Tag: wetlands

We should strengthen, not weaken wetland protection

This month, in its lame duck session, the Michigan Legislature intends to pass a number of bills harming public health and welfare and the environment – all without meaningful public input or debate.  Included within this eleventh-hour debacle is Senate Bill 1211, sponsored by outgoing Senator Tom Casperson, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

SB 1211 dramatically weakens Parts 301 and 303 of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, known respectively, when first enacted, as the Michigan Inland Lakes and Stream Act and Wetlands Protection Act.  The Casperson bill constricts the definitions of “inland lakes” and “wetlands,” significantly reducing both regulatory oversight and the protection afforded these critically important resources.

SB 1211 doubles the minimum size of protected wetlands from five to 10 acres and cripples future enforcement of violations of the act by imposing a new requirement on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to not only prove that a violation occurred when a wetland is harmed or destroyed, but also show that the violator was legally negligent.  

The 6.5 million acres of Michigan wetlands that remain are the nurseries for our Great Lakes and freshwater inland lakes; they are fecund biological niches where synergies among biota provide food and habitat for countless insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals.  Limnologists regard wetlands as “biological super systems” and compare them to rain forests because of the complexity and variety of organisms and plant life they harbor.

More than that, wetlands provide a huge array of ecological services that have immense value:

  • Water storage
  • Flood prevention
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Water purification
  • Nutrient retention
  • Erosion and sedimentation control
  • Shoreline protection

These ecological services protect communities and private property, imparting value and preventing loss – all free of charge.

It has been estimated by the United Nations Ecological, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Ramsar Convention on Wetlands that wetlands provide trillions of dollars in annual health and ecological benefits worldwide.   

Beyond that, recent studies have revealed that wetland soils are a huge carbon sink, absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in quantities 20 – 80 times greater than agricultural soils.  Maintaining the vitality of wetlands will become a central strategy in combating climate change.

Yet all of these benefits are either unknown to or callously dismissed by Senator Casperson and the Michigan legislature.

In the 1970’s, a Republican governor of Michigan with strong bipartisan support signed into law both the Inland Lakes and Streams Act and the Wetland Protection Act.  The legislative findings and declarations that precede Part 303 were based upon our best science and shared appreciation of the rich natural resource heritage that defines our state and values.  The recitation of benefits accruing from wetlands is unique in Michigan’s environmental code and remains a tribute to good governance:

(1) The legislature finds that:

(a) Wetland conservation is a matter of state concern since a wetland of 1 county may be affected by acts on a river, lake, stream, or wetland of other counties.

(b) A loss of a wetland may deprive the people of the state of some or all of the following benefits to be derived from the wetland:

(i) Flood and storm control by the hydrologic absorption and storage capacity of the wetland.

(ii) Wildlife habitat by providing breeding, nesting, and feeding grounds and cover for many forms of wildlife, waterfowl, including migratory waterfowl, and rare, threatened, or endangered wildlife species.

(iii) Protection of subsurface water resources and provision of valuable watersheds and recharging ground water supplies.

(iv) Pollution treatment by serving as a biological and chemical oxidation basin.

(v) Erosion control by serving as a sedimentation area and filtering basin, absorbing silt and organic matter.

(vi) Sources of nutrients in water food cycles and nursery grounds and sanctuaries for fish.

(c) Wetlands are valuable as an agricultural resource for the production of food and fiber, including certain crops which may only be grown on sites developed from wetland.

(d) That the extraction and processing of nonfuel minerals may necessitate the use of wetland, if it is determined pursuant to section 30311 that the proposed activity is dependent upon being located in the wetland and that a prudent and feasible alternative does not exist.

(2) In the administration of this part, the department shall consider the criteria provided in subsection (1).

Strengthening wetland protection should be an economic and environmental imperative.  Every day, science brings new evidence that future generations are at risk, and that our future prosperity and fate are inextricably tied to our stewardship of the planet.  

All of this appears to be lost on Senator Casperson.  

Let’s hope that Governor Snyder has the foresight to wield the veto pen should SB 1211 land on his desk.      

To contact Governor Snyder, click here.


Stop the Wetlands Wrecking Ball

Legislation introduced this week in the State Capitol would open hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands and thousands of inland lakes to destruction.  Senate Bill 1211 attacks Michigan’s nationally recognized wetland protection act and the benefits wetlands provide — including clean water, floodwater storage, fish and wildlife habitat and mitigation of climate change through carbon storage.

Senate Bill 1211 is also a sneak attack.  Its sponsor, Senator Tom Casperson, intends to rush the bill through the Legislature in the 5 weeks before he and other lame duck legislators leave office, giving citizens who care about protection of our valuable wetlands little time to halt the legislation.

Click here to learn more about Senate Bill 1211.

You can make your voice heard by contacting your state legislator using the message at this link as a template. 

To get contact information for your legislator,
click here for the State Senate and here for the State House.


Lame Ducks, Lamer Policies

When Michigan voters cast ballots November 6, they did not express support for attacks on the state’s water resources.  But that’s what they may be getting from Lansing between now and the end of 2018.

In politics, lame ducks are officeholders whose successors have been elected but whose terms haven’t expired.  “Lame” may imply powerlessness, but in fact lame duck officials possess a dangerous power.  They can enact or repeal laws without accountability.  Michigan’s lame duck Governor Rick Snyder and dozens of legislators who won’t return next year are plotting several attacks on the environment.  To put these attacks in a legal framework, Article 4, Section 52 of our state’s constitution declares that the public’s concern for air, water, and natural resources is “paramount,” and mandates that the legislature “shall enact laws that protect the air, water, and natural resources from pollution, impairment, or destruction.”  These lame duck officeholders are determined to do the opposite.

The most prominent of these is Senate Bill 1197, concerning Line 5 and the Mackinac Bridge, sponsored by lame duck Senator Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba.  It would grant Enbridge Energy a blessing to operate its risky 65-year-old petroleum pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac for another decade.  It would do so by diluting the mission of the state’s Mackinac Bridge Authority to include acquisition of lands for, and ownership of, an oil tunnel beneath the Straits. The tunnel, if ever built, would expose the Authority and the taxpayers of Michigan to liability if it ever results in a spill or other accident. 

Coupled with a proposed agreement between the state and Enbridge, the bill seeks to lock the state into a 99-year lease for the Canadian company to use the Straits as a shortcut for routing Canadian crude oil to the Canadian refinery center of Sarnia, Ontario.  Why the haste to finalize a nearly century-long deal in a five-week lame duck session, especially when the new governor and attorney general have expressed opposition to the decaying pipelines and the replacement tunnel?

Concerned citizens from across Michigan are converging on the Capitol Tuesday, November 27 for a Lame Duck Lobby Day against Senate Bill 1197 and the bad Enbridge deal.

This ill-conceived legislation is not the only attack on environmental protections that could become law in the lame duck session.  Others include:

  • Weakening the state’s wetland law to exclude many important, sensitive waters from protection.  The proposal would essentially dumb down Michigan’s wetlands law to meet weak definitions being pursued by the Trump Administration and expose over half a million acres of wetlands to destruction.
  • Weakening the state’s approach to cleanup of chemical contamination, making it harder to set binding cleanup standards and to protect the most sensitive populations, women of child-bearing age and children.
  • Weakening protection of the environment from toxic coal ash by creating a state coal ash landfill program with minimal standards that could allow arsenic and lead in groundwater.
  • Setting weak standards for protection of groundwater and surface water from failing septic systems.  Only Michigan of the 50 states lacks a statewide code for regulation of septic systems, but the bills on which the lame duck Legislature may act fall well short of what is needed.

A few proposals good for Michigan’s environment may get a hearing, too.   Bills to create a sustainable funding source for replacing aging water infrastructure, water quality monitoring, recycling, and contaminated site cleanup may be considered, as well as a measure providing fair tax treatment for small-scale solar generation. 

But the bad far outweighs the good in this lame duck Legislature.  FLOW will work to keep you informed of these threats and what you can do about them during the remainder of 2018.

Considering Productivity on World Wetland Day

Today, February 2, is World Wetland Day.

A 2012 UN Report says from 1900 to 2012, the world lost 50% of its wetlands.

As humans, we value our productivity. We want to gut the unnecessary and utilize every minute and every inch to its full potential. However, when we aim for 100% productivity, our first instinct will often lead to less productivity.

The worker who works 24 hours each day will not last long. Productivity, if not the worker, will die quickly. It is crucial to eat, to sleep, and to exercise to reach any desirable level.

Our land is similar. If we use every acre of land in a manner that at first seems the most productive, it will result in a mess of roads, farmland, and buildings that is likewise unsustainable.

Wetlands are considered to beamong the most productive ecosystems in the world.” The benefits are many. The wetlands of the Great Lakes region support over $50 billion of recreational activities each year. A surprising number of species are dependent on wetlands specifically for survival. They protect against storms and flooding. Wetlands also function as a natural filter to keep our Great Lakes water clean, which is now more important than ever. Our lakes are great, and the resulting wetlands are spectacular and quite beneficial.

In Michigan, half of these wetlands have been drained and filled in the past couple of centuries. For newcomers at that time, this land was seen as unproductive, in the context that it could not be cultivated. The solution was to replace the wetlands with land that could be cultivated. Today, more wetlands are lost to development – parking lots, stores, roads, and more.

Nayt Boyt

Whether you see Michigan’s wetland areas as now being half full or half empty, the dangers remain. Today, many efforts are being made to create wetlands – to return land back to wetlands – which can be difficult to do. Despite these efforts, the overall amount of wetlands in Michigan is still declining. It would seem that the most productive method is not to remove them in the first place.