May 6, 2020

Enbridge’s Line 5 Oil Tunnel Permit Fails State's First Test

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Return to Sender: 
Enbridge’s Line 5 Oil Tunnel
Permit Fails State's First Test
Numerous Problems Cited,
Need To Analyze Other Options

LANSING--State regulators this week turned back Enbridge’s application for a permit to build a Line 5 oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, saying the Canadian oil transport giant failed to evaluate other alternatives under Michigan’s environmental laws. 

The decision to send the oil tunnel permit request back to Enbridge because it was incomplete--although not a death knell for the controversial project--was applauded by legal experts and environmental organizations.The setback to Enbridge’s plans may also be an important signal that the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to take a closer look at the threat of oil pipelines in the Great Lakes and their damage to the climate.  

In its letter to Enbridge rejecting the permit application, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) cited Enbridge’s failure to analyze alternatives to the proposed oil tunnel under Michigan’s Environmental Protection Act. Enbridge will have 30 days to resubmit the permit application or it will be considered withdrawn, according to the EGLE letter.

“The Whitmer administration’s decisions on Line 5 will likely define her environmental record as much as anything else she does as governor,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator. “This initial step means EGLE isn’t just rubber-stamping Enbridge’s permit application but will apply appropriate environmental standards in making the decision. The burden is now on Enbridge to prove why Michigan and the Great Lakes should shoulder the huge risk of having Line 5 oil pipelines in the Great Lakes and crossing 400 other waterways. We don’t think that’s a hurdle Enbridge can overcome. Line 5 and oil are not the future -- water is, and an oil tunnel in the Great Lakes is a bad bet for Michigan.”

Kate Madigan, Director of the Michigan Climate Action Network, said the Whitmer administration should evaluate climate impacts of the proposed oil tunnel.  

“The Michigan Environmental Protection Act requires the state to consider the climate impacts of a new oil pipeline project. It would be disastrous for our state to allow an oil pipeline that is proposed to last 99 years at a time when scientists urge us to cut all climate emissions in half this decade and much of the world is turning away from fossil fuels,” said Madigan. “We know Michigan doesn’t need Line 5. We shouldn’t be taking a huge environmental and financial risk when there are more reliable, cleaner, safer energy sources out there and when the oil industry is an increasingly bad financial bet.”

EGLE’s three-page letter to Enbridge outlined other failures of the company’s submission, including the fact that in its 350-page permit application Enbridge does not acknowledge that the future of its Line 5 oil pipeline is the subject of legal challenges, including a lawsuit seeking by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel seeking an orderly decommissioning of Line 5.
“We agree with EGLE that Enbridge’s application falls woefully short of complying with legal requirements,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. “Now the state of Michigan should require Enbridge to apply for and obtain authorization for an easement to occupy state-owned bottomlands with a tunnel before any construction permitting proceeds. Enbridge is putting the cart before the horse, which suits their interests, but not the public interest in protecting the Great Lakes. The company’s haphazard rush during the pandemic is alarming.”
Michigan's tribal community responded to EGLE's action on Enbridge's permit by spotlighting the stakes involved in the final outcome.
"Protecting Michigan's environment from the threat of Line 5 is more than just protecting the rights of tribal fishing and tribal way of life. We must shut down Line 5 to protect the health and safety of Michigan's families, wildlife and an international economy based on the Great Lakes," said Bryan Newland, president of Bay Mills Indian Community. "Our decisions must be made to protect our natural resources, putting our environment and people above profits and pipelines.
Oil & Water Don’t Mix is a broad campaign of organizations, citizens and businesses across Michigan who are working to keep oil out of our Great Lakes by shutting down the dangerous Line 5 Pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. The campaign fights for clean water and air, Indigenous rights, reducing pollution, sustainable economies and protecting sporting, tourism, and jobs that are dependent on our water and Pure Michigan way of life.  Learn more at
Oil & Water Don’t Mix Steering Committee
Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Clean Water Action, For Love of Water, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Michigan Environmental Council, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Sierra Club, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment, Sunrise Movement, TC350

April 13, 2020

URGENT: Your Neighbors Need Your Help During This Pandemic!

Dear Friend,

Most Americans will soon receive a check from the government as part of a federal stimulus package to alleviate some of the economic pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic . It's not a fix-all, but I'm glad that many Michiganders -- especially those hit hardest by this unprecedented crisis -- will get some relief. 

If you need your stimulus check, I am thankful you will be getting this support. However, if you’re fortunate enough to not need this federal support to get through the next few weeks or months, I have an urgent request for you: 

Please consider donating your portion of the federal stimulus to support the tireless efforts of the front line groups that are helping Michigan residents at greatest risk during this pandemic. If you’re lucky enough to earn too much to receive a federal check, please consider donating anyway to help your fellow Michiganders through this very difficult time.

The organizations below already work daily to address the many challenges faced by our most vulnerable neighbors across the state, but their help is needed now more than ever.

Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry provides food and water to those in need due to the economic toll of the crisis. Pictured is director Rev. Roslyn Bouier with donated water.

We the People of Detroit delivers water where it's needed, including homes that have faced water shutoffs.
Michigan Welfare Rights offers an array of services to residents in poverty.
Flint Rising, born out of the Flint Water Crisis, is still working to secure clean water for all -- especially now. 

I will be donating my stimulus check to these organizations, because I want to see these funds go where they can do the most good. In Michigan, that's Detroit, where COVID-19 infection rates are accelerating faster than elsewhere, as well as Flint and other communities where poverty and related health issues put people of color— especially African Americans -- at greater risk.  In addition, years of residential shutoffs in these cities also mean thousands have no access to water in the middle of this pandemic. Native American tribes are also experiencing the impacts of the virus.
Imagine not having water to wash your hands, food containers and surfaces in your home, despite a steady drumbeat of warnings from government and health officials to do just that to stop the spread of the virus. 

Recently, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer finally took concrete steps  to get water turned back on to all Michigan residents during this crisis. We’re glad that Gov. Whitmer is a responsive leader who listened to these frontline groups, and now we’re supporting these same organizations as they hold officials accountable to ensure Whitmer’s Executive Order is carried out. 

Please join me in standing in solidarity with these organizations and the Michiganders they serve and turn your federal check into a stimulus for hope and a better future for everyone. Thanks. We’re all in this together.


Gail Philbin, Chapter Director

P.S. To learn how to help neighbors in your community and other regions of Michigan, visit this link for statewide information from Michigan COVID-19 Community Response. To learn more about how to support Michigan tribes, visit

April 3, 2020

Sierra Club and Earthjustice Send Letter to MPSC to Address Coronavirus Crisis

April 3, 2020

Michigan Public Service Commission
7109 W. Saginaw Highway
Lansing, MI 48917

Via Electronic Mail (

Re:      Seeking MPSC Leadership to Address Key Impacts of the Coronavirus Crisis 

Dear Commissioners Talberg, Scripps, and Phillips:

We write on behalf of Sierra Club and its more than 23,000 members in Michigan, and Earthjustice, to urge you to take immediate action to ensure all residents have access to essential utility services as the state confronts a public health emergency. We echo the concerns raised by the DTE Works for Me coalition in its letter of March 25, 2020, as well as those raised by the Michigan Energy Efficiency for All coalition’s letter to Governor Whitmer on the same date [1]. Although DTE Energy and Consumers Energy have enacted certain voluntary measures, a Commission order would provide needed clarification as to the duration and scope of this relief and would extend to customers served by other utilities, such as the state’s municipalities and co-ops. 

In addition to issuing an emergency order to immediately address utility shut-offs and reconnections, the Commission should prioritize affordability issues across its dockets, and should open a new docket to specifically address the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. As jobless rates soar, affordability will become paramount for an increasing percentage of each utility’s customers. Moreover, social distancing and stay-at-home orders both increase residential energy use while making energy efficiency work to bring down bills more challenging, or even impossible, during the current emergency. Finally, as stakeholder meetings cannot be held in person at this time, the Commission should develop procedures for robust online or phone-based alternatives that are as inclusive as possible, and that should be used by the Commission and utilities until such time as public health conditions allow for in-person meetings and hearings to safely resume. The Commission must take a leadership role in navigating each of these issues to protect the public interest.

We request that the Commission:

(1)   Issue an emergency order pursuant to MCL 24.248 that
       Suspends gas and electric utility shut-offs for nonpayment for all customers;
       Orders reinstitution of gas and electric services that have already been shut off for nonpayment, whether the shut-off occurred before or after the onset of the coronavirus emergency;  
       Requires utilities to include a bill insert in the next billing cycle noting all financial assistance or flexible payment programs available, and how the customer can access more information about such programs. The utility should also describe the specific eligibility requirements and timeframe for programs specific to coronavirus relief. Utilities should make this information accessible to all customers, whether or not they have internet access or English language proficiency. 

(2)   Pursuant to the Commission’s broad authority under MCL 460.6(1) , require each utility to submit an “affordability plan” to the Commission within 180 days that describes the steps each utility will take to address the economic hardship of residential customers resulting from the COVID-19 crisis and considers reforms to the utility’s working definition of “low-income,” the utility’s fixed charges for residential customers, its net-metering tariff and other policies affecting the affordability of distributed generation, assistance programs for low-income and senior customers, and energy efficiency assistance, with the goal of reducing the number of customers who cannot consistently pay their bills. The Commission should offer a public comment period on each plan and should hold a public hearing virtually or, if public health conditions permit, in person. Following public comment, the Commission should either approve or recommend changes to the utility’s plan. If it is a utility’s preference to file the affordability plan as part of a rate case filed within the 180-day period, the utility should be permitted discretion to do so. In such instances, the Commission should require the utility to identify and describe all the elements of the affordability plan in direct testimony.

(3)   Establish a stakeholder process to create continuity plans for energy efficiency programs, energy assistance, and the energy workforce during the crisis, as proposed to the Governor’s office by Michigan Energy Efficiency for All. As explained by MEEFA:
The energy efficiency sector, like all other sectors of the economy, has experienced severe disruption. However, as residents are being advised to stay home, it is increasingly important that the homes they are staying in are safe, comfortable, healthy and efficient. We should be planning to create continuity within the energy efficiency, weatherization and assistance programs, particularly for those who serve low-income residents. This process should also ensure continuity of energy efficiency and related program dollars flowing to workers and agencies administering and delivering energy efficiency, energy assistance and other complementary programs. That way we can ensure there is a plan in place to jumpstart this critical work once the immediate emergency has passed. The MPSC process should be inclusive and open to all interested parties.
(4)   Issue guidance with best practices for how utilities should engage with stakeholders during periods where public gatherings are not permitted. For example, Consumers Energy had intended to hold stakeholder meetings for its 2021 Integrated Resource Plan throughout the spring. The public should still be provided a meaningful and timely opportunity to participate in any stakeholder process intended to take place during the stay-at-home order. The Commission should provide an opportunity for public input on the guidance.

Thank you for your attention to these critical issues. We look forward to your decisive action to protect Michigan’s utility customers in these difficult times.


Mike Berkowitz, Campaign Representative

Elena Saxonhouse, Senior Attorney
(415) 265-2943
Sierra Club
(248) 345-9808
Sierra Club

Michael Soules, Staff Attorney

Shannon Fisk, Managing Attorney
(202) 797-5237

(215) 717-4522
cc:        Governor Whitmer (
            Attorney General Nessel (
            Kara Cook (
            Michael Moody (

April 1, 2020

Michigan’s New Factory Farm Pollution Permit Improved, but Still Flawed

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Contact: Gail Philbin, 616-805-3063 or 312-493-2384,

Rebecca Wolf, 609-649-0100,
Michigan’s New Factory Farm Pollution Permit Improved, but Still Flawed
Crucial issues remain unaddressed; won’t stop flow of waste

Lansing, MI – Michigan’s new permit governing how the state’s nearly 300 factory farms manage the millions of gallons of waste they generate for the next five years is an improvement over previous permits, but leaves key issues effectively unaddressed, according to Great Farms Great Lakes, a coalition of national environmental organizations including Food & Water Action, Sierra Club, and Public Justice.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s 2020 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for factory farms goes into effect today, after a year of stakeholder meetings, public input and deliberation. The Great Farms Great Lakes Coalition encouraged over 1,200 advocates to submit comments on the draft permit to the state, and the coalition submitted its own detailed technical comments last December. 

The 2020 NPDES Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations General Permit makes a few long-overdue improvements such as a ban on the land application of animal waste from January through March, but remains largely ineffective in actually controlling water pollution related to industrial animal agriculture. The permit ignores the science concerning polluted watersheds and allows too many exceptions and “get-out-of-jail-free” cards for waste application in months where the freeze-thaw cycle is unpredictable. It also leaves the door wide open for manure-to-energy schemes.

Of greatest concern to the coalition are these gaps in the new permit:
  • The permit relies on “best management practices” such as buffer strips and vegetation rather than stricter regulations to stop the flow of nutrients from liquid manure, such as the dissolved phosphorus that drives the toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie.  This ignores the reality of miles of perforated pipes known as tiles underneath farm fields that serve as direct conduits for the dissolved nutrients to nearby waterways.
  • The January-March manure spreading ban still contains exceptions that allow the practice to continue at the riskiest time of year under certain conditions if “immediate incorporation” of the waste by injection takes place. Yet soil injection will only better position the waste to make its way to nearby waters via underground tiles. 
  • Without established standards or water quality data to back it up, the state assumes compliance with the new permit and best management practices mean a factory farm in a federally “impaired” watershed will automatically meet total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for nutrient pollutants such as phosphorus and nitrogen.  
  • The permit ignores the many problems related to “manure digesters” that produce biogas energy but still leave waste and nutrients behind. 
Advocates have been pushing for years for a complete ban on the application of waste on frozen and snow-covered ground in Michigan as well as compliance with the US EPA’s TMDLs for pollutants allowed in designated “impaired waters,” and an end to the questionable practice of factory farm biogas production. EGLE’s stakeholder and public hearing process for the new permit held promise that Michigan would turn a corner with changes in the permit that would finally meaningfully address the nutrient pollution from animal agriculture that plagues our inland waters and Great Lakes. Unfortunately, the 2020 permit fails to guarantee that factory farms will not further impair Michigan’s waters.

Statements from Members of the Great Farms Great Lakes Coalition:
Gail Philbin, Director of the Michigan Sierra Club:
“After more than two decades of battling factory farm pollution in Michigan, we were encouraged by the changes proposed during the permit stakeholder and public comment process to address the huge environmental and health problems caused by large-scale livestock facilities. However, the limited steps taken in the final permit fall short of what's needed and represent a missed opportunity to add real protections to seriously address current water quality issues and set us on a course for a better environmental and economic future."

 Food & Water Action Senior Organizer Rebecca Wolf:
“While this permit is a testament to the power of people coming together and holding polluters accountable, it needed to create full protections from the most egregious forms of manure pollution. EGLE has clearly missed this opportunity, and we will continue to urge Governor Whitmer and the state legislature to take immediate and comprehensive action on factory farm pollution. This is a critical moment for the future of Lake Erie and Michigan’s waters. We’ll continue to demand a future of sustainable, pasture-based family farming--where Michigan is leading the way.”

Jessica Culpepper, Director of Public Justice’s Food Project:
“A set of regulations that leaves the door open for factory farms applying any manure in winter is not a full commitment to the health and well-being of Michiganders. Likewise, it is disappointing that factory farm biogas - a false climate solution designed to entrench the current food system at the expense of independent producers and rural communities - is not rejected outright by Michigan’s government.”  


March 1, 2020

Whitmer Administration Advances Safe Drinking Water Rules for Michiganders

Whitmer Administration Advances Safe Drinking Water Rules for Michiganders

Friday, February 28, 2020
 Christy McGillivray, and Sonya Lunder,
Lansing, MI-- Yesterday, the Michigan Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC) voted to allow the rule-making process to move forward on cleaning up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the drinking water of over one million Michiganders. PFAS chemicals are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” because of how long they linger in the environment. They do not break down in the human body, and are linked to several health dangers like cancer, reproductive and immune system failures, and developmental harm in children.
The drinking water standards proposed by the Michigan’s PFAS action response team (MPART) establish maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for seven per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals. These would apply to about 2,700 water supplies in Michigan. The MCLs are the regulatory tool that will make it possible for Michigan to begin regulating toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water. 
In response to the decision, Christy McGillivray, Legislative Director at the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter released the following statement: 
"The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter applauds the Whitmer administration for advancing PFAS drinking water standards-- prioritizing the health of Michiganders for today and the future. These standards are a step in the right direction. As we continue to uncover the extent of PFAS pollution in our communities, it is absolutely critical we quickly move these standards forward. We look forward to working with the Whitmer administration to ensure safe and clean drinking water is available to everyone in Michigan.”
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit

February 14, 2020

Michigan’s largest grassroots environmental groups join forces to hold Lansing accountable

For Immediate Release
February 3, 2020 

Michigan’s largest grassroots environmental groups join forces to hold Lansing accountable
Media Contacts:
Sean McBrearty, smcbrearty@cleanwater.og, 616-516-7758
Christy McGillivray,, 808-726-5325

Michigan’s two largest grassroots environmental advocacy organizations, Clean Water Action and Sierra Club, have released a joint legislative scorecard to hold legislators in Lansing accountable to their constituents. With a combined membership of well over 350,000 in Michigan, Clean Water Action and Sierra Club will make sure every member and supporter know how their elected officials have acted on key environmental issues like cleaning up toxic contamination from drinking water and protecting the Great Lakes from a Line 5 oil spill. 

In 2018, Michigan voters went to the polls and voted overwhelmingly for candidates who promised to clean up our drinking water, hold corporate polluters accountable, and end the ongoing threat of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline. Unfortunately, in the 100th state legislature, positive steps in that direction have been few and far between. That is why this year the joint scorecard doesn’t focus on the incremental steps that were taken with nearly unanimous approval, but focuses instead on the more aspirational legislation that has been introduced and not acted on. If we want to protect our Great Lakes in an age of rapidly accelerating climate change, small and incremental changes simply will not be enough. Michigan is home to 21% of the world’s fresh surface water, and we need to enact bold policies to address the major water issues facing our state. 

“It’s time to do things differently,” said Sean McBrearty, Clean Water Action’s Michigan Legislative and Policy Director. He continued, “Every lawmaker tells their constituents that they care about safe drinking water. However, some act differently once they get to Lansing. That’s why this year we scored legislators based on whether or not they have championed our issues from the get-go by sponsoring and co-sponsoring good legislation. We also took into account public statements legislators have made in support of shutting down the most imminent threat to the Great Lakes: Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline.”

Sierra Club and Clean Water Action assert that corporate money flowing into Lansing for decades has hampered democratic processes and environmental protections. “There is a direct correlation between corporate attacks on our democracy, and rollbacks of basic drinking water protections. For example, the Enbridge oil company made a direct contribution of $126,650 to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to fight redistricting reform in Michigan. Enbridge knows that if lawmakers have to answer to constituents instead of corporate lobbyists, then their dangerous Line 5 oil pipeline will be shut down.” said Christy McGillivray, Sierra Club’s Legislative and Political Director. Speaking to the pro-democracy reform measures like same day voter registration and no reason absentee voting that passed in 2018, she concluded, “Sierra Club members overwhelmingly voted to take back our democracy, our voices should matter more than dirty corporate money.” 

The joint scorecard gives only three scores: positive, neutral, and negative. There are a series of bills that are described in the scorecard, and legislators’ positions are outlined for constituents. To lift up the real environmental champions and draw attention to the corporate influence in Lansing, there is also a section describing the environmental heroes and villains in Lansing. The champions are leaders who have consistently introduced strong legislation and fight hard in Lansing and in their districts for the strongest possible environmental protections. They are Representatives Rabhi, Pohutsky, Koleszar, Hammoud, and Hood; and Senators Irwin, Chang, and Bayer. The villains are the leaders who stonewall any movement on basic protections for safe water, renewable energy, and clean air, and they include the monied interests that are sacrificing the health of Michiganders and the Great Lakes in favor of corporate profits.  They are Senate Majority Leader Shirkey, House Majority Leader Chatfield, Enbridge Energy, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and DTE Energy. 

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 4 million members and supporters nationwide and over 150,000 in Michigan. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit

Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table. Clean Water Action is Michigan’s largest grassroots conservation group with over 250,000 members across the state. Through direct advocacy and education we organize Michigan residents to protect the Great Lakes and our water resources. Learn more at