December 14, 2011

Groups Call on State of Michigan to Shake Up Agriculture Practices

Groups Call on State of Michigan to Shake Up Agriculture Practices

East Lansing, MI – A diverse group of faith, farming, conservation, community and food organizations today called on the Michigan Agriculture Commission to reassess and revamp some of the state’s most controversial livestock farming practices.  The seventeen organizations called for a complete reassessment of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Generally Accepted Agriculture Management Practices, or GAAMPs regarding use of liquid livestock wastes and concentration of facilities.  The organizations specifically ask the state officials to give “due consideration” of impacts of these practices on agricultural communities and the environment, as well as on individual operations.

Janet Kauffman, spokeswoman for Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michiganpresented a letter from the organizations to the Commission at their meeting today.  Kauffman said "the big picture shows big impact and real harm -- to neighbors, to watersheds, and to the Great Lakes.  To stop pollution downwind and downstream, agricultural practices can't just be for one farm anymore.  We need to add it all up and find practices that protect whole communities, and whole watersheds."

According to the letter, the voluntary GAAMPs for liquid manure and facility concentration have lagged far behind the scientific documentation of the negative impacts of this waste on public health, natural resources and the well-being of communities.   By law the GAAMPs are updated every year, however updates are usually minimal and has not addressed the rapid growth of intensive livestock practices. The introduction of liquid manure systems and the application of the liquid manure onto fields with subsurface tiles, and rapid expansion and the concentration of large facilities has been linked to water pollution downstream, including in the Great Lakes.  Pathogens, including E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia are commonly found in ditches that drain the farms into streams and lakes.

Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program Manager, Alliance for the Great Lakes, explained the significance of cumulative impacts, “Agricultural runoff threatens our Great Lakes with algal blooms that harm the lakes’ health, and the economy of the region through lost tourism and lost recreational use. Michigan’s agricultural practices must be updated to help prevent nutrient runoff from harming the Great Lakes.”

“Thirty years is a significant length of time, time to reassess practices for effectiveness,” said Rita Chapman, Sierra Club Clean Water Program Manager, “to make sure they still result in clean water and air, and healthy sustainable agricultural communities.  It’s time to look ahead to agricultural practices that all can live with.”

In addition to ECCSCMSierra Club and the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the letter presented to the Commission today was signed by the following organizations:

- Adrian Dominican Sisters, Program for Justice Peace, and Corporate Responsibility
- Clean Water Action
- Clinton River Watershed Council
- Food and Water Watch
- Great Grand Rapids Food Systems Council
- Izaak Walton League of America, Dwight Lydell Chapter
- Lone Tree Council
- Michigan Environmental Council
- Michigan Farmers Union
- Michigan Trout Unlimited
- National Wildlife Federation
- Program of Environmental Studies/Geology, Alma College
- Society for Protecting Environmental Assets
- Western Lake Erie Waterkeepers

Groups Call on Snyder To Embrace Clean Energy

Groups Call on Snyder To Embrace Clean Energy

Consumers Energy's Coal Plant Closings Should Spark Policy Change

LANSING –The decision announced today by Consumers Energy to shutter seven Michigan coal plants and cancel long-standing plans for a new one means the Snyder administration should abandon its support for coal and strongly embrace clean energy policies.

“Governor Snyder can no longer ignore the fact that Michigan’s future is not with coal,”  Sierra Club’s Tiffany Hartung said, reacting to the news today that Consumers Energy is closing coal plants in favor of clean energy alternatives.  “The real question is whether Michigan will be getting the clean energy jobs or some other state or country.  Because of the administration’s support for coal, we’ve wasted more than a year and allowed other states and countries to get ahead of us.  We should be moving boldly ahead with strong clean energy policies.”

Cyndi Roper, Michigan Director for Clean Water Action, said the governor should immediately begin working on a comprehensive economic development plan focused on expanding clean energy jobs in Michigan.

“Every day we delay means we fall further behind other states and countries,” said Roper.  “Michigan can do better, but only if Lansing politicians either get out of the way or stand with us and decide to start looking toward the future.”

Consumers Energy plans to close seven coal facilities in Muskegon, the Bay City area and Luna Pier, south of Monroe.  With plans for new wind farms in Mason and Tuscola counties, Consumers expects to be able to meet its forecasted energy needs without those seven coal plants plus a proposed new one near Bay City that was cancelled by Consumers today.

“It’s great to see Consumers Energy embracing clean energy as a better deal for its customers than coal,” said Roper. “The plants they are closing are old and their pollution has been damaging people’s health.”

The groups also called on Consumers to develop transition plans for communities where coal plants are being closed to provide training and other support for workers.

The coal plant decisions come as Consumers recently announced it was lowering costs to its 1.8 million customers for renewable energy charges, a projected $54 million savings.   A proposed coal plant for the Bay City area that was scuttled today was the 159th proposed plant in the United States to be cancelled in recent years.

 “There is consensus brewing here---Consumers Energy has come to the same conclusion as 158 other companies, that coal just doesn’t make economic sense,” said Shannon Fisk of the Midwest Office of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The $3.5 plus billion that would have gone towards a dirty plant can have a much better impact in Michigan going towards energy efficiency and renewable energy resources that will create jobs, save ratepayer money, and benefit public health.”

According to a 2009 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Michigan can meet its energy needs through a combination of wind power, biomass, and other renewable energy sources coupled with aggressive energy efficiency programs.[1]  Among the NRDC’s findings:

Energy efficiency program alone could save Michigan $3 billion in electricity costs over the next 20 years.  Michigan’s previous energy plan, written in 2007, is out of date, with unrealistic projections of future electrical demand, limited implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy, and reliance on outdated 20th century coal technologies.  Clean renewable energy is less expensive, cleaner, faster, more economically robust, and creates more jobs in Michigan than a 20th century plan based on new but obsolete large power plants driven by fossil fuels.

[1] Natural Resources Defense Council, “A Green Energy Alternative for Michigan,” 

December 2, 2011

December 2, 2011

Mike Berkowitz interview 
on the Tony Conley Morning Show

Lansing, MI
Mike Berkowitz was interviewed on the Tony Conley Morning Show about the Governor's veto (see previous post) and Fracking. It's also posted on the Chapter's facebook page.

Pollution Modeling Shows Holland at Risk from Toxic Emissions

December 2, 2011

Pollution Modeling Shows Holland at Risk from Toxic Emissions

Sulfur dioxide plume from the coal-fired James DeYoung plant looms over neighborhoods, puts community health at risk

HOLLAND, MICHIGAN – Holland residents are at risk of unsafe exposure to dangerous sulfur dioxide, according to new air pollution modeling released by the Sierra Club today. With news of this model, health professionals and Holland residents rallied to show their concern over the health impacts of the local coal plant.  Sulfur dioxide, which is emitted in large quantities by the coal-fired James DeYoung plant, threatens the Holland community with asthma attacks, severe respiratory problems, lung disease and heart complications

The model can be viewed here
Download the factsheet here.

Gathered at the Herrick District Library Auditorium, the group unveiled a map of Holland that depicts the modeled pollution cloud threatening Holland’s most treasured areas – from the Macatawa lakeshore to the Historic District to Downtown 8th Street to Freedom Village. Outraged by the threat to air quality, the group called on the Holland Board of Public Works to protect Holland by supporting a sustainable, long-term energy plan that would move Holland beyond coal completely. The Holland Beyond Coal group has gathered over 1,300 signatures in support of this plan.

Guest speakers spotlighted coal’s harmful effects on public health, the environment and Holland community, while demanding clean energy alternatives at this critical time for Holland’s energy future.

“Every day, I work with individuals who are battling respiratory illnesses like asthma. The correlation between excess sulfur dioxide in the air and increased asthma rates is clear,” said Cristina Fugsleth, a respiratory therapist who has worked at Holland Hospital for more than 35 years. “As we can see today in this modeling, our coal plant is making us sick. We must act now to protect our air. Healthy air is essential to living a healthy life.”

Local residents Coley and Lisa Brown shared their concerns after moving to Holland this year to settle down in America’s second happiest city. “I am in that category of ‘high risk’ for heart issues and I get concerned for my health” stated Coley Brown, “Imagine my shock when I recently discovered that there is a plan to expand the coal plant that is currently already making me sick. I thought, not in my town. I breathe this air.”

Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection agency establishes National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for pollutants such as sulfur dioxide that harm public health. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to revisit ambient standards for pollutants such as sulfur dioxide every five years to ensure the levels keep up with the best science regarding the impact of air pollution on public health. In June 2010, EPA finalized a standard for sulfur dioxide setting a ceiling for ambient concentrations of the pollutant on a 1-hour basis to protect against short-term spikes in SO2 pollution, which EPA found can have an adverse effect on at-risk populations such as children and the elderly during spikes in pollution in intervals as short as 5 minutes.

Following EPA’s modeling protocols for this new standard, Sierra Club discovered that the James De Young plant threatens Holland with emissions that are 3.5 times the public-health based ambient standard.

The air quality model was completed by Wingra Engineering, S.C., an independent environmental engineering consultation firm whose clients include manufacturing plants, electrical utilities, and environmental advocacy groups.

December 1, 2011

Governor Snyder Uses First Veto to Protect the Great Lakes

December 1, 2011 

Governor Snyder Uses First Veto to Protect the Great Lakes

Michigan’s leading environmental groups today applauded Governor Rick Snyder on using his first veto since taking office in order to strike down House Bill 4326. This bill would have stripped the authority of Michigan’s governor to protect the Great Lakes and the other natural resources that inspired the Pure Michigan campaign and are so vital to the lives and livelihoods of Michiganders.

"This sends a simple message: Governor Snyder thinks the Great Lakes are worth protecting, and the Michigan legislature does not” said Mike Berkowitz of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “We are extremely encouraged to see Governor Snyder veto this short-sighted folly.”

The State legislature sent HB 4326 to the Governor’s desk right before the Thanksgiving break. The bill would have prohibited the state’s governor from adopting any rule stricter than a federal standard unless authorized by the legislature. 

“Michiganders have always been united in protecting our spectacular lakes,” said Cyndi Roper of Clean Water Action. “It’s mystifying why the majority of our legislators would voluntarily throw out a valuable tool for safeguarding Michigan’s water. We are encouraged to see that in this instance Governor Snyder does not agree with the legislature’s interest in undercutting Great Lakes protections.”

A number of key environmental groups opposed to the bill include Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Clean Water Action, the Ecology Center, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Michigan Environmental Council, and the BlueGreen Alliance. Many union groups also staunchly opposed HB 4326.

“We are counting on Governor Snyder’s leadership in future efforts to preserve our state's right to protect the Great Lakes and Michigan's other natural resources” said Alexis Blizman of the Ecology Center. “We urge Governor Snyder to continue to uphold the promises he made during his campaign, and not roll back important environmental protections.”