April 25, 2012

Sierra Club and Clean Water Action Support Fracking Disclosure Bill

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Clean Water Action and Sierra Club
Support Protecting Michigan’s Water from Fracking

Chemical disclosure laws are critical to keeping our water safe 

LANSING– Michigan environmental groups joined together today with State Representatives Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Ellen Cogen-Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) and Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) inside the State Capital Building in support of legislation to protect Michigan’s waters from fracking by requiring the industry to publicly disclose chemicals used in the extraction process.

“Michigan can’t afford to get this one wrong. The chemicals used in the fracking process include carcinogens and neurotoxins that put Michigan’s public health at risk. This bill will finally require fracking companies to be honest with the public about the toxic chemicals they are using before a permit may be issued,” said Susan Harley, Policy Director, of Michigan Clean Water Action.  “This legislation is a very important part of a larger package of fracking bills that would push pause on the issuance of new permits until a full study of the risks has been completed by the state and recommendations of improved safeguards have been made. “

Currently, there are only a few restrictions on fracking and the industry does not have to publicly disclose the type or quantity of chemicals they intend to inject into the ground. The new bill would require companies to fully disclose the type and amounts of chemicals used in the extraction process prior to obtaining a drilling permit.

"Michigan Sierra Club members have been extremely concerned about the environmental problems associated with the lack of chemical disclosure for quite some time. Today, we're proud to support legislation that will better protect Michigan citizens from the dangers of fracking," said Jim Egged, a volunteer with the Sierra Club.

The package of bills proposed by the House Democrats include:

  • HB 5565 (Brown) - Requires companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking in order to obtain a permit from the state and requires companies to use the least harmful chemicals possible. Also allows for public comments before a permit is issued.
  • HB 5151 (Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing) - Directs the state to conduct a study on large-scale fracking's impact on Michigan's environment and drinking water.
  • HB 5150 (Dillon) - Puts a moratorium on large-scale fracking operations until the state's Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality review process is complete.
  • HB 5149 (Irwin) - Eliminates the statutory exemption for oil and gas drilling from state water use approval requirements. 
  • HB 4736 (Brown) - Establishes a presumption of liability for a fracking operation if fracking chemicals are found in nearby groundwater.    

The horizontal hydraulic fracturing process involves blasting a toxic mixture consisting of 5 million gallons of water, sand, and harmful chemicals deep below the water table. The fracking fluid is then used to break apart a rock formation that can now be used for gas extraction. Chemicals associated with the process include known carcinogens and neurotoxins such as benzene, lead, ethylene glycol, methanol, boric acid, and formaldehyde.

House Bills 5149-5151 were introduced in November in the Michigan House of Representatives, and HB 4736 was introduced in June of last year.

April 23, 2012

Michigan Radio: Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher

Michigan CAFO activist Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher

Michigan environmental activist Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher
screenshot / HBO

Michigan farmer and environmental activist Lynn Henning appeared on the Earth Day edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher (video below).

Henning is known in Michigan as a thorn in the side of large scale animal farms - also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.

I first met Henning back in 2006 in Hudson, Michigan when I did a story about CAFOs and water pollution.

I drove around with her as we followed trucks laden with liquefied manure and watched as they spread the liquid on nearby farm fields.

It's a practice that can add nutrients back to the land if done right, but with the huge quantities of manure these CAFOs are dealing with year round - doing it right is something they've had trouble with.

And Henning, a "Sierra Club Water Sentinel," has been watching them - reporting them to state officials when they weren't complying with the law.
It's clear from visiting these communities that these large scale farms have caused rifts among neighbors; some like the income they make selling corn and renting land to CAFO operators, but others feel CAFOs threaten their health and the beauty of rural farming life.

Working as an environmental activist in rural Michigan (she formed the group Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan), Henning says she's felt those divisions first-hand - saying she's been harassed and threatened on numerous occasions.

In 2010, Henning was given a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her grassroots activism. From the Goldmand Prize website:
Family farmer and activist Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.
She's also been to the White House to meet President Obama. And now, here she is on Bill Maher. To watch, we have to pull up a chair up to "imnewshound's" television - he has subscription to HBO, after all (and being HBO and Bill Maher, be warned - there is some foul language):

What Does Wilderness Mean to You?

Call for Entries!

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Michigan Wilderness Act, historic legislation that protected 90,000 acres of old growth forest and pristine lakes and dunes we all enjoy today. The Michigan Chapter, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary, has played a significant role in protecting many special places in Michigan since 1967.

Tell us in 500 words or less about your experience in a protected area such as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Grand Island, or Pictured Rocks. Stories will be judged on their effectiveness in communicating the special qualities of the place and how those qualities affect the visitor. The winning submission will appear in the next Mackinac.

Deadline: August 15

Email submissions to with subject line of “Essay Contest,” and please include your name and contact info in the body of the email. The winner will be chosen by Milton J. Bates, author of books and articles on American literature and history. His new book, The Bark River Chronicles: Stories from a Wisconsin Watershed, comes out this fall.

April 17, 2012

Celebration Spotlights Michigan Wilderness Protected by Historic 1987 Legislation

Celebration Spotlights Michigan Wilderness Protected by Historic 1987 Legislation
Events at Nordhouse Dunes May 19; Sylvania July 15; and Horseshoe Bay Aug. 18

Media Contact: Gail Philbin, 312-493-2384, 

Lansing--Twenty-five years ago, a bruising 10-year battle over the wilderness designation of less than one percent of Michigan’s three million acres of national forest lands had split the state’s conservation community in two and challenged lawmakers to take a stand on an issue considered a political hot potato.

Within this contentious climate, in 1987 Congress passed the Michigan Wilderness Act, protecting 90,000 acres of spectacular old growth forests, lakes and dunes around the state that became these beloved wilderness areas:  Big Island Lake, Delirium, Horseshoe Bay, Mackinac, McCormick, Nordhouse Dunes, Rock River Canyon, Round Island, Sturgeon River Gorge, and Sylvania.

“A decade-long campaign was an incredible undertaking, but none of us involved will ever question whether or not it was worth it when we look at the splendid shores and wild heart of Michigan that are this heroic effort’s living legacy,” says Jane Elder, a passionate advocate who walked the halls of Congress and hiked wilderness trails to help win the fight.

“Even though this was, at times, a divisive and emotionally charged issue, over the years we found common ground across rural and urban areas, in both parties, and in both houses of Congress,” she adds.  “This momentum carried us to a presidential signature in 1987.”

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Act, the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter is hosting three events this spring and summer to tell the gripping story behind this historic legislation that began unfolding in 1977 when the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) started looking for areas for potential wilderness designation.

The Michigan Wilderness Celebration series kicks off Saturday, May 19, from 11 am to Noon with a program celebrating Nordhouse Dunes. The event will feature reminiscences by key players in the political drama who fought to protect these wilderness areas and be followed by guided and individual hikes of Nordhouse Dunes. The program begins at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area adjacent to Nordhouse Dunes between Ludington and Manistee on the Lake Michigan coast (at the end of W. Forest Trail Road).

Speakers at Nordhouse Dunes will include Chapter Director Anne Woiwode, who was a young environmentalist at the time, US Forest Service staff, and local activists who fought for the designation.

The Michigan Wilderness Act has its roots in the USFS’s Roadless Area Review and Evaluation 2 (RARE 2), a national process it started in 1977 to identify and propose qualifying areas in national forests for potential wilderness designation. In Michigan, teams of Sierra Club volunteers got involved and visited all areas under consideration, recording their observations on a comprehensive checklist used to rate them.

“In an era of typewriters and the exotic new technology of photocopiers, Jane and dozens of volunteers were the point people on organizing the information and the activists to push for passage of the areas identified,” says Woiwode. “But politics got complicated early on, and it became an enormous battle.”

By 1980, Congressman Bob Carr and Senator Donald Riegle had sponsored Michigan wilderness bills in the U.S. House and Senate respectively, but Representative Carr lost his seat eventually after redistricting, and Senator Riegle reversed his support for some areas under pressure from wilderness opponents, delaying enactment for another Congress. Fortunately, Congressman Dale Kildee took up the banner in the House and stewarded it through to passage, along with Senator Carl Levin’s able help and Reigle’s renewed support in the Senate.

“The beauty of the wilderness law is that nothing man had done has changed the lands; they are managed much as they came from the hand of God,” said Kildee.  “I know not everyone is going to visit a wilderness area, but it is nice to know in today’s high-tech society, there will always be areas where people can ski, snowshoe or paddle a canoe in an absolutely motorless area.

“This is all possible because 25 years ago we had the foresight and wisdom to understand that some parts of a forest are too precious to develop.”

In Michigan, opposition to the bill was strong among UP legislators, and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs refused to support the wilderness designation. The arguments given back then sound familiar today:  wilderness and old growth have no value; you can’t manage wildlife (i.e. cut timber for deer or grouse habitat) in protected areas; we need to harvest valuable timber, and we have a right to use our motorized vehicles on public land.

“These are common themes of opposition today,” says Woiwode.  “It demonstrates the battle to protect Michigan’s natural heritage will never be over—we have to remain vigilant.”

The Michigan Wilderness Celebration continues on July 15 with a presentation and picnic at Sylvania Wilderness and on Aug. 18 with a presentation and hike at Horseshoe Bay Wilderness.

For details on any of these events, visit or email or call 517-484-2372.


NOTE: This event begins at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area adjacent to Nordhouse Dunes between Ludington and Manistee on the Lake Michigan coast. Directions below. If you drive, you'll need to purchase a pass for your vehicle at the Recreation Area if you don't have an annual pass already. Details are at the Huron Manistee National Forest website at

Directions to Nordhouse Dunes event:
West Forest Trail Road enters the wilderness area from U.S. 31. Follow W. Forest Trail Road (paved) west about eight miles from U.S. 31 to the group campsite and parking lot on Porter Creek Road. There are signs. The two "loops" at the end of Porter Creek Road are the parking area with access to the dunes and beach as well as the group campsite. The observation tower is also near the parking lot. Map of Lake Michigan Recreation Area campgrounds: 

BYOC:  Bring your own chair if you’d like to sit during the program and pack a lunch and swimsuit for the beach afterwards or hiking gear to explore the beauty of Nordhouse Dunes.