December 6, 2016

State Budget Needs Infrastructure Investment

It’s no secret that Michiganders are begging for better roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other infrastructure. Yesterday, the governor’s infrastructure commission released a report on expected long-term budget needs in Michigan in relation to water systems, roads, energy and technology. The elephant in the room? Michigan simply doesn’t have the funds to address the steep costs of road funding, drinking water and an overall huge infrastructure gap we’ve been facing as a state. And to be frank, we’re underfunding almost every public service.

This committee’s report is mostly a get-well card, but what Michigan needs is a Blue Cross card—a way to pay for what ails us. 

In the case of drinking water, Public Sector Consultants Inc. found that the state is “underinvesting in drinking water infrastructure by anywhere from $284 to $563 million each year.” 

Especially in smaller cities, budgets are even more strapped— increasing public health concerns. These smaller and, often rural, areas simply don’t receive the needed revenue sharing produced by our state’s budget. Most of our states water piping has existed for 50 to 100 years. This compromised integrity caused us the Flint water crisis. The report doesn’t even mention the city, which still requires a significant amount more funding. This is on top of noted overall state drinking water needs. The report notes that drinking water infrastructure will require an additional $19 billion over the next 20 years. 

In addition, our schools still face significant shortfalls—where we underfund at least $1 thousand per student—which totals a price tag of over $1.5 billion dollars. 
Bluntly, our budget needs an increase of more than 30-40% and that’s what this report fails to stress. Our legislature isn’t moving forward quickly enough on this critical issue. When an additional $165 million was proposed in fiscal year 2017 for infrastructure, the legislature settled at a $5 million increase. They also agreed on a road package that is statutorily expected to increase $1.2 billion for the issue. However, the $600 million of this price that is to come from existing spending risks cutting already underfunded state programs. 

It’s time to have a serious conversation about where these funds will come from—or Michigan will continue kicking the can further down the road, falling behind in economic development and seriously undermining environmental and public health. Our less than $10 billion discretionary budget simply won’t cut it. 

December 5, 2016

Michigan Must Look At Alternatives To Straits Oil Pipeline

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dakota Access Decision Prompts Renewed Calls in Michigan 
for Alternative to Enbridge’s Oil Pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac

A federal government decision Sunday to halt work on the Dakota Access Pipeline puts more pressure on state officials here to end the threat to Michigan drinking water and the Great Lakes by beginning the process of ending the flow of oil through Enbridge Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, advocates for shutting down Michigan’s controversial pipeline said today.

“Line 5 is going to be decommissioned,” said Aaron Payment, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Chairperson. “The only question is whether it happens before the pipeline ruptures in the Straits, or after it ruptures — leaving us with a catastrophe that will devastate our way of life.”

Like Enbridge’s Line 5 in Michigan, the Dakota Access Pipeline was slated to cross through a critically important waterway that is a drinking water source.   In Michigan the waterway is the Great Lakes. Payment’s Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is one of five tribes with federally recognized sovereign rights within the Straits. Eleven tribal organizations, 61 Michigan counties, cities and townships have passed resolutions calling for the state to stop the flow of oil through the Straits.

A University of Michigan study said an oil spill in the Straits could impact up to 700 miles of Great Lakes coastline, including drinking water in St. Ignace, Mackinac Island and Alpena. Up to 23 million gallons of oil flow through Line 5 in the Straits each day.

“The State of Michigan’s fiduciary role to protect our public waters is analogous to the federal government’s trustee role to protect sovereign tribal rights.  They are paramount to private interests like Enbridge,”  said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW.  “The State and the Army Corps must conduct a comprehensive review of Line 5 and explore alternative routes now because of failing pipeline supports.  Waiting another year for the state’s advisory board to complete its studies does not comply with the law."

Since June, 2014 the state has been studying Line 5 while refusing to investigate multiple violations of Enbridge’s easement agreement with the state or taking legal action to decommission the decaying 63-year-old pipeline.   The state has twice cited Enbridge Energy Partners for violating conditions of its easement agreement allowing the pipeline to operate in the Great Lakes.    Independent experts, citing at least eight additional violations by Enbridge of the easement agreement, have called on Gov. Snyder to investigate the company’s pipeline operations in the Straits.  

“The Army Corps of Engineers is pursuing a common-sense strategy to protect drinking water in North Dakota that should immediately be embraced by Michigan’s governor and attorney general,” said David Holtz, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Chair.   “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette need to end years of dilly dallying and strongly embrace shutting down Line 5 in the Straits as the only alternative for protecting the Great Lakes and our drinking water.”


October 14, 2016

PRESS RELEASE: Michigan Sierra Club Launches Online Political Advertising Campaign

October 14, 2016

Mike Berkowitz

Michigan Sierra Club Launches Online Political Advertising Campaign
Nation’s Largest Grassroots Conservation Organization to Target State Legislative and Countywide Races

LANSING, MI  - Today, the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club launched an online political advertising campaign in support of thirteen candidates for the Michigan Legislature and countywide offices.  The campaign includes a series of videos featuring Sierra Club Michigan Chapter activists highlighting the state’s most pressing environmental issues and calling for new leadership in Lansing.

The ads target ten state legislative districts supporting Darrin Camilleri (House District 23), Dana Camphous-Peterson (House District 24), Mike Notte (House District 30), Michael Stack (House District 39), Tom Redmond (House District 56), Annie Brown (House District 66), Collene Lamonte (House District 91), Bryan Mielke (House District 99), Dan Scripps (House District 101) and Robert Kennedy (House District 106). Three additional ads target countywide races supporting Rachel Hood (Kent County Drain Commissioner), Vicki Barnett (Oakland County Executive), and John Taylor (Kalamazoo County Clerk).

“We are using online capabilities to reach environmental supporters with a message letting them know which candidates support protecting our Great Lakes in Michigan’s most competitive races,” said Mike Berkowitz, Political Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “This election will have long-lasting implications for Michigan’s environment and our Great Lakes. We are committed to electing candidates who will stand up for clean air, clean water, and clean energy.”

To see a full list of the Michigan Sierra Club’s endorsements, click here.

About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide, and over 80,000 in Michigan. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit

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


October 5, 2016

Reps. Roberts and Irwin Propose Stronger Fracking Laws

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016

Contact: Rep. Sarah Roberts
Phone: (517)-373-1180           
Contact: Rep. Jeff Irwin        
Phone: (734)-834-7152           

Bills would protect air, water and soil from fracking waste

LANSING — State Representatives Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores) and Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) have announced a six-bill package of legislation to address threats to Michigan’s land, air and water as a result of fracking. Together, these bills address gaps in Michigan laws regarding the disposal of fracking waste and the leakage of methane at drilling sites.
“Other states are seeing fracking operations that dump waste, pollute the air and water, and are possibly causing earthquakes,” said Rep. Roberts. “In Michigan, we need to update our oil and gas laws to ensure we protect our environment and the public’s health.”
“Disposing of fracking waste is one of the biggest threats to our water,” said Nic Clark of Clean Water Action. “These bills protect water quality by prohibiting any dumping in groundwater aquifers and by enacting strict standards for radioactive fracking waste.”
The bills in the package would:
·        Ban radioactive fracking waste from landfills if the radioactivity exceeds strict limits
·        Require that water used in the fracking process be in compliance with state guidelines and be cleaned up before disposal
·        Ban fracking operations from injecting fracking wastes or water into an aquifer
·        Require oil and gas well operators to use methane recapture systems to reduce methane released by 99 percent
·        Prohibit oil and gas wells from burning off (flaring) methane emissions
·        Require oil and gas well operators to set up a system to check for leaks of dangerous gases on a regular basis and promptly repair any leaks found.
“Michigan is planning to meet the requirements of the Clean Power Plan by switching from coal to natural gas and renewable energy sources,” said Mike Berkowitz of the Sierra Club. “But methane released from the extraction of gas and oil is 20 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, so we need to ensure gas isn’t leaking from sloppily drilled wells.”
“Michigan deserves solid rules to protect water quality and prevent wasteful or careless drilling practices,” said Rep. Irwin. “Preventing methane leaks is important to combat climate change, and it also ensures that oil and gas drillers are running professional operations that are respectful of our air and water.”
For more information about fracking, the bills in the package or to sign a petition supporting the legislation, go to


September 27, 2016

Sierra Club Road Show Brings Line 5 and 2016 Elections Info to U.P.

Sierra Club Michigan staff and volunteers are traveling to the Upper Peninsula on Oct. 24 and 25 for back-to-back presentations in Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie on the Line 5 threat to the Great Lakes and the importance of the 2016 elections to environmental protection.  The events are free and open to the public. Please RSVP to

The “road show” will feature Chapter Chair David Holtz, who will offer an overview of the danger posed by Enbridge’s 64-year-old, leak-prone Line 5 which runs under the Straits of Mackinac and Sierra Club’s efforts to get this oil pipeline shut down.  Chapter Political and Legislative Director Mike Berkowitz will explore the 2016 election landscape and what U.P. residents need to know about the issues and candidates.

Each event begins at 6:30pm with mingling and a light reception followed by the program at 7pm.  Event details are below:

Marquette:  Mon., Oct. 24, 6:30-8:30pm – Community Room , Peter White Library, 217 N Front St

Sault Ste. Marie: Tues, Oct. 25, 6:30-8:30pm – Crawford Hall, Room CRW 205, 650 W Easterday Ave.

September 26, 2016

Sierra Club Endorses Michigan Legislative and Local Candidates

September 26, 2016                                       

Mike Berkowitz

Sierra Club Endorses Michigan Legislative and Local Candidates

The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, a non-partisan environmental protection organization, today announced its third and final round of candidate endorsements in Michigan’s upcoming state house and local elections. These endorsements come after a thorough review by local and state committees within the Sierra Club’s volunteer leadership.

“These Sierra Club endorsed candidates are champions who demonstrate strong leadership in promoting clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and a healthier Michigan,” said Mike Berkowitz, Political Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “Our members are committed to making sure voters are aware of the strong environmental values of these endorsed candidates. We will work hard to ensure they are successful in the upcoming election.”

Michigan Sierra Club endorsed the following candidates for State Representative:
HD 15: Abdullah Hammound
HD 23: Darrin Camilleri
HD 30: Mike Notte
HD 38: Amy McCusker
HD 52: Donna Lasinski
HD 59: Carol Higgins
HD 61: John Fisher
HD 64: Ron Brooks
HD 86: Lynn Mason
HD 92: Terry Sabo
HD 106: Robert Kennedy

Sierra Club also endorsed the following candidates for local races:
Vicki Barnett for Oakland County Executive
Julia Pulver for Oakland County Commission District 1
Pete Ponzetti for Genessee County Commission District 6
Vicki Dobbins for River Rouge School Board

Sierra Club also encourages people in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw Counties to vote YES on the regional transit millage.

“Sierra Club volunteers from the organization’s 80,000 Michigan members and supporters will work with endorsed candidates in their own districts, identifying and recruiting other likely voters who are concerned about the state’s environmental and energy policies” said Richard Morley Barron, Political Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

“Sierra Club is a grassroots organization and our political strength is in educating and mobilizing environmental voters,” said Barron.  “Given the unprecedented challenges facing our Great Lakes and our climate, as well as the recent weakening of legal protections for our environment, we are committed to implementing the most robust effort of any election year in our history.  The times demand it and our members expect it.”

The Michigan Chapter’s Political Committee conducts thorough reviews of all candidates based on their environmental history, voting records and policy positions through candidate interviews, voting scorecards, and responses to candidate questionnaires.

A full list of candidates and ballot proposals endorsed by the Michigan Sierra Club, including federal, state and local candidates, is available at the following website:

About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide, and over 80,000 in Michigan. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit

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

September 6, 2016

Sierra Club and GVSU Present "Politics and the Environment" Oct. 4

Politics and the Environment
Tuesday, Oct. 4, 7pm
GVSU’s DeVos Center (Room 136E), 401 W. Fulton, Grand Rapids
The event is free, but seating is limited. RSVP by Oct. 1 to

Sierra Club’s Greater Grand Rapids Committee has teamed up with Grand Valley State University’s School of Communications to offer “Politics and the Environment,” a look at environmental issues in Michigan and their role in this year’s elections.

Following the presentation, the televised 2016 Vice Presidential Debate will be livestreamed at 9pm.

 “Politics and the Environment” will provide information voters need to make the right choices for the environment on Election Day. Presenters Mike Berkowitz, the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter’s Political and Legislative Director, and Richard Barron, the Chapter’s Political Committee Chair, will discuss the stance of local candidates and how the fight for clean air, water, energy and natural resources could be impacted by the 2016 elections. They will also give an overview of which legislators have voted to help or hurt the environment through various measures this past year, and what to expect in the fall state legislative session.

This non-partisan talk is open to the public as part of a GVSU Communications course, “Media and Society: Politics and the Presidency,” taught by Film & Video Professor John Philbin.  Philbin teaches the course every four years as a review of how presidential campaigns have been depicted in Hollywood films since 1960 and to critique media coverage of the current election.