September 29, 2014

What Gives You More Bang for Your Grocery Buck?

New Documentary Short Shows Healthy, Local Food is the Real Bargain in Michigan

Sept. 29, 2014  Media Contact: Gail Philbin, 312-493-2384,

Lansing, Mich.— A new documentary short released today by the Less=More sustainable agriculture coalition demonstrates how the purchase of food from local Michigan farmers who use healthy, sustainable practices has a greater benefit to local economies, the environment and public health than products from the conventional industrial agriculture system.

Local, Healthy Food: The Real Bargain, a nine-minute short directed by Traverse City resident Kirk Rasmussen, explores the economic, environmental and health effects of consumer shopping choices through interviews with farmers, academic researchers and other experts in Michigan. The film is available online at

“Say a dollar is spent in a certain community, 73 cents on that dollar stays in that community, as opposed to spending money at a non-locally owned business -- only 42 cents on a dollar stays in the community,” explains Hanna Schulze, program and events coordinator at Local First in Grand Rapids, a non-profit that supports local, sustainable economies. That translates to local jobs created, money circulated and more local investment, she says.

Jill Johnson of Crane Dance Farm, a Middleville livestock farmer interviewed in the film, proves Schulze’s point. “We try to buy everything we can as locally as possible because, just like our customers want to buy food from us because they know us and trust us, we buy things from people we know and we trust. All of our grain comes from farmers that grew it that we know.”

Schulze notes that consumers are accustomed to thinking food should be inexpensive because of its wide availability and a lack of understanding about what makes it is so cheap.

“Why should I spend $9/pound on ground beef when I can go to XYZ store and get it for $2/pound. We’re not asking ourselves why is it $2/pound,” she says.

Local, Healthy Food: The Real Bargain answers Schulze’s question—economies of scale give industrial agriculture and especially large-scale animal facilities known as factory farms a huge advantage over small-scale, local producers using earth-friendly farming practices. In addition, mega “farms” that confine livestock in warehouses often for their entire lives or in crowded, open feedlots get substantial taxpayer subsidies--often for handling animal waste-- their sustainable counterparts don’t receive. A 2013 report issued by Less=More offered evidence that even when poor disposal practices of the millions of gallons of chemical- and contaminant-filled wastes Michigan factory farms generate lead to pollution of water, land and air, and violations of state and federal environmental laws, they still receive taxpayer support.

Less=More defines sustainable agriculture as a system that emphasizes stewardship of natural and human resources and grounded in the principle that we must meet our present food needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. Sustainable agriculture protects and improves the soil, conserves native biodiversity and habitats, and provides viable farm livelihoods as a consequence of food production. Sustainable farms are appropriate for the landscape and the local economy and produce safe, healthy food, treat workers with respect and animals humanely, and sustain communities.

In Local, Healthy Food: The Real Bargain, Catherine Badgley, a University of Michigan assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology, points out that buying local, sustainable food is a growing movement in Michigan. “But it’s more expensive than the cheaply grown food produced by industrial food system. When you think about all the different things that [buying local is] supporting—you’re supporting the local economy, environmental quality, better health for us, higher animal welfare, it’s really a bargain.”

The film’s director, Kirk Rasmussen, is a student in Grand Valley State University’s film program, who served as an intern last summer for the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, which is a member of Less=More. He says he learned a great deal from making the documentary.

"I found I really had started making the film for myself, regarding the struggles of being constantly bombarded by indecision when it came to purchasing food on a tight budget,” says Rasmussen. “Less=More’s mission to create change around livestock production and local economies brought me into contact with a group of truly inspiring people that helped me to answer these questions.” 

Less=More is a sustainable agriculture coalition tackling the inequity of Farm Bill subsidies in Michigan that favor polluting factory farms over safe, sustainable livestock farms at the expense of the environment and public health. In 2013, the coalition released a report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, that explores the relationship between Farm Bill subsidies and factory farm pollution in Michigan. To download Restoring the Balance, visit: 

Less=More is comprised of national, state and local organizations and farmers, including: Beery Farms of Michigan, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, ELFCO Food Cooperative, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Small Farm Council, Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. 

Less=More is made possible in part by support from the Irwin Andrew Porter Foundation.

Less support for polluting factory farms means a more sustainable Michigan.  For more information, visit,   

September 23, 2014

Sierra Club Environmental Awards Celebration Oct. 21 in Grand Rapids



Honoring Mayor George Heartwell with the Jane Elder Environmentalist of the Year Award and T. Arnold (Arn) Boezaart with the Burton V. Barnes Award
Tues., Oct. 21, 5:30-7:30pm; 6:15pm awards presentation
McFadden’s Restaurant, 3rd Floor Pearl Room 58 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids
H'ors d'ouevres reception; Happy Hour Cash Bar $2/drafts & well drinks; $2 off all other drinks
Miniumum suggested donation of $10 per person.
Please join us in the celebration of the great vision and achievements of Mayor George Heartwell and T. Arnold Boezaart—two dynamos in the world of sustainable energy who have provided extraordinary leadership in West Michigan and across the state through their energy work, practices and initiatives.
Unable to attend this Environmental Awards Celebration?  Please consider making a donation to the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter to support our citizen-based strong advocacy and lobbying programs. We're working to stop climate disruption by moving Michigan off fossil fuels and into clean, renewable energy; protect and restore our forests and natural resources; level the play field for clean, sustainable agriculture; and invest in electing legislators who care about our environment and our states future.

September 15, 2014

Gov. Snyder Should Act On Great Lakes Oil Spill Threat

For Immediate Release: Monday, Sept. 15, 2014

David Holtz, Sierra Club                                 Liz Kirkwood, For Love of Water

Pressure Mounts for Gov. Snyder to Act as Coast Guard Admits Its Unprepared
for Heavy Oil Spill

Citizens groups concerned that Enbridge plans to bring more heavy oil through Michigan pipelines

Citizens groups today called on Gov. Rick Snyder to take immediate steps toward protecting Michigan from oil pipelines running through the Straits of Mackinac, in the wake of revelations that the United States Coast Guard cannot effectively respond to a major heavy oil spill in the Great Lakes.

“The governor not only has the authority but the responsibility to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of a potentially catastrophic oil spill posed by two huge Enbridge oil pipelines across the straits,” said David Holtz, Executive Committee Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.  “The cost to our state’s economy and our Great Lakes system is just too great for this not to be an urgent priority for the governor.”

News reports last week revealed that lack of equipment, training, and funding left the Coast Guard—designated as first responders for any oil spill in the lakes—unprepared for a heavy oil spill.  This is based on a 2013 Coast Guard study and statements made by Coast Guard officials who raise particular concern that heavy tar sands oil sinks below the surface, making traditional recovery methods ineffective. 

Environmental leaders say that in addition to keeping out tar sands oil, what’s needed is for the governor to assert authority under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and start an open public process to evaluate the safety and future of the Line 5 pipelines that run through the Straits.

Given the increased risks and clean-up challenges posed by heavy tar sands oil, citizens groups say the governor should also move to modify the state’s 1953 easement agreement with Enbridge to ensure that heavy tar sands are not moving through Line 5.  Enbridge says the heavy oils are not moving through the Straits, but the groups point out that this could change at any time without public notice or state approval.

“If our governor is serious about protecting the Great Lakes, he will heed the Coast Guard warning and prevent tar sands from moving through the Straits as a condition of the state's easement with Enbridge,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW in Traverse City. ”

At the same time Enbridge is saying there are no tar sands oils in Line 5, the company is investing between $36 and $43 billion in the next five years to expand its nearly 16,000 miles of pipeline systems. Many believe it is part of its plan to bring more tar sands oil in this direction. One of their biggest projects is to expand the Alberta Clipper pipeline, which connects the tar sands formation in Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin where Line 5 begins on the shores of Lake Superior. When completed, the Alberta Clipper will double its capacity to 880,000 barrels of oil per day.  This expansion has been controversial because the company has broken up its expansion into pieces to avoid the scrutiny and public process involved in seeking a U.S. Presidential permit.

As for his response, Gov. Snyder has formed a task force to study oil pipelines across the state, including the Enbridge pipeline issue, over the next year or so, a process that is not open to the public.

“This can’t just be a problem you toss to a task force of agencies who work in the dark within a long, drawn out process that can be too easily influenced by Enbridge and the oil industry,” said Holtz.  “This should be a much higher priority and the public needs be involved.  Should there even be oil pipelines in the Great Lakes?  That’s the real question we need to ask and answer.”

The increased risks and difficulty of cleaning up tar sands oils became apparent when in 2010 an Enbridge oil pipeline spilled one million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. This is the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, and more than four years and a billion dollars later the cleanup is ongoing.

An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would be catastrophic. According to University of Michigan researcher, Dr. David Schwab, the Straits of Mackinac is the “worse possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.”  At any moment, there are more than 1 million gallons of oil in the pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac. So even if a pipeline leak were detected immediately and shut off, an enormous spill could occur. The University’s modeling found that strong and shifting currents at the Straits would disperse crude oil in both east and west directions, affecting large areas of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shorelines. Passenger ferry service and drinking water would be cut to Mackinac Island.

“The Coast Guard report is more grave news about what we already know – we don’t want to have to clean up an oil spill in the Great Lakes,” said Kirkwood. “We should turn our focus from cleanup to prevention, and the best way to prevent a spill is for the state to look at whether the pipeline should be there in the first place. The governor needs to start that process immediately.”

Video: Available in other formats upon request.
Background: A pair of underwater oil pipelines carry nearly 23 million gallons of oil through the Straits of Mackinac every day. The pipelines are owned by Enbridge, the Canadian company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill - the largest inland spill in U.S. history. Enbridge pipelines had more than 1,000 spills in the United States and Canada between 1999 and 2013.  Research by the University of Michigan has shown that an oil spill would prove catastrophic in the strong, erratic currents of the Straits. FLOW and Sierra Club are part of the Oil and Water Don't Mix campaign. For more information, visit  

September 14, 2014



Thursday, August 21, 2014
Contact: Gabby Brown,, 202-261-2382. Mark Westlund, 415-977-5719;
This week, the State Department released documents revealing a scheme by Canadian tar sands giant Enbridge to bypass the Presidential Permit process for expansion of its Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline. Enbridge has applied to double the capacity of the pipeline, also known as Line 67, to put it on par with the tar sands carrying capacity of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department has previously made clear that any such expansion requires approval and comprehensive environmental review, and is currently undertaking that review.
Not content to wait for the legally required federal permitting process and environmental review, Enbridge has devised a scheme to transfer the dirty tar sands crude from Alberta Clipper to another pipeline, Line 3, just north of the border, then re-transfer it back to Alberta Clipper once it’s crossed into the United States. This blatant scheme to move up to twice the amount allotted in Enbridge’s permit seems to assert that the pipeline would only impact the few miles around the border crossing, a clear misinterpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law.
Shockingly, in a two page letter, a mid-level State Department official indicated Enbridge could move forward with this plan despite the fact that it clearly violates the capacity limit imposed by the permit the State Department issued.
“With no public notice, the State Department has shockingly backtracked on its commitment to require environmental review and approval before more dirty tar sands oil enters the United States through Minnesota,” said Marc Fink, a Minnesota-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The State Department has violated the public's right to transparency and participation in approval of projects that impact the health and safety of our communities, land, water and climate,” added Kate Jacobson, of MN350.  “Allowing significantly more tar sand oil to flow before a full environmental impact analysis is complete is unacceptable and irresponsible.”
“The State Department doesn't get to make up the law as it goes. This is particularly troubling in light of allegations of an inappropriately cozy relationship between the State Department and the oil industry surrounding the Keystone XL environmental impact statement,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel for National Wildlife Federation.  “The State Department cannot in effect approve a doubling of the amount of climate-disrupting tar sands being carried into the Great Lakes region without conducting a proper public review and permitting process. That is a clear violation of the law and the State Department must immediately reverse course and put the best interests of America first.”
“When will Canada have enough risky pipelines cutting thru our land and water? When is enough?” asked Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska. “For the promise of jobs and energy independence, landowners and tribes are being sold out so foreign corporations can get tar sands on the export market. Canada is engaged in a scam circumventing federal, state and local laws all in the name of exporting their tar sands while we take on all the risk of spills.”
"Expanding the Alberta Clipper pipeline is entirely inconsistent with the administration's commitment to taking aggressive action on climate change, and it's also illegal," said Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes. "The President's promise to decide Keystone XL based on its climate impacts is completely meaningless if the State Department is simultaneously permitting other tar sands pipelines behind closed doors."
“Enbridge can’t show how this project is in the nation’s interest, so instead they are trying to hoodwink its regulators,” said Anthony Swift, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Blindly approving Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline expansion would make a mockery of our permitting process and undermine our efforts to address climate change.”
“Allowing more tar sands oil into the United States without conducting impact analyses is unconscionable and illegal. A State Department spokesman said just this week that the Department is committed to ‘a rigorous, objective, and transparent review process’ with regards to pipeline approval. That is not possible if they eschew a review process altogether,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth.
Jason Kowalski, Policy Director of, said "When we blocked Keystone XL, the fossil fuel industry learned that they have a much stronger hand to play in back rooms than on the streets. They will break the law and wreck our climate if that's what it takes for them to make a buck -- and we will be ready to stand up to them, from Nebraska, to Minnesota, to the streets of New York City." 
"Apparently John Kerry's Department of State doesn't think the President's Climate Test should apply to an additional 350,000 barrels per day of dirty tar sands oil. They're trying to approve almost half the volume of the KXL pipeline, but it won't work. If this stands, this will be a disaster for the climate and for the President's credibility,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International.  “It's terrible timing, as the President prepares to join other world leaders in New York next month.  You can't approve more tar sands into the U.S. and then turn around and talk about a commitment to combating climate change with a straight face. That's simply climate denial.”
Secretary Kerry and President Obama have both committed to making meaningful progress on climate, and with the international Climate Summit around the corner, the eyes of the world are watching to see how seriously the United States is taking climate action. Allowing this decision to stand would prioritize Enbridge’s desire to expand development of the dirtiest fuel source on the planet over the interests of the American people, and would undermine any credibility President Obama has to encourage other countries to commit to combat climate change.
In the event that the Obama Administration does not recognize the dire consequences of allowing this decision to go through, groups opposed to tar sands expansion are currently evaluating their legal options to force an injunction on construction.

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