Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome the April 15, 2021 edition of Three Things Thursday! With the Legislature back in Lansing after a break, the Michigan LCV team is keeping a close eye on several important pieces of legislation. At the top of the list is the attempt by Republican leadership to suppress voting rights with a disastrous package of bills, which is likely to move soon.
This issue of Three Things includes:
- A look at GOP lawmakers latest attempts to restrict Michiganders’ freedom to vote, and an invitation to Michigan LCV’s People, Planet, Public Health webinar being held at 4:00 PM today, featuring Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson;
- A site-specific update on the toxic PFAS drinking water crisis; and
- A tribute to a dear, deceased friend and environmental champion: Mary Beth Doyle.
Before diving into this week’s edition of Three Things, I want to take a moment to tell you how sad, angry and shaken the Michigan LCV team has been this week due to the death of Daunte Wright in Minnesota. One of our teammates moved to Michigan from Minneapolis/St Paul just over a year ago. She knows the area and community well and, over the past many months, has shared a very personal perspective on the murder of George Floyd. With the trial of Derek Chauvin currently underway, the eyes of the nation were already on the Twin Cities when Daunte–a 20-year-old Black man–was shot less than 15 miles from where both George Floyd and Philando Castillo were killed. Father, boyfriend, son, brother, friend–Daunte is another fallen Black man in a nation plagued not just by COVID, but by the ugly, continued legacy of institutional racism.
Michigan LCV strongly condemns the continued violence inflicted upon Black Americans by police forces across the United States. We stand in solidarity with our Minnesota affiliate, Conservation Minnesota, and all Minnesotans as they grieve the loss of another Black man at the hands of police. We also reaffirm our commitment to being part of the solution. We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous and People of Color everywhere. We demand change. You can read our full statement on our website here.
1. Voter suppression & today’s kickoff of our 2021 People, Planet, Public Health webinar series featuring Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
The 2020 elections, in the midst of a global pandemic, were executed with incredible success. Despite this success, Michigan Republicans unveiled a legislative package that essentially seeks to make it harder to vote under the guise of “reform.” Championed by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who stated that “turnout was his biggest concern” heading into the 2020 elections and others who reiterated Trump’s erroneous narrative about last year’s election, these bills are all about voter suppression.
Bills included in the package would make it harder to get your ballot (banning paid postage), harder to return your ballot (closing drop boxes early), and harder to vote in person (onerous ID requirements). While there are two (2) bills among the 39 in the package that offer limited promise (one allows pre-registration of 16 and 17 year-olds while the second allows for one day of early voting), the package as a whole erects barriers to the ballot, undermining Michiganders’ freedom to vote. As Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Thursday morning during her press conference, these bills are not actually pro-voter, calling them “candy sugar coating on a poisonous package.” That’s why we saw more than a hundred people — led by the Detroit branch of the NAACP and others — gather for a rally on the steps of the Capitol Building in Lansing on Tuesday, voicing their strong opposition to this legislative package.
These attacks on democracy are not taking place by accident in states all across the nation. Au contraire. This is a planned, systematic attempt to disenfranchise voters by a party that finds itself in the minority in Washington, DC. The first step was what took place in Georgia, with the passage of laws that create deliberate barriers for large portions of the population.
In response, Coca-Cola, Delta and other Fortune 500 companies in Georgia denounced the so-called “reforms,” and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game scheduled for this summer was moved from its planned Atlanta location in an act of boycotting the state.
As a reminder, Michiganders approved expanding the ballot 2-1 in the 2018 election, with the passage of Proposal 3, known as Promote the Vote. In 2020, Michiganders’ historic voter turnout–despite the challenges of COVID-19 and because of the implementation of Prop 3–should be regarded as a significant accomplishment. The Michigan business community – including the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and all four professional sports teams – certainly sees it that way, evidenced by their strong response to the Shirkey-led legislative package meant to prevent low-income and minority communities from exercising their right to vote. Lt Gov Gilchrist made his voice very clear on this issue, as well.
What is important to note is that Michigan is being seen–per this article in the NYT — “…. as a test case of how states with divided government will deal with voting laws, and how Republicans in state legislatures are willing to use any administrative tool at their disposal to advance Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraud and pursue measures that could disenfranchise many voters.”
Michigan LCV’s former Board member, now state Representative, Sarah Anthony is quoted in the article, saying, “It feels almost criminal to me. As an African-American woman who has worked for years now to expand the right to vote, to mobilize and educate people about why it’s so important to vote, and to lower barriers to people, and now be in the Legislature and see these crafty ways that folks are trying to strip us of the right to vote, words can’t describe it.’’
Please know that Michigan LCV and Michigan LCV Education Fund are 100% committed to protecting the democratic process for all, working to educate voters about their rights and options, and raising awareness of different ways to vote…amid a pandemic and beyond. Michigan LCV Ed Fund’s Democracy For All team played an instrumental role in 2020 poll worker recruitment across the state and our collaboration with grassroots democracy organizations and community leaders helped to get the vote out in communities that have historically been disenfranchised through gerrymandering and other voter suppression tactics. As we face the 2021 attacks on voting rights, our team is doubling down on our commitment and working to ensure that these bad election bills never get enacted.
To learn more about what’s happening in Lansing, I invite you to join our People, Planet, Public Health webinar today at 4 PM entitled “Maintaining Democracy Through Election Reform.” Serving as host for this event, I will be joined by a number of top notch guest speakers, including Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson; the Michigan director of All Voting Is Local, Aghogho Edevbie; and Pontiac City Clerk, Garland Doyle. Our conversation will focus on voting rights, voter education and voter protection.
You can register for the event here.
2. A site-specific update on the PFAS crisis in Michigan
Ah, PFAS. A couple of years ago, if I had written “PFAS” in an email no one would have known what I was referring to. Now–sadly–it’s ubiquitous and the crisis that this dangerous family of chemicals has created is only increasing for people and places all across Michigan (and beyond).
PFAS chemicals, or Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, are toxic chemicals that are used in water resistant products, like shoes and raincoats; in cookware, like Teflon; and in firefighting foam. Over time, PFAS chemicals–also known as “forever chemicals–leach into groundwater, rivers, and lakes, contaminating drinking water and wildlife in those ecosystems and causing long term health effects (like cancer) for people who consume them.
Last year, the State of Michigan adopted more stringent PFAS standards, which are now among the strongest protections anywhere in the country. These standards led to more than 100 additional PFAS-contaminated sites being identified and listed across Michigan, and will also lead to more extensive cleanup efforts when trying to remediate PFAS contamination.
In the past several months, PFAS has started to get more attention on the national level, with calls for the Biden administration to take action to address PFAS contamination across the country and set tougher standards for drinking water. Earlier this week, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Congressman Fred Upton announced a renewed bipartisan effort to pass federal PFAS legislation and improve the standards for PFAS in drinking water nationwide. If passed, the legislation will require the EPA to set federal drinking water standards for PFAS, helping protect the health of communities across the nation.
The Michigan LCV team has been closely tracking the latest developments in the PFAS crisis in our state and working to raise awareness and catalyze action to address these dangerous instances of toxic contamination that threaten our drinking water and public health. Here are some of the latest updates on our work and what is happening regarding PFAS in three key areas:
Oscoda – Wurtsmith Air Force Base PFAS clean up & Gov. Whitmer’s order
One of the PFAS hotspots in Michigan is in Oscoda near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. The decommissioned base has been left unattended by the Air Force and, as a result of decades-long use of firefighting foam and other PFAS-laden chemicals in training exercises, a massive PFAS plume has contaminated Oscoda’s drinking water and devastated fish and wildlife populations in the nearby Clark’s Marsh and the Au Sable River.
In 2020, after more than a decade of inaction, the U.S. Air Force and the Pentagon announced that they would devise a plan to remediate the contamination and help clean up the surrounding land and water sources. Since that announcement, nothing has been done.
Recently, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that she would use a clause in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would force the Dept of Defense to comply with Michigan’s newly adopted PFAS standards (instead of the less stringent federal PFAS standards) when remediating contamination in Oscoda. In a letter to the Pentagon, Gov. Whitmer said she will invoke the NDAA clause to ensure more rigorous PFAS cleanup, a move that signals to the military and the federal government that action on the PFAS crisis is needed and it is needed now. This move was celebrated by the citizens of Oscoda recognizing that no polluter, especially the military, should be allowed to skirt Michigan’s standards.
Gov. Whitmer’s move to invoke the NDAA clause came on the tails of the Air Force announcement that its clean up plan and efforts would not follow Michigan’s PFAS standards. And, following the Governor’s announcement, the Air Force pronounced that PFAS chemicals and subsequent contamination of groundwater left around the former Wurtsmith Air Force base are “not our problem,” claiming that only the chemical pollution inside the base’s boundaries would be the focus of their remediation efforts. This is a slap in the face to both the people of Oscoda and the State of Michigan, as a whole.
Last week, our team and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) hosted a webinar with Need Our Water (NOW), an Oscoda-based group established to address the PFAS contamination that has been leaching for years into the area drinking water. Please know that, working closely with NOW as well as our friends at NWF and the Ecology Center, the Michigan LCV team will continue monitoring developments in Oscoda and standing with NOW and the impacted citizens to hold the Air Force accountable for the damage caused by the extensive PFAS contamination there.
Belmont – Wolverine Worldwide’s inadequate PFAS clean up plan
The Wolverine Worldwide contamination just outside Grand Rapids is another PFAS hot spot that the Michigan LCV team has been focused on over the past several years. The residents of Belmont have been severely affected by toxic PFAS that has contaminated public and private land and drinking water, leading to serious health conditions, including cancers, thyroid conditions and elevated levels of the chemicals in residents’ blood.
Wolverine Worldwide recently announced their PFAS remediation plan, which would entail simply planting 4,000 trees on the contaminated site, which the community finds completely unacceptable. The plan, according to experts, would do close to nothing to remediate the toxic contamination and is akin to applying a Band-Aid to a massive, hemorrhaging wound.
In response to Wolverine’s proposal, the Michigan LCV team collaborated with impacted citizens to hold a press event. Led in large part by Sandy Wynn-Stelt, an area resident who has become a leading advocate on the issue after her husband passed away from a fast-moving cancer, the press event was held in Sandy’s driveway on House Street, directly across from the contaminated site. The resounding message was that Wolverine’s plan is nowhere near sufficient, and that the residents want and deserve meaningful action from Wolverine and the Dept. of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to address the issue. The residents will not be fooled; they realize that the Wolverine tree-planting plan is by far the cheapest option for the company and does nothing to cap and contain the toxic plume.
EGLE is now accepting public comment on the proposed plan and what should be done about Wolverine’s PFAS waste. Public comment is open until April 17, 2021. The Michigan LCV team set up an online action to make it easy to submit a public comment to EGLE regarding Wolverine’s cleanup plan. Submit your comment before the April 17 deadline through our online portal here.
Like in Oscoda, the Michigan LCV team will continue to work closely with the House Street residents and our partners to hold Wolverine Worldwide accountable and bring justice and safety to the people of Belmont.
Traverse City – PFAS contamination of drinking water in East Bay & at Air Station
The third PFAS hot spot on the Michigan LCV team’s radar in recent months has been Traverse City, where PFAS was discovered in drinking water wells in the Pine Grove neighborhood in East Bay Township near the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay. The PFAS levels were detected at levels that far exceeded safe standards for drinking water. After an investigation, nearly 20 homes in Pine Grove had to have their drinking water switched to Traverse City’s municipal service lines, but this came months after the discovery and left them without safe running water.
Unfortunately, the Pine Grove neighborhood is not the only spot in Traverse City where PFAS has been discovered. Earlier this week, the U.S. Coast Guard and Traverse City airport officials announced that PFAS has been found at both the airport and at the Coast Guard Air Station at levels far exceeding both Michigan and federal PFAS standards. Both of these locations are logical places to find PFAS given that firefighting foam is one of the most common sources of PFAS contamination. After being used in exercises and drills, the foam seeps into the groundwater and ultimately causes health issues for those that consume it.
While not much is known yet about the full extent of this recent Traverse City contamination and how it might affect the surrounding community, this is yet another example of why meaningful action is needed to address the PFAS crisis, both in Michigan and across the country. The next step is to perform a clean up investigation, which both the Coast Guard and airport officials have said that they will do. The Michigan LCV team will continue to work with the impacted citizens in the Traverse City community to ensure that remediation is undertaken to the fullest extent possible and those responsible are held accountable for the pollution.
3. A tribute a fallen hero, my friend Mary Beth Doyle
Last month, as part of Women’s History Month, 89.1 FM WEMU’s Issues of the Environment, hosted by David Fair, highlighted several incredible Michigan women who have made outstanding contributions to the environmental movement and protection of our natural resources. The March 17th edition focused on Mary Beth Doyle, a titan in Michigan’s environmental community and a dear friend who tragically passed away in a car accident in November of 2004.
I can remember the day Mary Beth died as if it were yesterday. I also remember the trial of the man who hit her. And, I remember Mary Beth’s incredible wake held at Hathaway’s Hideaway in downtown Ann Arbor, where the dancing spilled out into the street along with the tears.
The WEMU radio spot detailed Mary Beth’s life, work, and incredible spirit, all of which have inspired so many over the years. Throughout her career, Mary Beth worked for Greenpeace, Sierra Club and the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor. In each position, “MB” focused on community health and people’s lives, fighting against air and water pollution and protecting public health and drinking water for Michiganders. Among her most notable accomplishments in the environmental movement, Mary Beth was instrumental in developing the Don’t Trash Michigan campaign, which included a wonderful, innovative “return to sender” effort replete with an Elvis impersonator, and a campaign that succeeded in persuading national corporations to stop selling children’s chew toys made from toxic polyvinyl chloride.
In 2008, four years after her passing, the City of Ann Arbor dedicated a park in Mary Beth’s name, which serves as a reminder and memorial to this incredible human being. It’s a lovely place, made possible in many ways because of the leadership of Michigan LCV’s board member Janis Bobrin who then served as the Washtenaw County Drain Commissioner. I invite you to visit the park and remember the ever-wonderful Mary Beth. Thank you to WEMU’s Program Director David Fair and the Ecology Center’s Rebecca Mueninck for the excellent tribute to an amazing environmental champion. May she rest in peace and inspire us all!
As always, thank you for all you do and your trust in our work. Be safe. Be well.
P.S. COVID-19 Vaccinations
Please know that COVID-19 vaccines are now available to any Michigander ages 16-plus and there are many vaccination sites available for anyone who wants a vaccine. As Michigan continues to have the highest number of cases/hospitalizations in the country, it is vitally important that we protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from the further spread of COVID-19 and work together to defeat this virus. If you are interested in learning more and scheduling a vaccination appointment, I encourage you to do so using any of the following resources:
- NPR Vaccine Finder
- Spectrum Health Grand Rapids
- Rite Aid
- National Standby list for leftover doses