Tag: state of the state

Governor Whitmer Has Opportunity to Lead on the Environment

Photo: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 9, 2021, joined by Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad and construction workers, visited the Benton Harbor site where the first lead service lines were being replaced after her expedited commitment to replace 100% of those lines in the city in 18 months.

As she begins her fourth year in office, Governor Whitmer has an opportunity to build on past environmental successes and set the tone for an historic year of accomplishment. Thanks to significant federal COVID-relief aid and a state economy performing better than forecast, Michigan has a rare abundance of funding to attack the state’s multibillion-dollar backlog of sewer, storm, and drinking water infrastructure needs and attend to other urgent environmental needs. Here are a few ways she can strengthen public health protections and restore our environment.

Declare “The Year of Water”: Setting the stage for an unprecedented year of action on water, the governor should declare 2022 “The Year of Water” for state government. The agenda for the Year of Water approach should be governed by two core principles: 

(1) all Michiganders have a paramount fundamental public interest and right to safe, clean, and affordable water under Art. 4, Section 51 and 52 of the State Constitution; and

(2) Michiganders should expect their government to uphold its solemn public trust duty to protect state waters.

Create a “Clean Water Trust Fund”: A one-time investment in sewage and drinking water systems is not enough to assure clean, safe, affordable, and accountability when it comes to the rights of citizens to Michigan’s public water. A Clean Water Trust Fund, established by statute or state constitutional amendment, would provide a long-term answer for cities and rural communities. Modeled in part after Michigan’s constitutionally protected Natural Resources Trust Fund, which dedicates a portion of state oil and gas revenue to the purchase of recreational and ecologically important land for the public, a Clean Water Trust Fund would be one of the first of its kind in the nation.

End Water service shutoffs: The pandemic has underscored the danger to human health of cutting off water service to households unable to pay their bills. Water is essential to personal health, sanitation, and dignity. Governor Whitmer took action to assure water service to thousands of households early in the pandemic. This policy should be made permanent, with funding and the trust fund oversight required to back it up. 

Remove all lead service lines and lead household connections in drinking water systems: The crises in Flint and Benton Harbor have made it clear that lead in drinking water is a major public health risk, especially to our most vulnerable Michiganders—children. The governor should set a goal of replacing all lead service lines and household connections statewide within the next five years.

Aggressively tackle threats posed by PFAS “forever chemicals”: With part of the federal relief funding, the governor should propose a three-year plan to clean up orphan PFAS contamination sites where no private polluter can be identified and should call for the legislature to restore Michigan’s polluter pay law to hold accountable those who have contaminated Michigan’s land and waters. Further, she should pledge state government leadership in promoting alternatives to PFAS in products and manufacturing and firefighting.

Developing a plan to prevent further microplastics contamination of Michigan’s waters—including the water we drink: In the United States, we ingest the equivalent of one credit card a week in plastic. Tiny breakdown particles from plastics use and disposal are an environmental and public health risk. The governor should convene a working group to come up with solutions that take effect at the earliest possible time.

Continue to protect and sustain Michigan’s Great Lakes and water resources from the effects of climate change: The governor launched an integrative approach to the Great Lakes, water resources, environment and energy in MI Healthy Climate Plan. To address the devastating effects of climate change, the state must accelerate and lead this effort by building resilient green infrastructure, identifying and improving protection of floodplains and wetlands, and promoting renewable and efficient energy and services, such as net-zero carbon buildings.

The year 2022 is a chance for the governor to secure her Great Lakes, environmental, energy, and climate legacy, and to make the Year of Water a turning point for the better in Michigan’s history.

Pandemic Relief, Public Health, and Protecting Our Water

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.

Watch Governor Whitmer’s State of the State address live here at 7 pm tonight.