July 23, 2008

Agreement scores new, concrete protections for Michigan water resources

Bipartisan pact not perfect, but a key win for Michigan’s citizens; earns endorsement from Great Lakes, Great Michigan coalition

Lansing, MI -- A bipartisan agreement announced today establishes important and concrete protections for Michigan’s streams and makes water conservation an integral part of the state’s water stewardship efforts.

The deal, reached after years of negotiation and research, was endorsed today by Great Lakes, Great Michigan – a coalition of more than 70 civic, environmental, business and sporting organizations.

“This package is a signal of the legislature’s commitment to protecting our world-class water resources,” said James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council. “With other states and nations increasingly eyeing Great Lakes water for diversion or profit, it is critical we double our effort to protect and preserve our water for future generations.”

The bipartisan compromise left some shortcomings, but keeps intact core principles:
  • Approves the eight-state Great Lakes Compact against large scale water diversions (Michigan is the 7th state to approve it)
  • Ensures that users do not excessively harm aquatic resources by taking too much water
  • Adopts conservation principles to be utilized by water users
  • Adds public input into decisions about large-scale water uses that might impact local ecosystems
“Yesterday, not a drop of Michigan’s precious water was adequately protected from withdrawal or diversion,” said Dr. Grenetta Thomassey of Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. “With these laws, 75 percent of streamflows are safe from being siphoned away; and the remainder are subject to rules ensuring availability to business, industry, farmers, and citizens for reasonable use.”

Michigan is the only state entirely within the Great Lakes watershed, which contains almost 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water. Increasing demand for fresh water is expected to ratchet up pressure to divert water from the watershed, where it would be lost forever to the Great Lakes system.

Recent months have seen notables including a Democratic presidential candidate and Ohio’s lieutenant governor suggest that water might be siphoned from the lakes.

“We have no intention of letting our water be taken to subsidize sprawl in Atlanta or irrigate golf courses in Arizona,” said Gayle Miller of the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter. “This is a firm step toward saying, ‘no’.”

The legislation uses a combination of a new scientific geographic information system-based water withdrawal assessment tool along with other criteria to determine whether large-scale water withdrawals within the state are harmful.

“To our knowledge, no other state in the country is using science to protect water resources in this way; and no state has protected as much of their water resources as we are doing with these laws,” said Clift. “This is a pioneering effort.”

Great Lakes, Great Michigan coalition members said they would regroup in coming months to fight for additional protections not included in the package.

“We are extremely disappointed that the legislature failed to strengthen our important public trust protections, which affirms that water is a public resource that belongs to Michiganders and not to corporations or profit-takers,” said Cyndi Roper of Clean Water Action. “We intend to revisit this issue.”

Other tweaks, such as adjusting allowable streamflow reductions in certain types of rivers, may also be necessary in the future.

July 15, 2008

Giant Mobile Coal Plant, Ogre-like "Smokestack" Patty Lands on Legislature

Groups unleash accountability campaign to protect Michigan’s energy future

July 15, 2008 LANSING – With a 12-foot-tall effigy of Sen. Patty Birkholz and a 20-foot-tall inflatable coal plant looming over the State Capitol grounds, environmental watchdog groups today called on Michigan citizens to oppose a Senate-passed energy plan that will open the floodgates to more dirty coal plants and put a nail in the coffin of clean renewable energy in Michigan.

“Smokestack" Patty Birkholz and her Senate coal industry stooges should start supporting clean renewable energy that can create good-paying Michigan jobs, not dirty coal plants that will send jobs and investments to other states,” Clean Water Action’s State Director Cyndi Roper said. Clean renewable energy is the future. Michigan citizens will not stand idly by while Smokestack Patty and backward senators push energy policies that keep our state trapped in the energy Dark Ages.”

The Legislature is currently debating sweeping energy proposals and faces a choice on Michigan’s energy future: Investing in 21st century renewable energy and energy efficiency, or paving the way for more outdated coal. Senate action on Senate Bill 213 decisively drives the state toward more coal plants and away from renewable energy. Under the Senate plan, renewable energy standards were effectively gutted to the point of even including coal in the definition of renewable energy.

Clean Energy Now, a coalition of environmental and citizens’ watchdog groups, is calling on the Legislature to reverse course and urged citizens to send a letter to legislators urging them to reject dirty coal plants and support clean renewable energy. Citizens can send the letter by going to:

Michigan is at a crossroads and faces a critical choice, and unfortunately "Smokestack" Patty and her Big Coal Stooges in the Senate are making the wrong choice in sending Michigan down the path of more dirty coal plants,” Sierra Club Executive Director Anne Woiwode said. “Coal costs have skyrocketed and even major banks are calling coal a bad investment. Despite all these warning signs, the Senate is choosing coal over 21st century renewable energy – and that means a big price we will all pay for generations to come.”

Kansas and Georgia are among many states that have cracked down on the construction of more coal plants. Around 60 new coal plant projects across the nation have been abandoned because of the high costs. Michigan, however, is alone in the nation in actually facing eight new coal plants – unless the Legislature chooses to invest in clean renewable energy.

The Senate is paving the way for more outdated coal-burning plants in passing a backward- page1image23040 looking energy plan that guts renewable energy, kills energy efficiency programs and opens the door to the construction of more coal plants in Michigan. Birkholz is the architect of the Senate plan, with support from Majority Leader Mike Bishop and others that have been widely denounced by opinion leaders and the news media.

"At a time when we should be moving Michigan forward towards a clean energy future, the Senate took a giant step backwards. Requiring a mere 7% renewable energy by 2015 and loopholes big enough to drive a Hummer through is not enough for Michigan to reap the benefits of the renewable energy sector, said Abby Rubley, Policy Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. We will not see the jobs, we will not protect the health of the citizens of Michigan by reducing CO2 emissions and we will not protect our most valuable natural resources – the Great Lakes."

Clean Energy Now called on the legislature to increase investments in clean renewable energy because it has proven to be one of the top drivers of economic growth globally and creates more jobs than outdated coal projects. Worldwide, clean energy projects account for $100 billion in new economic activity, according to the Department of Energy. Michigan stands to gain 45,000 new good-paying jobs if it invests in 21st century renewable projects and energy efficiency, according to the Renewable Energy Project and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

“Michigan is getting left behind while other states and countries are attracting jobs and investments, thanks to the Senate’s short-sighted, backward energy plan,” said Terry Miller, Executive Director for Lone Tree Council. “Clean renewable energy means clean Michigan energy and good-paying Michigan jobs. Unless the Senate reverses course and starts making the right choice of investing in clean renewable energy, Michigan will lose out on a tremendous opportunity to create jobs, protect our Great Lakes and move our economy forward.”

The mobile inflatable coal plant and the giant effigy of Smokestack Patty made its first appearance in Lansing, with possible stops in other communities in the near future to warn citizens about the consequences of the Senate-passed plan and the dangers of saddling the state with more coal for generations to come.

Groups participating in today’s press conference include: Anne Woiwode, executive director of the Sierra Club; Cyndi Roper, state director of Clean Water Action; Terry Miller of Lone Tree Council, which is opposing coal plants slated for Midland and Bay City; Rachel Hood, executive director of West Michigan Environmental Council; Patty Gillis of Voices for Earth Justice; Abby Rubley, policy director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters; Dan Farough, executive director of Progress Michigan.