July 20, 2015

Sierra Club Endorses Fracking Ban Ballot Proposal

Sierra Club Endorses Fracking Ban Ballot Proposal
Group Joins Campaign To End Radioactive Fracking Waste Imports

Monday July 20, 2015
Media Contacts:   
Craig Brainard  269-223-9201/ boomerbob1@gmail.com 

LANSING—Sierra Club today announced its support for a proposed ballot measure that would ban radioactive and other fracking wastes from Michigan and end risky, high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Great Lakes State. The club’s endorsement of The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s proposal means the organization will mobilize its hundreds of volunteers and more than 60,000 members and supporters to put the proposed measure on the 2016 ballot.  

“If the ban fracking proposal is placed on the ballot, voters in Michigan who overwhelmingly say they want to protect our state’s waters, land and communities will have the opportunity to overcome the oil industry’s grip on Lansing and protect our state,” said David Holtz, chair of Sierra Club Michigan Executive Committee.   “Michigan shouldn’t be the dumping grounds for other states’ radioactive and chemical fracking wastes and we shouldn’t be putting our public health and our waters at risk.”

Holtz noted that the endorsement vote from among Sierra Club leaders throughout the state was unanimous. 

Two longtime Sierra Club leaders, John Ford of Ann Arbor and Craig Brainard of Hastings, will coordinate the club’s campaign activities in support of the proposed fracking ban petition drive, which needs 252,523 signatures from Michigan voters to qualify for the November, 2016 ballot. 

“We understand it’s a huge challenge to get this on the ballot,” said Brainard. “Sierra Club felt strongly that we needed to step up and help make this ballot initiative a success.”

Sierra Club’s announcement of its endorsement of a ban on high volume fracking and injection of fracking wastes follows more than three years of study of the issue along with the release of the University of Michigan’s Graham Institute report on fracking in Michigan. The report points to uncertainties and potential risks involving fracking operations in Michigan.  Following studies of health and environmental risks, New York banned fracking in that state.  

Nearly a year ago it was publicly disclosed that Michigan was importing radioactive fracking wastes from Pennsylvania after landfills in that state and in West Virginia refused to take it.   A state panel in Michigan meeting behind closed doors subsequently gave the go-ahead to continue and potentially expand importing radioactive wastes.

 “Michigan is opening its doors to a flood of radioactive fracking wastes other states don’t want,” said Ford.  “When we take that message to Michigan voters they will act to slam the doors shut.  Our campaign is about giving Michigan voters a choice and we are confident they don’t want Michigan to be the new ground zero for radioactive wastes.”


July 14, 2015

Sierra Club Responds to Enbridge Pipeline Report

Tuesday,  July 14, 2015
Media contact:   David Holtz, 313-300-4454david@davidholtz.org

The following statement can be attributed to David Holtz, Chair,
Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Executive Committee:

Today’s Michigan Petroleum Task Force recommendations by Attorney General Bill Schuette and the Snyder administration appear to offer the potential for eventual relief from the threat of Enbridge’s pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac, but leave the Great Lakes, drinking water sources and northern Michigan’s tourist economy unacceptably vulnerable to a catastrophic pipeline rupture.

If you believe these existing pipelines pose an immediate threat to the Great Lakes—and we do—the task force recommendations amount to a rearranging of deck chairs on Michigan’s Titanic of oil pipelines, only worse:  the threat of Enbridge’s pipelines through the Straits are there for all to see.  What is needed—and needed now—is to shut down Line 5.  Only then can Michiganders be assured that the Great Lakes and northern Michigan’s tourist economy are no longer at risk from an oil spill that would consume the shoreline around Mackinac Island and from Lake Michigan to Rogers City along Lake Huron.

Unfortunately, Attorney General Schuette and the Snyder administration failed to prioritize the immediate threat of the Straits pipelines.  That is disappointing and given that many of the recommendations in the report could take months and years to implement, the report constitutes a failure on the part of state officials to prioritize protecting the Great Lakes over protecting the oil industry’s profits.

The task force recommendation to examine alternatives to the Enbridge pipelines through the Straits is welcome but must be a public, transparent process instead of the behind-the-scenes, secretive process that has mostly characterized the pipeline task force proceedings.  Moreover, the task force recommendations reinforce the need for transparency and we are disappointed that the task force failed to lodge opposition to pending legislation what would make most pipeline safety documents secret. 


June 23, 2015

Earliest Ever Lake Erie Algal Bloom Cited In Need for Enforceable Agricultural Pollution Regulations

Groups Say Proposed Voluntary Standards Fall Far Short of Addressing Phosphorus Runoff

Media Contact: Gail Philbin, 312-493-2384

Lansing--The earliest recorded Lake Erie blue-green algae bloom was spotted last week by a Great Lakes charter boat captain about three and one-half miles from the City of Toledo’s water intake. The discovery signals continuing threats to drinking water sources drawn from the lake at the same time Michigan officials are proposing a Water Strategy that would continue dependence on voluntary agricultural anti-pollution policies that have proven to be ineffective.

The Lake Erie algae appearance, coming weeks ahead of the typical blooms in July and August, coincides with the comment period on the State of Michigan’s recently released Water Strategy that relies heavily on voluntary compliance to combat industrial agricultural runoff, a major source phosphorus pollution into Lake Erie.  While the proposed Water Strategy is viewed as a starting point for addressing many water concerns in the Great Lakes State, member organizations of the Less=More Coalition  say its goal of reducing by 40 percent phosphorus runoff from agriculture won’t succeed unless the state adopts strong regulations for agricultural pollution and enforces pollution rules. 

“The report from the state was the equivalent of a get-well card when what Lake Erie really needs is emergency intensive care,” said Gail Philbin, director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “We need meaningful regulations and enforcement of anti-pollution laws that will allow the lake to heal.”

Phosphorus pollution from agriculture, including factory farm waste, has been an issue for more than a decade in the western Lake Erie watershed.  In the wake of last summer’s Lake Erie crisis, fertilizer runoff from monoculture crop farms and waste from livestock factories were identified as the largest contributor to the situation. For now, the recently identified bloom in Lake Erie doesn’t appear to contain the toxic blue-green algae that poisoned the drinking water for nearly 500,000 people in Toledo and southeast Michigan.

In one important step to combat toxic algae in the Great Lakes, the Sierra Club, Environmentally Concerned Citizens for South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), Food & Water Watch and other coalition members of Less=More are advocating a ban on all application of livestock waste on frozen or snow-covered ground, a common practice that leads to phosphorus runoff into waterways with rain or warming temperatures. Last winter, the DEQ failed to adequately address this issue in the revision of its water quality permitting program for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

“The DEQ’s permit included one revision imposing a few restrictions on CAFOs that give or sell waste to others but left room for most operations to do it on a voluntary basis only. Expecting voluntary action on the part of agricultural producers to save Lake Erie is what got us into this situation in the first place,” said Pam Taylor of Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan.

Other factors that facilitate agricultural waste runoff and nurture Lake Erie’s algae include subsurface drainage tile systems that carry dissolved phosphorus into waterways, lax enforcement of CAFO permits when violations occur, and a reliance on academic models rather than “real world” monitoring at the edge of farm fields in the headwaters and tributaries where the problem begins.

“If the DEQ is really serious about its Water Strategy and reducing phosphorus by 40 percent, it cannot settle for a compromise and will target the real sources of algae blooms in Lake Erie and other bodies of water in Michigan,” said Lynna Kaucheck of Food & Water Watch. “Relying on voluntary action is irresponsible and leaves a major source of drinking water for the region at the mercy of an industry looking to profit above all else. We must ban manure application on frozen or snow-covered ground, take seriously the role of subsurface drainage systems in the problem, enforce CAFO permits and punish violators, and conduct edge-of-field phosphorus monitoring upstream from Lake Erie.”

Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan are members of Less=More, a sustainable agriculture coalition targeting Farm Bill subsidies in Michigan that favor polluting factory farms over safe, sustainable livestock farms at the expense of the environment and public health. The coalition’s report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, exploring the relationship between Farm Bill subsidies and factory farm pollution in Michigan can be downloaded at http://www.sierraclub.org/michigan/lessmore.

May 27, 2015

News Release: Experts Say High-Risk Mackinac Straits Pipeline Should be Shut Down

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director FLOW (For Love of Water) 
Gary Street, Former Director of Engineering Dow Environmental – AWD Technologies

Expert Report Released on Mackinac Island: Shut Down Enbridge’s Oil Pipelines in Mackinac Straits Pending a Full Public Review of Potential Harm & Alternatives
Deep concerns over possible corrosion from zebra mussels, outdated pipeline welds & coating

LANSING – The 62-year-old Enbridge oil pipelines running through the Mackinac Straits should be shut down pending a full public review because of structural concerns, including the worry that waste excreted by zebra mussels may have corroded and dangerously weakened the steel pipes, according to a report released today by FLOW at a Mackinac Island press conference by a team of scientists and engineers. 
Relying on 1950s technology, the twin oil pipelines also have an outdated protective coating and welds connecting the 40-foot segments that make up the pipelines, and lack the required number of supports to secure the pipes in the powerful currents of the Straits, just west of the Mackinac Bridge, according to the expert team, which was convened by a Great Lakes law and policy group.
Studies have concluded that excrement from zebra mussels has a corrosive impact on exposed steel,” said Gary Street, former Director of Engineering, Dow Environmental–AWD Technologies, who spoke at the press conference on behalf of the expert team. “And there’s a real concern that bare steel indeed may have become exposed due to friction where the pipelines lie on the shifting sand-and-gravel bottom, and due to possible failure of the pipeline coating generally after more than six decades of use.”
The Enbridge “Line 5” oil pipelines were installed in 1953 and not designed to withstand impacts from zebra mussels, an invasive species carried to the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ocean-going ships decades after the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened to navigation in 1959, the expert team concluded. Underwater video footage (here at the 2:22 mark) captured in 2013 shows the Straits of Mackinac pipelines covered in growth and debris, including zebra mussels. Moreover, unless removed, a process itself that could compromise the pipelines, the encrusted layer of mussels makes external inspection virtually impossible, the experts determined.
The team of experts also found that the “coal tar enamel” coating that protects the exterior of the Line 5 pipelines from corrosion is an “obsolete technology and may have failed locally, resulting in corrosion that has reduced the strength of the assembled pipeline.” Protective coating similar to that on the Straits pipelines has failed elsewhere and resulted in oil spills, including in 2009 with Enbridge’s Line 2 near Odessa, Saskatchewan, which was constructed the same year as Line 5.
 “This type of protective coating is not used on oil pipelines anymore because it is prone to failure and has been replaced by better technology,” said Ed Timm, PhD., PE, a former senior scientist and consultant to Dow Chemical’s Environmental Operations Business. “Enbridge simply has not provided data to back up its claims about the safety of Line 5 in the Straits. There should be a full public review relying on independent expertise.”
The expert team – two accomplished engineers and a hazardous materials risk-management specialist – were convened by FLOW, a Traverse City-based Great Lakes law and policy center to consider risks to the Enbridge oil pipelines. Enbridge, which is infamous its Line 6b that corroded and spilled 1 million gallons of heavy oil in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River watershed near Marshall, Michigan, has withheld key data and reports from public scrutiny, the experts found.
“We convened these experts in order to bring key scientific facts and concerns to light,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, an attorney and leader in statewide campaign of groups, citizens, businesses, tribes, and local governments calling for the governor to conduct a full public assessment under state law – the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act – of the potential harm posed by Line 5 in the Straits and identify alternatives to avoid that harm.
Kirkwood’s organization released the experts’ findings at a press conference today on Mackinac Island.   Also attending the news conference were Bruce Wallace, national board chair of the National Wildlife Federation; Aaron PaymentTribal Chairman, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians; David Holtz, Michigan chair of Sierra Club and Street. The report was submitted April 30 to the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force, which has yet to respond.
“It’s clear from these scientific findings that Line 5 should be shut down and an open, public process immediately begun to consider the best way to avoid a catastrophic oil spill into the Great Lakes, home to 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water. The public has a right to know the risk and to expect leadership from the governor and his task force led by Attorney General Bill Schuette and DEQ Director Dan Wyant,” said Kirkwood, who in late April formally submitted the experts’ findings to the state task force, which is expected this spring to release its recommendations regarding Line 5 and other gas and oil pipelines across the state.
The experts also raised concerns about welds connecting the 40-foot segments that make up the pipelines, noting that the “welding techniques used for Line 5 in 1953 have proven to be less robust than contemplated” and “have been found deficient.” In their report, they cited 16 Enbridge oil spills reported from 2002-2010 from pipelines with a coal tar enamel coating similar to that used on Line 5 in the Straits, with the cause of five of those spills was listed as “weld failure” and two others resulting from “corrosion.”
The expert team also found that Enbridge has failed to install as many as 65 supports required by the state to prevent the pipeline from grinding along the bottom, bending, and potentially failing or breaking at its weld points. In June 2014, Enbridge disclosed it was in violation of the state easement for an unspecified number of years by not installing the required supports every 75 feet along the Straits oil pipelines. , Enbridge sought a “maintenance” permit from the state to install more supports on state‐owned bottomlands. To date, Enbridge has installed only 146 supports of any type – a total of 8 grout bags and mechanical supports, 16 grout bags, and 122 mechanical screw anchors – far short of the approximately 211 supports required, the experts concluded.
The aging Enbridge pipelines push nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the Straits of Mackinac, which the company uses as a shortcut for its Line 5 route from Superior, Wis., to Sarnia, Ontario. A July 2014 study by the University of Michigan called the Straits “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes" and depicted the prospect of a plume from a million-gallon oil spill in the Straits stretching for 85 miles – from Lake Michigan’s Beaver Island to Mackinac Island to Rogers City down the Lake Huron shore.
Mayor Margaret Doud of Mackinac Island, the mayors of Traverse City and Grand Rapids, and most recently, the Cheboygan County Board of Commissioners have sent formal letters to the governor calling for state action on the oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.
For more information, visit the FLOW website:
·       www.FlowforWater.org

May 13, 2015

Sierra Club Releases Testimony Opposing Pipeline Secrecy Bill

Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Media Contact:  Mike Berkowitz

Sierra Club Releases Testimony Opposing Pipeline Secrecy Bill
Who:   Michigan House Oversight and Ethics Committee 
What:  Sierra Club testimony on House Bill 4540, an amendment to Michigan's Freedom of Information Act
When: 10:30am Thursday, May 14, 2015
Where: Room 326, House Office Building, Lansing, MI

The following testimony by Mike Berkowitz, Sierra Club Michigan Legislative Director, will be submitted to the House Oversight and Ethics Committee on House Bill 4540: 

On behalf of our 60,000 members and supporters in Michigan, the Sierra Club urges a NO vote on HB 4540 (Heise), a bill that would amend Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to permanently block public access to energy system safety records in Michigan. This would include high-risk pipelines like the one running through the Straits of Mackinac operated by the controversial Canadian oil conglomerate Enbridge, Inc.

Enbridge’s twin Line 5 pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac have been the subject of intense public interest since it was publicly revealed in early 2014 that the 60-year old lines pose a serious threat to the Great Lakes and northern Michigan communities and businesses.  A pipeline spill here would contaminate the Great Lakes and collapse the northern Michigan tourist economy.  Michigan citizens need to know more, not less, about the safety of Enbridge’s pipelines and all pipelines in Michigan. This bill won’t make us safer: it will do the opposite.  It was the oil and gas industry’s failures to comply with safety regulations and protocols that caused the largest inland oil spill in America in Marshall, Michigan, along with dozens of other spills across the nation.  The industry’s failures are what pose an immediate threat to property, communities and the environment, not the public’s right to know about those failures.

HB 4540, as introduced, would preclude property owners from finding out basic details about the pipelines that run through their property. Basic information “about the production, generation, transportation, transmission, or distribution of fuel or energy” would be exempt from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act under this proposal.  That means state-level bureaucrats that have been given information by a pipeline company that has access to your property (e.g. Enbridge, or natural gas pipeline companies proposing the Vector and ET Rover pipelines) would not be allowed to tell you what materials are getting pumped through the pipeline on your property, where that product is going, or what plans the company has in the event that the pipeline ruptures on your property.  HB 4540 would potentially also block citizens from finding out information about the electric power plants and oil refineries putting pollution into their water, their air, and their communities. Michigan’s laws should protect Michigan’s property owners and public health.  But HB4540 would, instead, put property owners and the public health at risk.

In addition, this legislation is unnecessary because federal rules already address national security issues when it comes to pipelines. Moreover, Michigan’s FOIA law already has a provision that exempts from disclosure records that would jeopardize our safety and security. The exemption proposed in HB 4540 for "critical energy infrastructure" is excessive since information that would make infrastructure vulnerable to a terrorist attack is already exempt from disclosure.

Not only is this legislation unnecessary, the language in it is so broad it could have major unintended consequences. Exempting information that "could be useful to a person planning an attack on critical energy infrastructure” could block access to all aspects of pipeline and electricity infrastructure/operations, including information that has nothing to do with safety or security. At a minimum, this definition and clause must be limited to already existing language from federal rules.
HB 4540 would result in Michigan citizens having less access to information about interstate pipeline safety than citizens of other states. Michigan citizens should not be treated as less trustworthy than residents of neighboring states.

The current FOIA appeal process is already overly burdensome. The process includes an appeal to the head of an agency, which typically confirms the denial, and then another appeal to the circuit court. People should not have to go to circuit court in order to see public records that may shed light on pipeline safety, maintenance, and potential environmental catastrophes. HB 4540 would make the process even more burdensome for Michigan’s citizens.


May 6, 2015

DEQ Livestock Factory Permit Change: Small Change in Nutrient Pollution of Lake Erie and Michigan Waters

Contact: Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club, 517-484-2372 x11anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org
Lynn Henning, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, 517-605-7740lynnh@sraproject.org
Pam Taylor, ECCSCM, ptaylor001@msn.com

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced a change to water quality permits for livestock factories, known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that takes a small step toward addressing massive nutrient pollution entering Michigan’s waterways, in particular Lake Erie. Farmers that receive waste from CAFOs in January, February or March must follow the same restrictions as permitted CAFOs regarding application of wastes to fields.

Phosphorous pollution from agriculture, including CAFO wastes, contributes to the deadly growth of blue green algae (cyanobacteria), which last summer caused the shutdown of drinking water to Toledo, Ohio, and surrounding communities after toxins they produced entered the water system.  The Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), the Sierra Club and Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) issued the following statements on the DEQ’s permit change:

“MI DEQ's new permit includes one revision that imposes a few restrictions on CAFOs that manifest, give or sell, waste to others. Unfortunately, Michigan has not stepped forward to protect Lake Erie by prohibiting all manure application on frozen or snow-covered ground, as recommended by the International Joint Commission and many scientific studies. As ECCSCM has documented for years, manure still runs off those fields in sun, thaw, rain, and spring melt, and still drains through surface inlets to tiles, which flow to streams, and on to Lake Erie.” Pam Taylor, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan

“The Snyder Administration’s DEQ is very slowly beginning to acknowledge that voluntary programs for controlling the massive amounts of pollution from animal factories are not working to protect the Great Lakes or downstream communities.  While we appreciate this first, small step, we are eager to see the state get serious about protecting public health and our waters, and require these massive operations to be regulated like the industrial scale operations they are.”  Anne Woiwode, Conservation Director, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

"The new permit standard is only as good as its implementation and enforcement.  We urge DEQ make good on its responsibility to protect Michigan waters by better regulation of the millions of gallons of untreated waste produced by industrial confinement operations and protect Michigan waters." Lynn Henning, field coordinator, Socially Responsible Agricultural Project

posted May 6, 2015


May 5, 2015

New Michigan Pipeline Secrecy Bill Criticized

New Michigan Pipeline Secrecy Bill Slammed;
Industry Proposal Would Hide Safety Records
Legislation Would Conceal Pipeline Inspections, Put Great Lakes At Risk

Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Media Contacts:    David Holtz, Sierra Club,  313-300-4454
                                  Nic Clark, Clean Water Action 231-313-2605
                                  Elizabeth Kirkwood, FLOW, 570-872-4956               

LANSING—Citizens groups sharply criticized proposed legislation introduced today that would permanently block public access to pipeline safety records in Michigan, including for high-risk pipelines running through the Straits of Mackinac operated by the controversial Canadian oil conglomerate Enbridge, Inc.  

The sweeping bill, House Bill 4540, which would amend Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, goes beyond federal rules governing pipeline records disclosure.  It would exempt virtually all oil and natural gas pipeline information from public disclosure and is being sought by Enbridge, responsible in 2010 for the nation’s largest inland oil spill near Kalamazoo.  

“Enbridge has a questionable safety record and desperately wants to keep critically important pipeline safety information from the public,” said Nic Clark,Michigan Director of Clean Water Action. “This bill exploits the public’s legitimate concerns over national security to cloak the real purpose for Enbridge, which is to keep secret its safety and other records.” 

Enbridge’s twin Line 5 pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac have been the subject of intense public interest since it was revealed in early 2014 that the Eisenhower-era lines pose a serious threat to the Great Lakes and northern Michigan communities and businesses.  A special task force of state officials assembled last June is expected to issue a report this month on the pipelines.  The Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force, however, has been meeting behind closed doors, releasing only press releases and presentations.  Meanwhile, Enbridge and the task force have kept most documents secret under an elaborate arrangement involving a password-protected website fashioned by Enbridge. 

“Enbridge wants a blanket exemption from disclosing critical pipeline safety records and that’s not acceptable,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director ofFLOW, a water policy and education center based in Traverse City. “At any moment, a pipeline spill could contaminate the Great Lakes and collapse the northern Michigan tourist economy.  We need to know more, not less, about the safety of Enbridge’s pipelines and all pipelines in Michigan.”

The proposed legislation was introduced today by state Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth). An Enbridge lobbyist has been working behind the scenes in recent weeks to line up support to exempt pipelines from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, which requires public disclosure of most public records.  

“What Michigan needs is more transparency about the pipeline’s safety, potential harm, and alternative routes, not less,” said David Holtz, Chair of the Michigan Chapter of Sierra Club.  “Pipelines leak, and as we saw in Kalamazoo, when there’s a breach, it can be catastrophic. Yet Enbridge refuses to release any documents related to pipeline inspections and now wants the State of Michigan to sanction that secrecy.”

Enbridge’s efforts to close off access to pipeline safety documents through an exemption to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act comes on the heels of a report revealing that a two-year-old pipeline operated in Missouri by TransCanada suffered major corrosion, with 95% corrosion in one section of the pipe.  The report was based on documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

“In Missouri you have a 21st Century pipeline that had to be shut down and the only reason we know the details is because the law required the documents to be released publicly,” said Jim Lively, Program Director, Michigan Land Use Institute.  “In Michigan we have pipelines running through the Great Lakes, under extremely volatile conditions, and these pipelines were constructed in 1953 during an era where color television was the newest technology.  Yet Enbridge wants to keep the safety of these pipelines secret.”

Thousands of Michigan residents and visitors have signed a petition urging Governor Rick Snyder to order open public hearings on the oil pipelines in the Straits and alternatives to eliminate the risk of a catastrophic spill.

“We expect openness and transparency,” said Peggy Case, President of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.  “What we are getting from Enbridge in this proposed legislation is defiance.”