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E-M:/ Two events show Michigan residents' deep concern for community and environment



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 -- Michigan is a place that cares about our future, our quality of life, our health and the importance of protecting the WHOLE community, not just the interests of polluting industries.  They also signal what a change this state has experienced under 5 ½ years of a DEQ whose leaders understand their job is not just about the numbers, not just about paperwork and getting regulations out of the way.  Even as the remnants of the Engler administration’s structural gutting of the environmental protection of this state continue to cut into the bone of the DEQ, even as the hostility of some sectors of the statewide corporate community seek to gut the agency’s ability to do its job, Steve Chester leads an agency that is looking at doing their jobs better, that are working to listen to the communities and to assure that the intent of the law, not just its letter, are followed.   While they are hamstrung and stumble more than we wish, I think we all need to acknowledge that events like those on October 20 really speak well for the DEQ’s vision of what it should be doing, AND for the communities who are participating and speaking up for themselves as well.

 

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Anne M. Woiwode, State Director

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter - 109 E. Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906  - 517-484-2372    anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org

Visit us at http://michigan.sierraclub.org/index.shtml

 

Act Today: Join our Legislative Alerts System! http://mackinac.sierraclubaction.org

Act FOR Tomorrow: Support the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter - contact Wendi Tilden at wendi.tilden@sierraclub.org

 

"The idea of shifting to a carbon-free society appears to be technically feasible. The question is whether it's politically feasible or economically feasible."

Brian O'Neil, National Center for Atmospheric Research