of the most protective drinking water standards in the country for seven PFAS compounds, known as the “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in the environment. More needs to be done to identify and clean up PFAS contamination and to hold polluters accountable. The Governor should call for restoration of the “polluter pay” principle in state law and further action to protect the public from PFAS.
Protect against Privatization of Water Resources
Water is a precious public resource which, under public trust law, cannot be privatized. But nationally, there is growing talk of water markets and of replacing publicly owned water and sewer services with more expensive private services. The Governor should articulate her firm position that water belongs to the people of Michigan, that the government has a responsibility to protect it from impairment, and that Michigan will not engage in privatization of water through markets, private water systems, or any other measures.
Ban Shutoffs of Household Water Service
Residential water service is essential, and no more so than during the pandemic, when complying with basic health guidance for regular hand washing is critical. Yet until the Governor imposed a moratorium in April on water service shutoffs, utilities were continuing to shut off service to thousands of households. A moratorium on shutoffs passed by the legislature in December will expire on March 31. The governor should call for a permanent ban on residential water shutoffs.