March 3, 2015

Sierra Club Response to Democratic Leadership's Energy Policy Announcement

Contact: Mike Berkowitz

"Today’s announcement by Democratic leaders that they endorse policies increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency is encouraging and we strongly welcome their proposal" said Mike Berkowitz, Legislative Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. "Michigan is falling behind as other states create new economic opportunities and well paid jobs through energy efficiency efforts and by developing clean, low-carbon energy technologies. Michigan is in an excellent position to be part of the wave of innovation as we transition away from dirty, expensive fossil fuels and that’s why we applaud the Democratic proposal and look forward to working with all lawmakers on legislation that will boldly claim clean energy as a Michigan priority.”

February 24, 2015

Groups Call for Healthy Lake Erie Free from Harmful Algal Blooms

Contact: Melissa Damaschke, Sierra Club 965-0055
Alliance for the Great Lakes •  Environmental Defence Canada  •  Environmental Law & Policy Center •  Freshwater Future  •  Lake Erie Charter Boat Association  • Lake Erie Improvement Association  •  Lake Erie Waterkeeper  •  The Nature Conservancy – Ohio  •  National Wildlife Federation  Ohio Environmental Council  •  Sierra Club 
(Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015) Washington, DC – The Great Lakes Commission, an interstate agency with representatives appointed by the governors and premiers of all Great Lakes states and provinces, meets today in Washington, DC about six months after nearly 500,000 residents of the Toledo area faced a drinking water ban lasting more than two days because a massive toxic algal bloom made water from Lake Erie unsafe to drink.
Even though the region is firmly in winter’s grip, spring is on its way and the same factors that lead to the toxic algal blooms each summer in western Lake Erie will return once again. Even more concerning: thanks to previous damage to the lake, the impacts of invasive zebra and quagga mussels that exacerbate pollution problems, and the effects of a changing climate, the nutrient problem will likely get worse if we do nothing.
It is unacceptable that Lake Erie has been polluted so significantly that drinking water for approximately 11 million Americans and Canadians is at risk. Fortunately, this problem is not out of our control. It is preventable.
Report after report by leading university researchers and government agencies shows that the science is clear: dissolved phosphorus from agricultural runoff is driving the resurgence of harmful algal blooms. We call on the governors and premiers to commit to at least a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus, with an emphasis on reducing agricultural sources. This reduction commitment must be accompanied by a clear timetable with a firm deadline, clear milestones, and a monitoring plan to measure progress and help agencies adjust programs, if needed, to ensure deadlines are met.
Starting tomorrow, residents from around the region head to Capitol Hill as part of the annual Great Lakes Days to call on Congress to fund important programs that would help reduce farm field and urban runoff into the lakes. We will be voicing our support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, State Revolving Funds to stop sewer overflows and improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, and regional Farm Bill conservation funds. These programs are an important part of efforts to reduce phosphorus flowing into the Great Lakes and around the country. But much more needs to be done.
The Great Lakes region has come together again and again in a uniquely bi-partisan manner to do what is right for the lakes. And, we can do it again. Until our lakes are free of harmful algal blooms, our economy, drinking water and way of life are in jeopardy. The time for action is now. The health of our lakes and our region depend on it.

February 5, 2015

Lake Erie’s Poisoned Water & Other Impacts of Modern Agriculture

March 9 Conference Explores How We Got Here and How to Move Forward
Less=More Coalition Convenes Experts, Farmers and Consumers during MSU Ag & Natural Resources Week

What:                    Farming Our Future: The Forces and Faces of 21st Century Agriculture
When:                  Monday, March 9, 2015, 9am4pm (registration opens 8am)
Where:                 Kellogg Center Auditorium, 219 S. Harrison, East Lansing
Admission:          $25 general; $20 students with school ID (admission includes lunch)

Lansing, MI— Last summer’s water crisis in Lake Erie still ripples in today's headlines. Fed by farm runoff, the toxic algal bloom that poisoned Toledo's water for two days inspired the recent announcement of the USDA’s $370 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program to help prevent waste and fertilizer runoff in Michigan and other states.  It also motivated  citizens’ groups and environmental advocates to push the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality at its Jan. 21 meeting to toughen regulations in the state's water pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which is currently under review.

Lake Erie’s health will also underscore everything discussed at Farming Our Future: The Forces and Faces of 21st Century Agriculture, a groundbreaking conference  March  9 at Michigan State University during MSU’s historic Agriculture and Natural Resources Week.  Presented by the sustainable agriculture Less=More Coalition, Farming Our Future will channel diverse national, regional and local conversations about the environmental, economic and social impacts of modern agriculture into a comprehensive forum to facilitate joint efforts to build a better food system.  It will explore the political, legal, and historical forces that shape farming in Michigan today and how to chart a path to a more sustainable food system. 

The conference will feature keynote addresses by Tim Gibbons, communications director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank in Chicago, and will bring together agricultural policy and legal experts, farmers, consumers and researchers in two panel discussions including:

·         Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, director of agroecology and agriculture policy at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
·         Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-toConsumer Legal Defense Fund
·         Phil Howard, an associate professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Community Sustainability
·         Joe Maxwell, a hog farmer and vice president of outreach & engagement at The Humane Society of the United States
·         Michelle Jackson, a fourthgeneration African American urban farmer in Detroit
·         Michael Vanderbrug, a sustainable farmer and agricultural operations director in the community outreach department of the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids.

The conference takes place from 9am4pm Monday, March 9, at the Kellogg Center Auditorium, 219 S. Harrison, East Lansing. Admission is $25; $20 for students (with school ID). To register, visit:  For an agenda and more information about the conference, visit  

January 22, 2015

Sierra Club Comments on DEQ Draft CAFO Permit, 1/21/15

Comments at MDEQ Water Resources Division Hearing
Regarding Changes to MDEQ General Permit for CAFOs
(NPDES Permit No. MIGO10000)
By Gail Philbin, Director, Michigan Sierra Club, Jan. 21, 2015

The Michigan Sierra Club appreciates the opportunity to speak at this hearing on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s draft national Pollution Discharge Elimination System Wastewater Discharge General Permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Sierra Club has been working on the issue of CAFO pollution in Michigan since 1999 when we first petitioned the US EPA to take away Michigan's delegated authority to run Clean Water Act programs. We did this because at that time the state was refusing to require permitting for CAFOs.  The fact that we have a permit to even debate today shows some progress on the issue over the last 15 years, but what we’re commenting on today (both the process for drafting it without a stakeholder group, and the content) appears to be a step backward, not forward. Enforcement by the DEQ has fallen off and we have substantial concerns that this administration is not taking seriously the need for both a strong permit that has clearly enforceable standards and staff on the ground to investigate and enforce the law.

The proposed CAFO permit falls far short of protecting the health and well-being of Michigan citizens. It both weakens existing provisions in the current permit and fails to add needed improvements based on the growing body of scientific documentation of sources and effects of CAFO pollution. The crisis in Toledo last summer that left hundreds of thousands of people without drinking water for two days was caused in part by waste runoff from Michigan CAFOs in the Maumee River watershed.  It spotlighted the urgent need for Michigan, along with neighboring states, to enact strong, scientifically based and enforceable requirements for the proposed new Michigan CAFO General Permit. And it highlighted in sharp relief the danger to public health of not taking action.

Fortunately, the DEQ has the opportunity right now to take positive steps to protect public health and ensure that something like the Lake Erie water crisis doesn’t happen again. We support the comments and recommendations made by our colleagues today and have submitted joint comments with several groups.  


January 20, 2015

Sierra Club Response to Governor Rick Snyder's State of the State Speech

Sierra Club Response to Governor Rick Snyder's State of the State Speech
Contact: Mike Berkowitz

Despite touching on energy policy in his speech, Governor Snyder and the Michigan Legislature have yet to offer a substantive proposal or take meaningful leadership when it comes to clean energy” said Mike Berkowitz, Legislative Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “Transitioning to renewable energy means cleaner air, cleaner water, and less asthma attacks for people living in communities near coal plants. The health of our children and the legacy of the Great Lakes are at risk. We can’t afford to wait.”

January 15, 2015

News Release: Federal Lawsuit Targets Enbridge Pipeline in Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     More Information:
Thursday, January 15, 2015                       Marvin Roberson  906-360-0288

Sierra Club Lawsuit Targets Massive Oil Pipeline
First-Ever Environmental Review Sought for 60-Year-Old Michigan Pipeline  

LANSING, MI—A federal permit decision allowing a controversial decades-old pipeline to operate in Michigan while bypassing scrutiny under a federal environmental law is being challenged in federal court by the Sierra Club, the organization announced today. 

The Sierra Club filed suit today against the U.S. Forest Service to block a federal permit required to operate the controversial Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, which travels through Michigan from Superior, WI to Sarnia, Ontario.  A small leak in the pipeline along an Upper Peninsula stretch was the focus of recent attention and points to the potential threat posed by a 60-year-old pipeline that has never been subject to rigorous environmental review.  The pipeline travels through the Huron-Manistee National Forest, requiring a permit from the forest service. 

“We want the court to simply require the Forest Service to use the same standards for environmental analysis as for any other project of this type and magnitude,” said Anne WoiwodeConservation Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.  "It is indefensible for the federal government to say that no environmental analysis is needed for a pipeline carrying a half-million barrels of oil a day across the Great Lakes, through a national forest , and under numerous sensitive areas.”  

The pipeline carries oil from Wisconsin to Ontario, crossing under sensitive areas near the Au Sable River and under the Mackinac Straits.  The Forest Service issued a permit in December, using an administrative procedure in an attempt to bypass more stringent study and analysis typically required under the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Bay City, is the first legal challenge to the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline along its entire length (nearly 1,100 miles), and the only formal request for an environmental analysis under NEPA. The pipeline has been in operation since 1953, and has never undergone federal environmental analysis.  It has operated across Forest Service lands without a valid permit since January 2013.

Charlie Weaver, a Sierra Club member and professional river guide on the Au Sable, said he believes the Forest Service needs to study the potential impacts of the pipeline before granting a new permit. 

“It’s hard to fathom the reasoning which allows an oil pipeline under a river like the Au Sable without any studies regarding the safety of the pipeline or what the effects of a rupture would be on the river,” said Weaver.

Thomas Buhr is a Sierra Club leader who lives in close proximity to the pipeline and the Au Sable River.  

“The Au Sable River is a crown jewel of cold water streams not just in Michigan, but the country,” said Buhr.  “An oil spill of any type would be a sin.  Let's use an ounce of prevention because the pound of cure would be costly with no guarantee of success.”

The Sierra Club is represented by noted environmental attorney Marianne Dugan. Ms. Dugan represented the Sierra Club in its successful suit to stop oil drilling near the Mason Tract area of the Au Sable. Ms. Dugan has litigated issues in this field for over 20 years. 

 “I’m a little amazed that regulators and the industry are repeatedly so cavalier about allowing industrial petroleum activity so close to a river like the Au Sable,” said Dugan.  

Enbridge, a Canadian Limited Partnership, is one of the largest petroleum pipeline companies in the world.  It is also the owner of Line 6B, which gushed almost a million gallons from a pipeline leak into the Kalamazoo River watershed in southwest Michigan in 2010.  This was the largest inland oil spill in Midwest U.S. history, and is already the costliest onshore spill cleanup in U.S. history, with cleanup efforts still underway.  Using data from Enbridge's own reports, the Polaris Institute has calculated that 804 spills occurred on Enbridge pipelines between 1999 and 2010, releasing about 161,000 barrels (25,000 cubic meters) of crude oil into the environment.

January 14, 2015

DNR Leaders’ Rejection of Proposed Huge Public Lands Sell-Off Praised by Sierra Club

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     More information:
Wednesday, January 14, 2015                   Marvin Roberson, 906-360-0288
                                                                    Anne Woiwode, 517-974-2112

DNR Leaders’ Rejection of Proposed Huge  Public Lands Sell-Off Praised by Sierra Club
Recommendation Affecting 10,000-Plus Acres Now Goes to DNR Director

Sierra Club today applauded a recommendation yesterday from top officials at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reject the controversial proposed sale or lease of more than 10,000 acres of public lands in the Upper Peninsula.

The recommendation Tuesday from six DNR division heads to DNR Director Keith Creagh comes ahead of a possible February decision by the Natural Resources Commission on the proposed sale to the Canadian manufacturing conglomerate, Graymont.  The DNR officials, in a letter to Creagh, cited concerns about wetlands impacts, opposition from tribal governments and uncertainty over economic benefits to the state.  The proposed $2.9 million purchase, lease and options to buy 10,457 acres of public land by Graymont would constitute the largest sell-off of DNR lands in the state’s history.

“Michigan’s public lands like this are too valuable to sell off--and to do so for a few million dollars in short-term benefits would be tantamount to theft,” said Anne WoiwodeSierra Club Michigan Chapter Conservation Director.  “It’s encouraging to see the DNR’s top officials recommending against this sale and we urge Director Creagh to put a permanent halt to this ill-conceived proposal.”

Marvin RobersonSierra Club Forest Ecologist, said the DNR land that Graymont wants to buy and lease includes ecologically important parcels in Luce and Mackinac counties.

“Not only is this an extremely large piece of land to consider selling and more than 20 times larger than any previous sale, it is prime forest land,” said Roberson. “DNR staff have identified this very piece of land as some of the most valuable in the state for both habitat and timber purposes. Our state leaders should not be considering selling it.”

A copy of the letter from DNR division chiefs to DNR Director Creagh is here: