September 15, 2014

Gov. Snyder Should Act On Great Lakes Oil Spill Threat

For Immediate Release: Monday, Sept. 15, 2014

David Holtz, Sierra Club                                 Liz Kirkwood, For Love of Water

Pressure Mounts for Gov. Snyder to Act as Coast Guard Admits Its Unprepared
for Heavy Oil Spill

Citizens groups concerned that Enbridge plans to bring more heavy oil through Michigan pipelines

Citizens groups today called on Gov. Rick Snyder to take immediate steps toward protecting Michigan from oil pipelines running through the Straits of Mackinac, in the wake of revelations that the United States Coast Guard cannot effectively respond to a major heavy oil spill in the Great Lakes.

“The governor not only has the authority but the responsibility to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of a potentially catastrophic oil spill posed by two huge Enbridge oil pipelines across the straits,” said David Holtz, Executive Committee Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.  “The cost to our state’s economy and our Great Lakes system is just too great for this not to be an urgent priority for the governor.”

News reports last week revealed that lack of equipment, training, and funding left the Coast Guard—designated as first responders for any oil spill in the lakes—unprepared for a heavy oil spill.  This is based on a 2013 Coast Guard study and statements made by Coast Guard officials who raise particular concern that heavy tar sands oil sinks below the surface, making traditional recovery methods ineffective. 

Environmental leaders say that in addition to keeping out tar sands oil, what’s needed is for the governor to assert authority under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and start an open public process to evaluate the safety and future of the Line 5 pipelines that run through the Straits.

Given the increased risks and clean-up challenges posed by heavy tar sands oil, citizens groups say the governor should also move to modify the state’s 1953 easement agreement with Enbridge to ensure that heavy tar sands are not moving through Line 5.  Enbridge says the heavy oils are not moving through the Straits, but the groups point out that this could change at any time without public notice or state approval.

“If our governor is serious about protecting the Great Lakes, he will heed the Coast Guard warning and prevent tar sands from moving through the Straits as a condition of the state's easement with Enbridge,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW in Traverse City. ”

At the same time Enbridge is saying there are no tar sands oils in Line 5, the company is investing between $36 and $43 billion in the next five years to expand its nearly 16,000 miles of pipeline systems. Many believe it is part of its plan to bring more tar sands oil in this direction. One of their biggest projects is to expand the Alberta Clipper pipeline, which connects the tar sands formation in Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin where Line 5 begins on the shores of Lake Superior. When completed, the Alberta Clipper will double its capacity to 880,000 barrels of oil per day.  This expansion has been controversial because the company has broken up its expansion into pieces to avoid the scrutiny and public process involved in seeking a U.S. Presidential permit.

As for his response, Gov. Snyder has formed a task force to study oil pipelines across the state, including the Enbridge pipeline issue, over the next year or so, a process that is not open to the public.

“This can’t just be a problem you toss to a task force of agencies who work in the dark within a long, drawn out process that can be too easily influenced by Enbridge and the oil industry,” said Holtz.  “This should be a much higher priority and the public needs be involved.  Should there even be oil pipelines in the Great Lakes?  That’s the real question we need to ask and answer.”

The increased risks and difficulty of cleaning up tar sands oils became apparent when in 2010 an Enbridge oil pipeline spilled one million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. This is the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, and more than four years and a billion dollars later the cleanup is ongoing.

An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would be catastrophic. According to University of Michigan researcher, Dr. David Schwab, the Straits of Mackinac is the “worse possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.”  At any moment, there are more than 1 million gallons of oil in the pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac. So even if a pipeline leak were detected immediately and shut off, an enormous spill could occur. The University’s modeling found that strong and shifting currents at the Straits would disperse crude oil in both east and west directions, affecting large areas of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shorelines. Passenger ferry service and drinking water would be cut to Mackinac Island.

“The Coast Guard report is more grave news about what we already know – we don’t want to have to clean up an oil spill in the Great Lakes,” said Kirkwood. “We should turn our focus from cleanup to prevention, and the best way to prevent a spill is for the state to look at whether the pipeline should be there in the first place. The governor needs to start that process immediately.”

Video: Available in other formats upon request.
Background: A pair of underwater oil pipelines carry nearly 23 million gallons of oil through the Straits of Mackinac every day. The pipelines are owned by Enbridge, the Canadian company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill - the largest inland spill in U.S. history. Enbridge pipelines had more than 1,000 spills in the United States and Canada between 1999 and 2013.  Research by the University of Michigan has shown that an oil spill would prove catastrophic in the strong, erratic currents of the Straits. FLOW and Sierra Club are part of the Oil and Water Don't Mix campaign. For more information, visit  

September 14, 2014



Thursday, August 21, 2014
Contact: Gabby Brown,, 202-261-2382. Mark Westlund, 415-977-5719;
This week, the State Department released documents revealing a scheme by Canadian tar sands giant Enbridge to bypass the Presidential Permit process for expansion of its Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline. Enbridge has applied to double the capacity of the pipeline, also known as Line 67, to put it on par with the tar sands carrying capacity of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department has previously made clear that any such expansion requires approval and comprehensive environmental review, and is currently undertaking that review.
Not content to wait for the legally required federal permitting process and environmental review, Enbridge has devised a scheme to transfer the dirty tar sands crude from Alberta Clipper to another pipeline, Line 3, just north of the border, then re-transfer it back to Alberta Clipper once it’s crossed into the United States. This blatant scheme to move up to twice the amount allotted in Enbridge’s permit seems to assert that the pipeline would only impact the few miles around the border crossing, a clear misinterpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law.
Shockingly, in a two page letter, a mid-level State Department official indicated Enbridge could move forward with this plan despite the fact that it clearly violates the capacity limit imposed by the permit the State Department issued.
“With no public notice, the State Department has shockingly backtracked on its commitment to require environmental review and approval before more dirty tar sands oil enters the United States through Minnesota,” said Marc Fink, a Minnesota-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The State Department has violated the public's right to transparency and participation in approval of projects that impact the health and safety of our communities, land, water and climate,” added Kate Jacobson, of MN350.  “Allowing significantly more tar sand oil to flow before a full environmental impact analysis is complete is unacceptable and irresponsible.”
“The State Department doesn't get to make up the law as it goes. This is particularly troubling in light of allegations of an inappropriately cozy relationship between the State Department and the oil industry surrounding the Keystone XL environmental impact statement,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel for National Wildlife Federation.  “The State Department cannot in effect approve a doubling of the amount of climate-disrupting tar sands being carried into the Great Lakes region without conducting a proper public review and permitting process. That is a clear violation of the law and the State Department must immediately reverse course and put the best interests of America first.”
“When will Canada have enough risky pipelines cutting thru our land and water? When is enough?” asked Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska. “For the promise of jobs and energy independence, landowners and tribes are being sold out so foreign corporations can get tar sands on the export market. Canada is engaged in a scam circumventing federal, state and local laws all in the name of exporting their tar sands while we take on all the risk of spills.”
"Expanding the Alberta Clipper pipeline is entirely inconsistent with the administration's commitment to taking aggressive action on climate change, and it's also illegal," said Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes. "The President's promise to decide Keystone XL based on its climate impacts is completely meaningless if the State Department is simultaneously permitting other tar sands pipelines behind closed doors."
“Enbridge can’t show how this project is in the nation’s interest, so instead they are trying to hoodwink its regulators,” said Anthony Swift, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Blindly approving Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline expansion would make a mockery of our permitting process and undermine our efforts to address climate change.”
“Allowing more tar sands oil into the United States without conducting impact analyses is unconscionable and illegal. A State Department spokesman said just this week that the Department is committed to ‘a rigorous, objective, and transparent review process’ with regards to pipeline approval. That is not possible if they eschew a review process altogether,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth.
Jason Kowalski, Policy Director of, said "When we blocked Keystone XL, the fossil fuel industry learned that they have a much stronger hand to play in back rooms than on the streets. They will break the law and wreck our climate if that's what it takes for them to make a buck -- and we will be ready to stand up to them, from Nebraska, to Minnesota, to the streets of New York City." 
"Apparently John Kerry's Department of State doesn't think the President's Climate Test should apply to an additional 350,000 barrels per day of dirty tar sands oil. They're trying to approve almost half the volume of the KXL pipeline, but it won't work. If this stands, this will be a disaster for the climate and for the President's credibility,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International.  “It's terrible timing, as the President prepares to join other world leaders in New York next month.  You can't approve more tar sands into the U.S. and then turn around and talk about a commitment to combating climate change with a straight face. That's simply climate denial.”
Secretary Kerry and President Obama have both committed to making meaningful progress on climate, and with the international Climate Summit around the corner, the eyes of the world are watching to see how seriously the United States is taking climate action. Allowing this decision to stand would prioritize Enbridge’s desire to expand development of the dirtiest fuel source on the planet over the interests of the American people, and would undermine any credibility President Obama has to encourage other countries to commit to combat climate change.
In the event that the Obama Administration does not recognize the dire consequences of allowing this decision to go through, groups opposed to tar sands expansion are currently evaluating their legal options to force an injunction on construction.

Campaign Name: 

August 29, 2014

NEWS: Sierra Club releases endorsements for MI State Legislative and Local races

August 29, 2014

Mike Berkowitz

Sierra Club Endorses Candidates in State Legislative and Local Races
Nation’s Largest Grassroots Conservation Organization Backs Climate and Clean Energy Leaders in Michigan election

LANSING, MI  -The Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club announced over 30 candidate endorsements in Michigan’s upcoming state legislative and local elections.        
“These Sierra Club endorsed candidates have demonstrated strong leadership in promoting clean air, clean water and cleaner energy for a healthier Michigan,” said Mike Berkowitz, Political Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

Sierra Club endorsed the following candidates for State Senate:

Coleman Young for State Senate District 1
Morris Hood for State Senate District 3
Virgil Smith for State Senate District 4
Vincent Gregory for State Senate District 11
Kevin Commet for State Senate District 16
Jim Ananich for State Senate District 27
Sarah Howard for State Senate District 30
Ron Mindykowski for State Senate District 31
Fred Sprague for State Senate District 33
Cathy Forbes for State Senate District 34
Phil Bellfy for State Senate District 37

Sierra Club endorsed the following candidates for State Representative:

Stephanie Chang for State Representative District 6
Sherry Gay Dagnogo for State Representative District 8
Julie Plawecki for State Representative District 11
Kristy Pagan for State Representative District 21
John Chirkun for State Representative District 22
David Haener for State Representative District 23
Robert Wittenberg for State Representative District 27
Derek Miller for State Representative District 28
Bo Karpinsky for State Representative District 30
Christine Greig for State Representative District 37
Sandy Colvin for State Representative District 39
Phil Phelps for State Representative District 49
Sharon Wimple for State Representative District 57
Jon Hoadley for State Representative District 60
John Fischer for State Representative District 61
Andy Helmbolt for State Representative District 62
Rob VerHeulen for State Representative District 74
Annie Braidwood for State Representative District 85
Lynn Mason for State Representative District 86
Betsy Coffia for State Representative District 104
Robert Kennedy for State Representative District 106

Sierra Club also endorsed the following for local races:

David Bowman for Oakland County Commission District 10

“Sierra Club volunteers from among the organization’s 160,000 Michigan members and supporters will work with endorsed candidates in their own communities, identifying and recruiting other likely voters who are concerned about the state’s environmental and energy policies,” said Richard Morley Barron, Political Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter

The Michigan Chapter’s Political Committee conducts thorough reviews of all candidates based on their environmental history, voting records and policy positions through candidate interviews and responses to candidate questionnaires.
A full list of candidates endorsed by the Michigan Sierra Club, including federal, state and local candidates, is available at the following website:

About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide, and over 160,000 in Michigan. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit

Paid for by Michigan Sierra PAC (109 E. Grand River Ave. Lansing, MI 48906)


August 25, 2014

Snyder Should Ban, Not Study Radioactive Waste Imports to Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                         More Information:
Monday, August 25, 2014                               Mike Berkowitz

Sierra Club:  Snyder Should Ban, Not Study 
Radioactive Waste Imports to Michigan

LANSING, MI--Michigan Sierra Club criticized Gov. Snyder’s decision today to study rather than prevent radioactive wastes from being imported to Michigan from other states.

We shouldn't be accepting radioactive waste from other states, period,” said Mike Berkowitz, Sierra Club Legislative Director.  “Creating a study group is more about public relations than protecting Michigan’s drinking water sources.  What possible reason is there for Michigan to be burying other states’ radioactive wastes?

“The fact that the governor has already said in advance of the study that our current rules allowing wastes are protective enough speaks volumes. If Governor Snyder is unwilling to protect Michigan from radioactive wastes, then lawmakers need to step up and fill the void.”

Berkowitz pointed out that in announcing the study, Gov. Snyder gave no deadline for completing it or whether the study group would take input from the public.

Nearly 40 tons of radioactive sludge from Pennsylvania gas drilling operations is being shipped to a Michigan hazardous waste site after it was rejected by Pennsylvania as well as West Virginia.  Wayne Disposal in Belleville near Willow Run Airport is the destination for the large radioactive waste shipment from Pennsylvania.  Other states, meanwhile, are either banning or tightening regulations on radioactive waste disposal, making Michigan an attractive target for disposal.


August 11, 2014


Fish Factory Could Bring Diseases, Parasites To Famed River

LANSING--The Sierra Club announced today that it will challenge a state permit allowing a controversial factory fish farm in the famed Au Sable River near Grayling. The permit, issued on July 1 by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), would allow the fish farm to discharge pollutants into the East Branch of the Au Sable River, just upstream from where it joins the world-renowned “Holy Waters” section of the Main Branch of the river. Another state agency, the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, has described the Holy Waters stretch of the Au Sable as “unique”, and notes that it is “renowned” throughout the world.
“The idea of placing an industrial fish farm within the Au Sable River is just mind-boggling", said Anne Woiwode,  Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. "Fish waste, food, disease, and parasites are inevitably associated with fish farms of this type. To allow the discharge of these substances into the Au Sable River goes against everything Michiganders expect from our state officials ”.
Woiwode also pointed out that the permit does not require monitoring or control of the release of disease, parasites, most pollutants, or even live fish into the river.
"There is evidence indicating that there have already been escapees from this facility, even before it has ramped up to industrial capacity”, said Woiwode.
Attorney Nick Schroeck, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, represents Sierra Club. Schroeck says that the DEQ has failed in their duty to protect the environment.
“The DEQ has admitted that operation of this facility will degrade one of the most economically valuable rivers in the country,” said Schroeck. “But the agency claims  that this degradation is  acceptable, because it will provide 2 full time and 2 part time jobs.  The risk to the Au Sable far outweighs any potential benefits from this facility."
The Sierra Club will file a petition today for a Contested Case with the DEQ, challenging the permit.
Sierra Club is the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, with 150,000 members and supporters in Michigan.

August 8, 2014

Michigan Agriculture Contributes to Toledo's Water Woes

By Gail Philbin, Assistant Director, Michigan Chapter
Toledo’s recent bout with poisoned drinking water should serve as a huge wake-up call to Michigan to take seriously the link between factory farming, water pollution and public health.

The story of how dangerous levels of a toxin ended up in the water supply of Ohio’s fourth-largest city is in large part the story of how we grow our food today and who decides what are considered good farming practices. The impetus for Toledo’s weekend water ban was microcystin, a toxin experts say can cause diarrhea, vomiting or abnormal liver function that probably formed in a recent algae bloom in Lake Erie. The soupy, pea-green growth in one of our Great Lakes is an increasingly common occurrence fed by phosphorus run-off from southern Michigan and northwestern Ohio fields applied with commercial fertilizer or factory farm waste.

Why all the fertilizer and animal waste in our water? Because we eat lots of meat, dairy, poultry and eggs. The United States is the largest producer of corn in the world.  Eighty percent of what we grow is consumed not by people but by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry and fish production, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Vast monocultures of corn require large amounts of fertilizer to grow.  

We also like cheap food and most of us buy products that come from industrial-scale, concentrated livestock facilities, many of which have been constructed in the last decade in western Lake Erie watersheds that include southern Michigan. Such operations are favored by federal Farm Bill subsidies that keep their product prices artificially low. This taxpayer-funded support often goes to help construct manure lagoons and other systems for handling the huge amount of waste factory farms generate. Even so, it can end up polluting nearby waterways, as shown in the Less=More sustainable agriculture coalition’s 2013 report about subsidies and factory farm pollution, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape. The current subsidy system rewards polluters, giving an unfair advantage over the kind of healthy, sustainable livestock farms that more Michigan consumers seek to support at farmers markets and other local outlets.

Both monoculture crop farms and industrial livestock operations populate the landscape of the two main watersheds affecting Lake Erie, and it’s not clear how much of each is involved in the Toledo algae bloom. However, the role of the region's new livestock producers’ waste, much of it liquefied manure, and field runoff from the largest operations has scarcely been quantified up until now. John Klein, president of the citizen group Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, calculates that just the dairy and beef factory farms in the headwaters of the Maumee River and Raisin River, watersheds that impact western Lake Erie, annually generate about six million pounds of phosphorus. 

Last spring, a diverse coalition of Great Lakes groups predicted the kind of threat Toledo just experienced when it called on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to end the application of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground as an allowable practice of permitted Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The coalition cautioned that when snow melts or ground thaws, this common practice can result in runoff of phosphorus-loaded waste that ends up in Lake Erie. Reports by the International Joint Commission in February and the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force in 2013 also advocate prohibiting this practice.

Toledo’s recent nightmare should send an alarm to all state agencies with oversight of modern agricultural operations about the connection between the highest-risk factory farming practices, water pollution and public health. The Michigan Natural Resources Conservation Service, a state-based agency of the US Department of Agriculture that allocates Farm Bill conservation subsidies, must reassess the practices it prioritizes with taxpayer money and stop supporting polluting factory farms. The MDEQ, which is still in the process of reviewing its general permit for CAFO operators, need wait no further to ban winter manure application. And the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Resource Development should immediately follow suit and keep winter manure application out of the best management practices in its voluntary Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program. 

We must get serious about how we raise our food. We have healthy, sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture, but we can't replace the Great Lakes.

July 30, 2014

Non-Profit Office Space for Rent in Lansing’s Old Town

For Lease:  115 sq. ft. first floor office space in Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood.   Great street frontage, hard wood flooring and exposed brick.  Fully furnished, private office space includes the following amenities:  WIFI,  free parking/ bike rack, shared kitchen (microwave, refrigerator, sink, cupboards) and restroom, security system with emergency panic buttons, central heat & air. Located near corner of East Grand River Ave. & Washington Ave. Walking distance from Capitol and downtown Lansing and a few minutes’ drive from East Lansing.  Easy access to CATA Bus lines, restaurants, shopping, fitness center, general store, farmers market and the river trail.  Utilities, single stream recycling and trash services included in rent. 

Lease terms: $300/month; Minimum one-year lease. Immediate availability.  One month security deposit required.  Nonprofit designation required.

Contact: Cecilia Garcia, 517-484-2372,ext 10 or email