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
Lynn Henning, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project,
Pam Taylor, ECCSCM,

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.”


April 23, 2015

Sierra Club Responds to Energy Legislation from Michigan Democrats

April 23, 2015

Contact: Mike Berkowitz

Sierra Club Response to Energy Legislation from Michigan Democrats

"We strongly support legislation introduced today by Democrats to increase Michigan’s renewable energy and energy optimization standards" said Mike Berkowitz, Legislative Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. "This legislation will protect clean air and water while also creating jobs and stabilizing the climate. It is fitting that this legislation was introduced right after the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. 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.”

April 1, 2015

Sierra Club Calls for Michigan Fracking Ban

Sierra Club Calls for Michigan Fracking Ban
High-Volume Fracking Too Risky, Contributes To Climate Change

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Media Contacts:   Nancy Shiffler  734-971-1157
                                  Mike Berkowitz 248-345-9808

LANSING—A complete ban on high-volume, hydraulic fracturing in Michigan is needed to meet the challenge of climate change and avoid public health and environmental risks that led New York State to ban the risky practice, the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter announced today.  

Rather than allowing fracking to expand in our state, we should learn from states like Pennsylvania and Colorado where thousands of fracked wells endanger air, water, and public health,” said Nancy Shiffler, chair of Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign in Michigan.  “Fracking operations have contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of Americans and have devastated neighborhoods and landscapes while wasting water and threatening groundwater. The practice should end in the Great Lakes State.”

Sierra Club’s announcement of its endorsement of a ban on high volume fracking follows more than a year of study of the issue and the organization’s policies 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.  New York’s governor banned high-volume fracking in that state this past December following studies of health and environmental risks.

“Until we are able to loosen the grip the oil and gas industry and electric utilities have on state government in Michigan, achieving a fracking ban in the short term won’t happen in Lansing,” said Mike BerkowitzSierra Club Michigan Chapter Legislative Director.  “But we will continue working to reduce the risks of fracking in Michigan while pursuing our goal to eventually eliminate the practice.”

Berkowitz said 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 has chased solar and wind companies out of the state with short-sighted policy decisions while policymakers granted millions of dollars in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.  If Michigan increases its reliance on fossil fuels like fracked gas, clean energy job opportunities may be lost.  
“Instead of promoting the use of fracked natural gas, Michigan needs to improve its energy efficiency and renewable energy policies,” said Berkowitz.   “That will be a major focus of Sierra Club in 2015 and beyond.”

 Sierra Club is the nation's largest grassroots environmental organization, with 60,000 members and supporters in Michigan.

March 19, 2015

Sierra Club Calls on DNR Director Creagh to Deny Graymont Land Sale

Decision Expected at Natural Resources Commissions Meeting Thursday

Media Contact: Anne Woiwode, , 517-484-2372 x 11
Note:  Sierra Club Forest Ecologist Marvin Roberson will be available at the NRC Meeting Referenced in this release.

LANSING--Sierra Club today called on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh to reject the sale of DNR lands to Graymont, a Canadian limestone mining company. If approved by Creagh, the proposed sale would constitute the largest sale of publicly owned land to a private company in Michigan’s history.  Creagh’s decision could come as soon as Thursday at the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting in Roscommon. 

“Director Creagh should follow the law with regard to disposal of state lands and deny this proposed sale,” said Marvin Roberson, Sierra Club Forest Ecologist.  “As proposed, the Graymont sale would establish a dangerous precedent and undermine our long-standing Michigan tradition of ensuring publicly owned lands that we value today are also there for future generations of Michiganders.”

Sierra Club’s concerns were detailed in a March 16 letter to Director Creagh and will be presented at the NRC meeting Thursday.  In the letter, Sierra Club outlined Creagh’s failure to comply with requirements under state law regarding the sale and disposal of state lands. Other concerns include the state’s failure to make the necessary determination that the proposed Graymont sale involves land that has been designated “surplus” under state law.  Moreover, the scale of the transaction—involving ten times the land of any previous land sale—could set a precedent for other similar sales of that magnitude.

“The DNR has an obligation to manage our public lands to serve the interests of Michigan citizens, who put a very high value on the many benefits our state lands give us,” said Roberson. “Director Creagh is obliged to ensure that he and his agency are serving the long-term interests of the people of Michigan, and the handling of the Graymont proposal fails to comply with that duty.”

March 18, 2015

Sierra Club Endorses Proposal 1

Wednesday, March 18 2015

Media contact:  David Holtz 313-300-4454 

Sierra Club Endorses Proposal 1
$115 Million in Transit Funding Addresses Critical Michigan Need

LANSING—The Michigan Chapter of Sierra Club today announced its endorsement of Proposal 1 on the May election ballot, citing a key component of the measure that increases funding for public transit.

“Proposal 1 provides essential funding for Michigan’s public transportation needs that have long been neglected,” said David Holtz, Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Executive Committee.  “This complex proposal may not be ideal, but it is a bipartisan compromise that will increase financial support for transportation while not harming schools, cities and other important environmental priorities.  If it fails, all of these will be put at risk.”

Proposal 1 will provide $115 million a year in increased funding for public transportation throughout Michigan. This will likely allow expanded bus service for seniors, low-income workers and others while reducing the use of cars and greenhouse gas emissions.  Proposal 1 will also provide $10 million a year to the Department of Natural Resource’s Recreation Improvement Fund which provides grants for the operation, maintenance and development of recreation trails and restoration of lands damaged by off-road vehicles and inland lake cleanup.

The decision to endorse Proposal 1 was made by Sierra Club’s 18-member Michigan Chapter Executive Committee and its Political Committee and will be communicated to the group’s 60,000 members and supporters in Michigan.