Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the December 31, 2020 edition of Three Things Thursday. As we say goodbye to this incredibly challenging year and ring in 2021, I know we are all hoping that the New Year will bring an end to this terrible pandemic and provide a pathway back to some semblance of “normalcy”. In capping off 2020, I thought I’d let you know what’s happened in Lansing over the past few days, provide a short recap of where things stand with Enbridge and Line 5, and leave you with some bigger picture things to contemplate and consider as you sip your bubbly tonight.
1. Lansing Actions at the end of 2020
Dozens of bills made it through the Lame Duck legislative session, landing with a thump on the Governor’s desk. After thorough review, Gov. Whitmer signed many of them, including the COVID relief legislation –SB 748– but not without making a few changes. Using her proverbial red pen, Governor Whitmer line-item vetoed a number of things that had been stuffed into SB 748, notably dangerous language that would have allowed transportation of hazardous materials across the Ambassador Bridge. You better believe that the Michigan LCV team was incensed by the Legislature’s inclusion of this language in SB 748, believing that moving hazardous waste across aging infrastructure would not only threaten our Great Lakes but — very importantly — threaten the surrounding communities near the Bridge. We also believed — as did the Governor — that this issue had no business being included in a bill focused on COVID relief.
The champion behind the scenes in putting a real spotlight on this Ambassador Bridge issue was State Senator Stephanie Chang. An enormous advocate for her community, her district and the people of Detroit, Senator Chang sprang into action when she learned this had been included in the COVID relief bill. Senator Chang certainly let us know at Michigan LCV and–weary as we were from our extensive work this fall–we rallied, engaging our many partner organizations and connecting with lawmakers in the House and Senate to make sure they understood the significance of the matter. We are very, very grateful for Gov. Whitmer’s line-item veto.
On Wednesday, Dec. 30, Gov. Whitmer signed bipartisan legislation (SB 1251 and 1252) creating the Flint Settlement Trust Fund within the Dept. of Treasury. This legislation will facilitate the distribution of the $641.2 million settlement reached in response to the Flint water crisis. While it is truly impossible to monetize the impact on the families in Flint, this settlement is a step forward. We applaud the Whitmer Administration for their action, realizing that there is significantly more work to be done to heal the community of Flint and ensure this kind of man-made catastrophe never happens again.
2. The final 2020 actions related to Line 5
The public comment period related to Enbridge’s misguided Line 5 tunnel permit closed last week. This process, which was led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, included a public hearing on December 7th with 140 people participating and 47 comments formally submitted for the record. Michigan LCV submitted comments in partnership with FLOW and Oil & Water Don’t Mix.
While the tunnel permitting process will carry on into 2021, so too will the legal battles around the antiquated, damaged Line 5, itself. In case you missed it, I encourage you to read this opinion editorial by our friend Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), which clearly outlines the reasons why we need to get Line 5 out of the water. And, if you are an MLive subscriber, I invite you to read this article, which provides a solid recap of the Line 5 battle and features Michigan LCV’s Senior Partnerships Manager Bentley Johnson. Here’s an excerpt:
It was a win for environmentalists and conservation advocates who had previously been holding press calls imploring the governor to use her powers to revoke the easement and shut down the line.
“We’re really excited and happy about the leadership that both Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel have taken with addressing this really, really serious threat,” said Bentley Johnson, of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (MLCV).
“And also feeling like it wouldn’t have happened without really the consistent advocacy by a ton of different stakeholders over many years, and enlisting lots of expert, experts’ information analysis to really get this, to really uncover this threat,” he said.
As we head into 2021, we share Attorney General Dana Nessel’s confidence that the legal grounds around shutting down Line 5 will prevail.
3. Things to think about as we say goodbye to 2020
With 2021 only hours away, I leave you with a couple of things to read and consider.
What has sustained so many of us through this terribly difficult time has been getting outside. Walking, hiking, swimming, running, biking, exploring the parks and nature centers, the trails, lakes, rivers, and even the glories of the gardens in our own neighborhoods has been essential throughout COVID-19. Whether we have acknowledged it or not, a healthy relationship with the natural world/Mother Earth has been and always will be the path to well-being.
A recent article, entitled The real cure for COVID is renewing our fractured relationship with the planet, brings it all home at a deeper, more profound level, challenging us to truly understand that an unhealthy planet threatens the health of all species, including us (hubris-filled) humans. The authors write:
If humanity is to endure, the coming months must hold healing, not just of populations across the globe from the coronavirus, but of the Earth herself. As is true of many zoonoses (diseases that jumped from animals), this virus emerged from pressure humans put on a global ecosystem.
A lack of healthy, natural habitat weakens the immune systems of animals and the resulting sicknesses pass rapidly through them. Birds, prairie dogs, pigs, bats. With each infection, a chance for a virus to mutate into one that can sicken humans, and sometimes, global livelihoods. As such, a vaccine alone, no matter how effective, will not tip the balance toward health because COVID-19 is not a disease; it is a symptom of an exhausted planet. The renewal of a healthy relationship to our one shared mother, planet Earth, is the cure.
So, as we dig into the work ahead in healing our relationship with this beautiful blue/green planet, we must also take care of ourselves. Certainly the time outside is key, as is healthy food, music, laughter, the people you love and who love you. The waves of emotion that come through us as we move through our lives can be heavy, ever more so during the isolation brought on by a global pandemic. I encourage you to fill your cup with words and ideas inspire and heal.
I share two poems as we ring in the New Year.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all.
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
By Mary Oliver
Happy New Year, dear friends. Be well. Be safe. Take care of yourselves and one another. Until 2021….
P.S. A mishmash of other news, should you want it:
- 1st Friday Focus on the Environment: The first 1st Friday radio show of 2021 will air tomorrow on WEMU 89.1 FM. David Fair and I have the distinct honor of speaking with State Representative/Minority Leader Donna Lasinski about both 2020 and what to look forward to in 2021. Tune in tomorrow at 7:49 AM and again at 9:49 AM to hear the show.
- Shoreline erosion: In recent weeks, legislation to address shoreline erosion and rising water levels due to climate change passed out of Congress and now sits before the President. The STORM Act is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and would provide support for communities facing rising water levels, coastal erosion and flooding. Studies show spending to address this problem saves taxpayers $6 for every dollar invested in mitigated damage.
- Our newest Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Elizabeth Welch, was sworn in to Michigan’s highest court on Dec. 29. YAY!!! Elizabeth is not only a dedicated legal expert, but a former Michigan LCV Board President. We are proud and excited for her to begin her time on the court. She’ll hear her first oral arguments in the New Year on Jan. 6.
- Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is holding audits of Michigan’s elections processes to continue to improve our elections system to make it more accessible for Michigan voters. You can check out this great Detroit Free Press article that identified key things that worked with Michigan’s absentee ballot process and how we can do even more to make sure all voters can make their voices heard. No surprise to us, voter education remains a critical piece of the puzzle for making out elections work for everyone.
- Also, on Dec. 29, the Michigan Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision said it will not hear a lawsuit challenging absentee ballot applications that were mailed to Michigan voters to allow them to apply for an absentee ballot. It again affirms ballot measures that were overwhelmingly approved by Michigan voters in 2018 to allow them more options to cast their votes through no-reason absentee voting.
- And, finally, MLive ran an article celebrating the leadership of Gov. Whitmer, Attorney General Nessel and Secretary of State Benson, which is entitled, These women from Michigan led the state through its toughest year yet. If you have a subscription to MLive, you can find the article here.