September 20, 2012

Mason Tract and Au Sable River Protected from Oil and Gas Drilling

Sierra Club and Anglers of Au Sable Win Nine-Year Battle

For the first time in nearly a decade, a rare, truly wild stretch of the Au Sable River is free from the threat of a proposed oil and gas drilling project that would have endangered the state’s premier trout stream and one of its most spectacular old growth forests.

In 2003, a Traverse City oil and gas exploration company sought a permit to place a drilling pad in an old growth area of Huron-Manistee National Forest next to the Mason Tract, a wild piece of land hugging the Au Sable River. This week that company, Savoy Energy, told the US Forest Service (USFS) that it is abandoning its nine-year effort to drill in the so-called South Branch area. 

“This is a victory for everyone— the environment, Michigan and the people who enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the Au Sable River,” said Anne Woiwode, Michigan Chapter director.  “It’s also a victory for the Sierra Club and Anglers of the Au Sable which remained vigilant about this ill-advised proposal and the federal approval process all these years.”

The Mason Tract was designated “Forever Wild” by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fifty years ago and boasts spectacular fishing, hunting, canoeing, cross-country skiing and hiking.  The drilling pad would have been located near the Mason Chapel, an open-air, non-denominational space beloved by fisherman and other river users.

The reason for Savoy Energy’s application withdrawal isn’t clear, but the involvement of the Sierra Club and the Anglers of the Au Sable in opposing the proposal no doubt played a significant role, said Woiwode.

Nine years ago, Nancy Shiffler, a long-time Sierra Club member and volunteer, first noticed that the proposed well was on national forest land designated as old growth in 1986, and adjacent to the Mason Tract.  She alerted the Michigan Chapter’s forest policy specialist, Marvin Roberson, who tracked the project to determine if correct procedures for approval of an application to the USFS were followed.

They weren’t, and the Sierra Club with the Anglers of the Au Sable actively fought the proposal, using tactics that included a successful lawsuit against the Huron-Manistee National Forest after the USFS failed to adequately assess all viable alternatives to the proposed siting of the well pad.  The Sierra Club had submitted a suggestion for another location to the USFS that would have kept the Mason Tract safe from the impacts of drilling, according to Roberson, but that alternative was rejected.

Ultimately, a federal judge agreed with the conservation groups and remanded the case to the USFS, requiring a full Environmental Impact Statement be conducted, a year-long process the agency was finishing up when it received the withdrawal letter from Savoy earlier this week.

“This is a perfect example of why the Sierra Club has been around for 45 years in Michigan and 120 years in the nation,” said Roberson.  “We have a vast network of dedicated, vigilant volunteers and knowledgeable staff who know what to do and have the willingness to stay in the fight until it’s won.”

Woiwode agrees. “The Sierra Club is the only organization in Michigan with the policy expertise in matters like this to have made this happen. Marvin is among the very few people who understands how the sometimes complicated federal and state approval process works,” she said.

Parts of the Mason Tract were originally owned by Bill Durant, the founder of General Motors, who built a grand home dubbed Durant’s Castle in the 1930s that burned down before he could live in it. Soon after, George Mason, the president of American Motors, purchased the rest of the properties on either side of the south section of the Au Sable River.  He willed the piece to the state when he died, and it became the largest wild stretch of river in Michigan’s lower peninsula.

“The combination of Sierra Club’s policy expertise coupled with the extensive on-the-ground knowledge of Anglers of the Au Sable made for a terrific partnership,” Roberson said. “The Mason Tract is safe for now but we have to stay vigilant and hope that this sets a precedent so other companies won’t try to drill foolishly near our few remaining precious pieces of wilderness.”

For an in-depth look at the story behind the protection of the Mason Tract and Au Sable River, click here.


September 19, 2012

Clean Energy Advocates Pan DEQ Awards To 3 Coal Plants

Contact: Tiffany Hartung, 231.747.7489,

Push for DEQ to protect Michiganders’ health, stop phony awards

LANSING – Clean energy advocates are speaking out after DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and Holland Board of Public Works coal plants today received “Neighborhood Environmental Partners Awards” from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The advocates want to know why the DEQ is patting bad actors and notorious polluters on the back and letting its mission to protect the health and safety of Michigan residents fall to the wayside.

“If these were trophies for dangerous and poisonous polluters, then these companies should win hands down,” said Tiffany Hartung with Sierra Club, “but they should not be honored for being neighborhood environmental partners. There is evidence that these coal plants are pouring toxins into nearby waterways, harming Michigan residents. The DEQ should be giving out awards to clean energy leaders, instead. Clean energy is cheaper to produce, creates good jobs in Michigan, and, most importantly, does not endanger our health. Families should be the winners here, not polluters."

The three DEQ honorees are Consumers Energy’s J.R. Whiting coal plant, DTE Energy’s Monroe coal plant, and the Holland Board of Public Works’ James DeYoung plant. According to the DEQ, the Neighborhood Environmental Partners program was developed to recognize facilities for “work on local projects that benefit their communities and the environment.”

Topping the award list is one of the state’s biggest polluters, the DTE Monroe coal plant. The plant is the largest emitter of toxic mercury pollution in Michigan; in 2010 the US Environmental Protection Agency took DTE to court for failing to install modern pollution controls.  

Holland’s DeYoung power station sulfur dioxide pollution threatens Holland residents with emissions that are 3.5 times the public-health based ambient standard; while Consumers’ Whiting facility is one of the coal ash sites in the state that already has been shown to cause damage to the environment.

“DEQ should stop handing out shoddy awards to big polluters and prioritize creating a healthy Michigan by protecting communities and our natural resources,” said Susan Harley with Clean Water Action. ”Dirty energy extracts a price too high for Michiganders to shoulder. These dirty coal plants are hurting our families, our children and, most importantly, our future.”

The Michigan Environmental Council recently reported that Michigan’s coal plants cost a family of four an average of more than $500 a year in health expenses and damages, including hospital admissions, premature death, asthma treatments, respiratory problems, cardiovascular problems and more. The total price tag, MEC research revealed, is about $1.5 billion annually in health care costs.


About Clean Energy Now: CEN is a coalition of groups that supports policies that will move Michigan beyond coal power toward greater use of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency as a way to protect the environment and build prosperity.  Follow the campaign at

September 11, 2012

Sierra Club's Environmental Justice Program Makes a Difference in Detroit

By Ryan Stock, Environmental Justice Intern

As a graduate student pursuing a degree in Environmental Justice at the University of Michigan, I grew increasingly enraged by the disproportionate burden of toxic substances that low-income and ethnic/racial minority communities in Detroit must endure. When Sierra Club’s Rhonda Anderson shared her work with downriver communities to my school, I instantly approached her for an internship!

Since May, we’ve:
  • compiled data for each specific community we work in, combining toxic release data from industrial facilities with public health data;
  • pressed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to establish cumulative impact consideration for these communities;
  • drafted a blueprint for clean energy downriver;
  • worked with Blue-Green Alliance to leverage cleaner operations for US Steel and Severstal Steel;
  • begun the process of drafting new Environmental Justice legislation for Michigan;
  • wrote a State of the Environment Report for Detroit that details industry contributions to pollution, climate change, poverty and negative public health outcomes.

The list goes on and on. However, what I am most proud of is working side-by-side with Rhonda. Never in my life have I had a supervisor who respected me as an equal, with such a precise moral compass and clairvoyant vision. Now I’m scared I will never find a job this rewarding!

For more information about the Sierra Club's  Environmental Justice program in Detroit, visit

September 6, 2012

Clean Energy Advocates Applaud Public Comments Extension

News from Clean Energy Now

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Holland Residents Can Now Address Study’s Shortcomings,
As Their Energy Future is Determined

HOLLAND, MI - After two days of hearings and nearly three dozen local voices highlighting severe deficiencies in Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) commissioned study, Holland residents were encouraged to see that the Board extended the public comment period on future electric generation options. Most of the residents who testified at the hearings raised extensive concerns about the Board's failure to seriously consider clean energy options like efficiency and renewable sources. Clean air and clean energy advocates still question whether HBPW will provide substantive responses to the comments submitted, including directing the consulting firm to run additional scenarios that reflect the goals of the Community Energy Planning process that thousands of Holland residents participated in and what was expected to help guide future decisions by HBPW.

“The Holland Board of Public Works has the clean energy future of Holland in their hands, and all Holland residents deserve a seat at the table. We applaud the Board for finally allowing the public to comment, but their work isn’t done,” said Jan O’Connell with Sierra Club. “Transitioning Holland to clean, renewable energy sources is a common sense solution that will create jobs and save families money.  Renewable energy and energy efficiency haven’t been seriously examined, and there has been an unnecessary push for a large gas-fired power plant. Holland families deserve a serious discussion over the possibilities of renewable energy."