April 30, 2014

Sierra Club Comments to the Michigan Agriculture Commission Regarding Proposed GAAMPS Changes

By Gail Philbin, Assistant Director, Michigan Sierra Club, April 28, 2014

The Michigan Sierra Club strongly urges the Michigan Agriculture Commission to revise proposed changes to the “Revised Draft 2014 GAAMPS for Site Selection and Odor Control for New and Expanding Livestock Facilities” (Draft GAAMPS). While we applaud the recognition in the Draft GAAMPS that “The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development supports the expansion of urban agriculture and livestock production across the state,” we are concerned the actual effect of the Draft GAAMPS would be to remove protection for such facilities under the Right to Farm Act while making it much easier for large operations to earn protection in agriculturally zoned areas.

Specifically, Sierra Club requests the Commission modify or drop three proposed changes:

1. The creation of a new category of livestock facility that expands Siting GAAMPS to include any number of animals, which will encompass small urban and suburban farmers like folks with a flock of backyard chickens in the city;

2. A new definition for areas not covered by the Siting GAAMPs -- primarily residential areas not zoned agricultural—that will exclude many of these same “backyard farmers” from protection; and

3. An allowance for producers in agriculturally zoned areas building facilities that house less than 500 animal units to self-assess to determine if it meets the applicable standards in these GAAMPs.

These proposed changes to the Siting GAAMPs are both counter-intuitive and contradictory. They are counter-intuitive, because they go directly against the acknowledgement in the Draft GAAMPS of what is one of the hottest trends in food in Michigan: the public demand for access to more local, healthy, sustainable food. Consumer tastes are shifting away from the intensive livestock system that generates the vast majority of the products available in stores and restaurants today. More people are going out of their way to shop at farmers markets and other local outlets because they care about the quality of the food they eat and its impact on their health and the environment. And more people are returning to a practice common a century ago of growing their own food as the best way to ensure their families have safe, healthy, sustainable meals.

The reasoning behind the Siting GAAMPS rule changes also contradicts the logic used by the state back in 1999 when it amended the Right to Farm Act to remove the power of local units of government to restrict factory farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) in terms of siting, size and other ways. So, on the one hand, the state is saying a local unit of government is qualified to determine what goes on within its borders concerning, say, a dozen birds in a back yard, but on the other hand, it has no say in the matter if we’re talking about one million birds or thousands of cows in the neighborhood.

You can’t have it both ways.

It’s really hard to understand this removal of protection for an individual’s backyard farm when you look at the agricultural producers who will continue to receive Right to Farm protection under the Siting GAAMPs regardless of any changes or easily earn it through the proposed self-assessment change. CAFOs are massive enterprises with thousands of warehoused animals that generate millions of gallons of waste laden with pathogens, chemicals, antibiotics and contaminants that often end up in our waterways. There are 238 factory farms in Michigan that annually spread over two million tons of untreated livestock wastes on land. This has led to polluted groundwater and drinking water; harmful algae blooms; fish kills; closed beaches; antibiotic resistant bacteria and a host of health issues.

Taxpayer dollars in the form of federal Farm Bill subsidies already favor CAFOs over sustainable farms in Michigan, keeping prices for industrial products artificially low compared to the healthier, locally grown meat, dairy, poultry and eggs many people prefer. A report released by the Less=More coalition documents how polluting factory farms in Michigan continue to receive taxpayer subsidies despite being cited and fined for environmental violations. I am including a copy of Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape with these comments. It is also downloadable at

By removing GAAMPs protection from small-scale efforts like the family in the city raising a handful of chickens for fresh eggs while making it easier for larger producers to meet GAAMPs standards and, thus, win Right to Farm protection, the Michigan Agriculture Commission is making it harder for citizens to have a choice in the kind of food they have access to. It is essentially taking sides in the marketplace and favoring subsidized factory farms over local citizens who simply want to grow their own food to ensure the health of their family, community and the environment.

Please let me know of your decision on this important matter.

April 9, 2014

Earth Day Cedar Tree Planting

Help Us Plant 50 Cedar Trees Along the Manistee River on May 19

Due to the long winter and frozen ground, we had to reschedule our Earth Day cedar tree planting along the Manistee River to May 19. On that Monday, from 3-6pm, the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club is partnering with Cedars of the Au Sable, Huron Pines and AmeriCorp, to organize and chaperone 30-40 local northeast Michigan children and adults to plant 50 cedar saplings on the Upper Manistee River.

The Chapter has paid for the trees, tree cages and other materials and Sierra Club members and nonmembers are encouraged to volunteer to help with this special Earth Day planting.

For more information, click here for a flyer.

To RSVP, contact or call him at 810-632-7766.

April 1, 2014

Snyder Administration Approves Handout to Oil Drilling Corporations Right After BP Spills in Lake Michigan

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mike Berkowitz

Snyder Administration Approves Handout to Oil Drilling Corporations Right After BP Spills in Lake Michigan
New Law Flies in the Face of Taxpayers and Landowners

LANSING—Michigan property owners and taxpayers have lost ground today as Governor Snyder’s administration today signed into law a controversial bill package that gives oil and gas companies new powers to site pipelines on private property, while reducing the taxes the industry pays.  HB 4885 (Nesbitt), HB 5254 (Outman), HB 5255 (Stallworth), and HB 5274 (Pettalia) are designed to encourage so-called enhanced oil recovery operations, which entail pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into closed oil wells to extract previously unattainable oil.  Under the new law, oil and gas companies will receive a 40% reduction in the oil severance tax as well as a 20% reduction for natural gas, essentially handing money to the industry.

“This law hurts taxpayers, landowners, and threatens water supplies while giving taxpayer handouts to the oil and gas industry,” said Mike Berkowitz, Legislative Director for the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.  “Giving tax breaks to the oil industry that is putting our water at risk while they make record profits is just plain wrong. Especially considering that BP just spilled 1600 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan last week.  Michiganders deserve better from Governor Snyder and the Michigan Legislature than this harmful law.

Supporters of the industry-backed proposals say there might be environmental benefits from carbon sequestration during the oil recovery process that is included as part of the bill package.  Those claims, however, ignore the damage that will likely result from expanded drilling in environmentally sensitive areas.  Moreover, any benefits from carbon sequestration must be weighed against disruptive new pipeline construction, well conversions required to accommodate the process, additional air pollution as well as costs and environmental impacts of increased transport of oil.  These impacts combined with the increased combustion of oil extracted mean the bill package will likely result in the release of more greenhouse gases. 

“This law poses an alarming new threat for all Michigan residents who are facing aggressive oil, gas and related pipeline construction in their communities.  The Sierra Club strongly opposes the expansion of eminent domain authority to private oil and gas companies at the expense of the rights of private property owners and the public” said Anne Woiwode, Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.  “The rapid expansion of oil and tar sands being pumped through Michigan pipelines is raising legitimate concerns from private landowners about the safety of these pipelines near their homes and businesses.  Giving oil and gas companies more ability to take lands for the transportation of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide pipeline development is the wrong decision for Michigan, for clean water, and for property owners.”

Sierra Club applauds Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood for sponsoring an amendment to HB 4885, which was adopted, that prevents companies who have been convicted of an anti-trust violation from getting a break on their severance tax for Enhanced Oil Recovery operations. This comes in light of Encana Oil and Gas USA and Chesapeake Energy Corporation recently being charged with collusion for conspiring to hold bid prices down in an October 2010 auction of oil and gas leases.

Michiganders are continuing to face increased risks to their water supplies, and now will have fewer rights over their property, while the oil and gas industry reaps the benefits of a corporate tax handout.

 The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, with over 150,000 members and supporters in Michigan