July 14, 2016

PRESS RELEASE: New MDEQ Director Ties to Big Oil Disqualify Her from Enbridge Line 5 Decisions

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sierra Club Calls For Heidi Grether To Disqualify Herself 
From Involvement in Enbridge Line 5 Great Lakes Decisions
New Michigan Environmental Chief Who Bragged About Protecting BP Oil 
Would Lead State's Inquiry Into Controversial Pipelines

LANSING--Sierra Club said today that a former oil industry executive appointed as the state’s top environmental official should recuse herself from involvement in decisions about the future of Enbridge’s controversial Great Lakes pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. 

“Heidi Grether’s ties to the oil industry should disqualify her from taking part in important decisions involving oil pipelines in the Great Lakes,” said David Holtz, Michigan Chapter Chair of Sierra Club  “Grether should make it clear she will recuse herself from being involved in the state’s evaluation of Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.  Protecting the Great Lakes shouldn’t fall to someone with such close ties to an industry whose profits will be directly impacted by her decisions as a public official.”

Grether, who will take over as director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on August 1, will oversee the state agency that is co-leading the state’s response to the threat of Line 5 in the Straits.   The MDEQ is also playing a key decision-making role in pipeline policy as co-chair of the governor’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.  

As General Manager of Gulf Coast External Affairs for BP America Inc., Grether oversaw the oil giant’s response to the massive 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  Her work in the oil industry dates to 1993, according to her LinkedIn page.  She took credit on her LinkedIn page for preventing “legislation adverse to BP being introduced in the Gulf states.”

“Grether, as director of MDEQ, may be tempted to help out the oil industry in Michigan, just as she did in 2010 in the Gulf when she lobbied against legislation impacting the industry,” said Holtz.   “It doesn’t make sense to have someone with those close ties to the oil industry overseeing protection of the Great Lakes from oil pipelines who in a few months may be looking for another job when Gov. Snyder leaves office.”


July 13, 2016

Groups Call on Feds to Investigate Possible Civil Rights Violations in Flint and Detroit

Representatives from Flint and Detroit, as well as state-wide and national groups, are calling on federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to review whether the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) are violating civil rights laws that prohibit actions and policies that discriminate on the basis of race, national origin or disability.

In a letter released this morning, the groups called on the EPA Office of Civil Rights and HHS Office for Civil Rights to review whether MDEQ and MDHHS are in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which bar the use of federal funds for activities that have an unjustified, unequal impact on the basis of race, color, national origin or disability.

The letter asked federal agencies to require the Michigan state agencies to institute policies designed to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The groups asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to coordinate the interagency investigation.
"The federal government, including the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights, HHS and the DOJ, have a duty to ensure that Michigan comply with the law and stop taking actions that imperil the health and well-being of the state’s residents of color, immigrants and people with disabilities who have the same rights as other Michigan residents," said Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado, who helped draft the complaint letter on behalf of Flint and Detroit-based community organizations as well as state-wide and national groups and individuals.

In the letter the groups say MDHHS and MDEQ have been failing to comply with these federal civil rights laws. "The Flint water crisis is the tragic result of the chronic refusal of MDEQ and MDHHS to comply with their civil rights obligations," the letter states.

Groups signing the letter include The ACLU of Michigan, Community Development Organization, Crossing Water, Food & Water Watch, Genessee County Hispanic Latino Collaborative, IHM Justice, Jesus People Against Pollution, Michigan Voice, Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, Peace and Sustainability Office, Michigan Faith in Action, NRDC, Ocean Future, Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit, Sierra Club, St. Francis Prayer Center, Southeast Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, Water You Fighting For, West End Revitalization Association, and Yemen American Benevolent Association.

The groups claim both agencies exacerbated the crisis in Flint.

"MDEQ demonstrated callous and unjustifiable indifference to the concerns of Flint's residents – most of whom are African American – before, during and after the switch to Flint River water," the letter states. "Despite noting the poor quality of water in the Flint River, MDEQ disregarded the complaints of residents and failed to take the most basic steps to protect their health."

"I do think race is a factor," said Nakiya Wakes, a Flint mother of two, who is among those supporting this effort. "Flint is a majority black city. The two highest lead levels found were in majority African-American areas," she added.

Wakes, who volunteers with Michigan Faith in Action and Flint Rising, said lead levels in her home were determined to be 1,100 parts per billion, which is more than 70 times EPA’s actionable standard when lead levels are considered to be unsafe.

Wakes had a miscarriage while she was pregnant with twins last year before news of the Flint water crisis broke, when she was unaware of the toxins in the water. Her two children, who had extremely high lead levels in their blood, have serious emotional difficulties and visit therapists. They’ve had problems in school and behavioral issues.

"I do believe lead contamination had something to do with the loss of my twins. The lead prevented them from forming," said Wakes. I lost one at five weeks and the other once in the second trimester."
Lead causes physical and mental impairment. It can cause miscarriages in expectant mothers and has been linked to ADHD and impulsivity.

San Juana "Juani" Olivares, president of Genesee County Hispanic Latino Collaborative, Inc., saw the disadvantages that people with limited English proficiency faced in Flint.

"Huge failures by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services led to the Flint Water Crisis but that crisis was compounded when access to help was not provided in languages that people can understand well," Olivares said.

When public health advisories went out about water filters and bottled water, many people had no knowledge that such help was available and continued to consume toxic water. These state agencies are failing and causing disparities if they do not communicate to people who have limited English proficiency."

Vincent Martin, an executive board member with Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit, said the complaint is necessary "to be protected from institutional racism."
"The environmental decisions that are made nationally are targeted towards communities such as 48217 and Flint." Zip code 48217 is the most polluted zip code in Michigan and predominantly African American.

"When a majority white community has environmental issues, they are resolved with haste. For communities of color, decisions are delayed with excuses and finger pointing. Environmental racism has damaged communities of color for generations. Decisions made are killing off our population."

The groups say the discriminatory origins of the crisis are clear. "MDEQ and MDHHS would never have treated a white, affluent city with the callousness that characterized their approach to Flint. This fundamental injustice has caused Flint residents, and especially Flint’s children, irreparable harm," the groups state.

The groups argue that the federal agencies could help bring Michigan into compliance with federal civil rights laws, eliminate some of the systematic failures that led to the crisis, and help Michigan start on the road toward regaining the trust of its citizens.

David Holtz, the chair of Sierra Club Michigan, which also signed the letter, said the Flint Water Crisis is an issue of fairness and equity.

"Every family, regardless of skin color, has the right to expect that the air they breathe is clean, that the water they drink is safe, and that their government will treat them with fairness and equality," Holtz said. "In Flint, that clearly wasn't the case. There are serious questions about whether the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was following the law and it's the federal government's responsibility to find out."

The groups offered numerous examples of MDEQ and MDHHS actions in Flint and Wayne County that have had a disparate impact on the basis of race, national origin and disability.

In Flint, the groups charge, MDHHS repeatedly failed to offer information about emergency services in languages other than English, which created a barrier to accessing services for those with limited English proficiency. Flint’s immigrant community experienced additional barriers to services when MDHHS announced that officials at water distribution centers would ask for a form of government-issued photo identification. An estimated 1,000 immigrants in Flint are undocumented and government-issued identification is not available to them. As a  result, many continued to consume unsafe water.

The groups also state that the emergency response has failed people with disabilities that limit their ability to access centers where water and filters are provided. Because they were not provided with services in their homes, these individuals have been forced to either rely on the efforts of volunteers or continue to drink and use contaminated water.

The groups state that discriminatory practices at MDEQ are not confined to Flint. In Wayne County, Michigan, MDEQ has demonstrated a pattern and practice of ignoring the disproportionate burden of pollution borne by the local community when making permitting and enforcement decisions.

"MDEQ has recurrently granted emissions limit increases and other permit expansions in overburdened communities of color; entered weak enforcement actions when industrial sources repeatedly violated their permit limits; and ignored the communities’ health concerns, despite comments from community groups consistently raising concerns about the disproportionate health impacts on low-income immigrant communities and communities of color," the letter states.

Some Facts About Disparate Environmental Impact in Michigan
  • A portion of Wayne County, zip code 48217, in Southwest Detroit, is 79.5 percent African-American (only 12 percent white) and University of Michigan scientists found it to be the most polluted zip code in the state.
  • Neighboring Dearborn is approximately half Arab American, eighty percent of Dearborn residents speak a language other than English, and 40 percent have incomes that fall below the poverty line
  • The Michigan Department of Community Health has referred to Detroit, a predominantly black city, "as the epicenter of the asthma burden in Michigan."
  • That same agency found that the prevalence of asthma among adults was 50 percent higher than the statewide average.Ninety-two schools in Wayne County are in areas that violate federal environmental protection laws.The Flint crisis had numerous impacts including: an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that resulted in at least 10 deaths and lead exposure for an unknown number of the city’s children, who have now sustained permanent neurological damage.
The groups note that the disparities in health and environmental protections continue.

"Though disparities in environmental protection in Wayne County have not been the focus of national attention, children of color in Wayne County and across Michigan are saddled with health burdens at an early age because MDHHS and MDEQ similarly refuse to protect them," the groups state.

The groups are asking the federal government to take the following actions, among others:
  • Conduct a thorough compliance review of MDEQ and MDHHS and, particularly, the actions, policies and practices that gave rise to the Flint Water Crisis and, also, the concentration of polluting sources in Wayne County.
  • Require MDEQ and MDHHS to evaluate, in consultation with affected populations, whether a decision will have a "disproportionately high and adverse effect" on the basis of race or national origin and, if so, create mechanisms to ensure that it will only be carried out if further mitigation measures or alternatives that would avoid, minimize, or mitigate the disproportionately high and adverse effect are not practicable.


Keith Rushing, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5236, (757) 897-2147
Marianne Engelman Lado, Earthjustice, (212) 845-7393
Christine Ernst, Earthjustice, (212) 845-7385

Legal Case

Challenging EPA's Failure to Investigate Civil Rights Complaints 

Take Action

July 12, 2016

PRESS RELEASE: State’s Line 5 Agreement Gives Enbridge Special Treatment

Tuesday, July 11, 2016

State’s Line 5 Agreement Gives Enbridge Special Treatment
 Pipeline Giant To Get Access to Final State Recommendations Ahead of Northern Michigan Communities & Public

Media Contact:  David Holtz 313-300-4454/

LANSING—Leading citizens groups with the Oil & Water Don't Mix campaign criticized an agreement announced today by state officials that gives a Canadian pipeline conglomerate access to a final government report on controversial Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac ahead of the public in exchange for $3.5 million in funding from the company to pay for the report. 

Enbridge Energy Partners, Inc., owner of the twin pipelines running through the Straits, will have a minimum of five days to review a state government study of its pipelines in the Straits before the report is released to the public, according to an agreement between the state and Enbridge that was announced today in a press release from Attorney General Bill Schuette. 

"Today’s announced deal with Enbridge not only gives Enbridge a big leg up to publicly shoot down recommendations they don’t like; it also provides them an opportunity to lobby for changes in the report while the public is kept in the dark,” said David HoltzSierra Club Michigan Chapter Chair.  “It’s extremely disappointing that the governor and attorney general are continuing to grant concessions to Enbridge that call into question whether they are truly committed to ending the threat of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

Gov. Snyder appointed an Enbridge executive and others with ties to the industry to a state pipeline advisory board that is charged with overseeing the state’s risk assessment and alternatives studies that are focused on the company’s Line 5 pipelines in the Straits.  Today’s agreement means Enbridge will also be funding the studies while getting special access to their recommendations for Line 5 ahead of the public, including local northern Michigan communities and residents who could be directly impacted by the study’s recommendations.

“Enbridge has huge profits on the line and it’s understandable that their priority is protecting the interests of their shareholders and executives,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For the Love of Water). “But protecting Enbridge’s profits shouldn’t compromise protecting the Great Lakes.   It’s the governor’s job and the attorney general’s job to prioritize protecting the Great Lakes. Today’s agreement again calls into question whether that’s really going to happen. There should be no compromises on the integrity of the state's study when the consequences for Michigan and the Great Lakes are so enormous.” 

Since June, 2014 state advisory groups have been studying what to do about Line 5 in the Straits following intense public pressure surrounding the risky pipelines that were constructed in 1953 and carry up to 23 million gallons of oil a day through the turbulent Straits of Mackinac, including during the winter when the pipes are largely inaccessible under thick ice.

“At a time when the state should be prioritizing transparency and public input it has once again chosen to prioritize the interests of a private company, Enbridge, instead,” said Lynna Kaucheck, Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer. “When it comes to something as precious as our Great Lakes we need to put our communities, our economy and our environment over profit. Shame on the attorney general for giving Enbridge this unworthy advantage over the people of Michigan.”

More than 50 local governments have passed resolutions urging action to protect the Great Lakes from a Line 5 oil spill.  Enbridge in 2010 was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history in the Kalamazoo River.  Enbridge insists its pipelines in the Straits are safe.


July 6, 2016

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter is Hiring a State Budget Education Organizer

                                        SIERRA CLUB MICHIGAN CHAPTER

Job Description

Job Title:        State Budget Education Organizer

Chapter:         Sierra Club Michigan Chapter

Location:        Sierra Club Michigan Chapter office, 109 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing
                         (some flexibility on location) with occasional travel required

Reports To:    Legislative and Political Director and State Director
Timeline:        August 2, 2016 – February 28, 2017 (with possible extension based on availability of funds).

Hours:            3 days a week (22.5 hours per week)

Context:         Helps coordinate the Priorities Michigan budget education campaign for Sierra Club Michigan Chapter with the goal of building support for sustainable funding for environmental protection and infrastructure investments in the state budget.

Scope:             The State Education Program Organizer is responsible for assisting with communication to Sierra Club’s members/supporters, the public, and the media about the need for environmental investment in the state’s budget.  This position will be tasked with helping to organize trainings, local group presentations/events, town hall meetings, coalition building, writing letters to the editor of local newspapers, utilizing our website, writing stories for our electronic newsletter, communicating on social media, and generating positive environmental budget messaging. This position will also coordinate with Chapter staff and Priorities Michigan staff.

Job Activities:

1.         Plans social media posts for Facebook and twitter.  

2.         Writes articles for online and print newsletters

3.         Creates a page for our chapter website about the state budget investment issue. Assists local Sierra Club groups in developing a page for their website about budget priorities.

4.         Recruits other environmental organizations and Sierra Club allies to support this campaign.

5.         Organizes presentations/trainings for all local Sierra Club groups.
6.         Writes and submits letters to the editor and op-eds.

7.         Organizes a chapter staff and volunteer leader budget training.

8.         Solicits, collects, and publicizes success stories about state and local government support of solutions to or mitigation of environmental problems, and investing in public infrastructure.

9.         Serves as a liaison between the Sierra Club and Priorities Michigan to share campaign resources, trainings, and messaging.
10.        Organize town hall meetings and community engagement events.

11.       Participates in project coalition conference calls, meetings, emails and reports Sierra Club metrics to Priorities Michigan.

12.       Additional Chapter communications and administrative support as needed.

Knowledge and Skills:

--          Coursework in environmental studies, political science, communication or related field (or commensurate experience).

--          Some experience in the environmental advocacy field, communications/journalism arena, legislative process, or political campaigns

--          Excellent written and oral communication skills.

--          Strong computer skills including email, Google docs, Microsoft word/excel/PowerPoint, Facebook, twitter.

--          Ability to work with volunteers.

--          Excellent organizational skills, attention to detail, and time management.

--          Ability to manage multiple tasks, prioritize projects, and work independently.

--          Experience organizing public events preferable but not required.

Application deadline: July 20, 2016

To apply:   Send your resume and cover letter to and

Sierra Club is an Equal Opportunity Employer committed to a diverse workforce.

Press Release: Sierra Club Endorses Michigan Legislative and Local Candidates

July 6, 2016                                        

Mike Berkowitz

Sierra Club Endorses Michigan Legislative and Local Candidates

The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, a non-partisan environmental protection organization, today announced its second round of candidate endorsements in Michigan’s upcoming state house and local elections. These endorsements precede the 2016 August primary election and come after a thorough review by local and state committees within the Sierra Club’s volunteer leadership.

“These Sierra Club endorsed candidates are champions who demonstrate strong leadership in promoting clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and a healthier Michigan,” said Mike Berkowitz, Political Director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “Our members are committed to making sure voters are aware of the strong environmental values of these endorsed candidates. We will work hard to ensure they are successful in the upcoming election.”

Michigan Sierra Club endorsed the following candidates for State Representative:
Carla Tinsley-Smith for District 2
Kevin Hertel for District 18
John Chirkun for District 22
Dana Camphous-Peterson for District 24
Jim Ellison for District 26
William Sowerby for District 31
Sheldon Neeley for District 34
Michael Stack for District 39
Nicole Bedi for District 40
Pam Faris for District 48
Phil Phelps for District 49
Tim Sneller for District 50
Anne Brown for District 54
Tom Redmond for District 56
David LaGrand for District 75
James Wencel for District 84
Sean Mullally for District 92
Don Tilley for District 96
Geoff Malicoat for District 98
Jordan Stancil for District 103
Betsy Coffia for District 104
Erin Kieliszewski for District 106

Sierra Club also endorsed the following for local races:
Jim Nash for Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner
Phillip Reid for Oakland County Commission District 1
Colleen Crossey for Oakland County Commission District 9
David Bowman for Oakland County Commission District 10
Charles Gaba for Oakland County Commission District 12
Marcia Gershenson for Oakland County Commission District 13
Charles Salgat for Oakland County Commission District 16
Helaine Zack for Oakland County Commission District 18
Dave Woodward for Oakland County Commission District 19
Martha Scott for Wayne County Commission District 3
Patrick Crandell for Wayne County Commission District 9
Patricia Hartig for Wayne County Commission District 15
Glenn Anderson for Wayne County Commission District 12

Pegge Adams for Genesee County Commission District 9

Rachel Hood for Kent County Drain Commissioner
Neil Blakeslee for Kent County Commission District 1
Harold Mast for Kent County Commission District 12
Carol Hennessy for Kent County Commission District 14
Jim Talen for Kent County Commission District 15
Tony Baker for Kent County Commission District 18
Phil Skaggs for Kent County Commission District 19

John Taylor for Kalamazoo County Clerk
Julie Rogers for Kalamazoo County Commission District 5

Jake Smith for Calhoun County Commission District 3

“Sierra Club volunteers from the organization’s 80,000 Michigan members and supporters will work with endorsed candidates in their own districts, identifying and recruiting other likely voters who are concerned about the state’s environmental and energy policies” said Richard Morley Barron, Political Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

“Sierra Club is a grassroots organization and our political strength is in educating and mobilizing environmental voters,” said Barron.  “Given the unprecedented challenges facing our Great Lakes, our climate and the recent weakening of pollution protection and enforcement, we are committed to implementing the most robust effort of any election year in our history.  The times demand it and our members expect it.”

The Michigan Chapter’s Political Committee conducts thorough reviews of all candidates based on their environmental history, voting records and policy positions through candidate interviews, voting scorecards, and responses to candidate questionnaires.

A full list of candidates and ballot proposals endorsed by the Michigan Sierra Club, including federal, state and local candidates, is available here.

About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide, and over 80,000 in Michigan. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit

Paid for by Michigan Sierra PAC (109 E. Grand River Ave. Lansing, MI 48906)