Last night, two different events on either side of the southern lower peninsula highlighted the deep dedication two different communities have to restoring and safeguarding their ways of life, their health and their environment.
First, in Detroit an environmental justice forum co-sponsored by DEQ and Sierra Club brought over 100 people out to talk with DEQ Director Steve Chester, MI Dept of Civil Rights Director Linda Parker, and representatives from the Dept of Community Health and the Governor’s office about challenges faced by their communities, which have been virtually entirely surrounded by heavy, polluting industry. The state officials took a tour with local leaders as well, and even visited a family living directly across from one of the biggest facilities. As was passed along to me, the experience gave these officials a chance to “see what the people have been talking about” regarding environmental injustices in their community. At the forum, the residents had a chance to talk about their concerns outside of a permit or enforcement issue, opening an important door for discussion. A particular thanks is due to Steve Chester for fostering this event, and to Rhonda Anderson and on-the-ground DEQ staff who made it happen.
In the other corner of the state, what is thought to be the largest meeting ever held in Leonidas Township in St. Joseph County occurred as people showed up in droves to testify against a proposed water quality permit for the Bustdorf Dairy CAFO. This is the second permit comment period for this proposed facility, which was denied an NPDES permit earlier this year because the case was clearly made that the benefits they claimed would be brought to the community were dramatically outweighed by the harm the operation’s pollution would cause. This diverse community has again worked hard to defend their health, water, tourism business as well as other agricultural activities from the type of damage that has been seen in many other communities where the promised benefits never materialized and quality of life declined after a CAFO was built. While it is frustrating to many that a second permit so quickly was put out for public comment, it is important to understand that the DEQ’s denial of the first permit was a landmark decision and they took huge, organized flak from the agribusiness community who want the agency to roll over on any proposed permit.
This tale of two cities has common themes --
Anne M. Woiwode, State Director
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