Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the February 2, 2023 edition of Three Things Thursday!
Yesterday marked the start of Black History Month, a celebration of rich Black history and culture here in the United States and across the world. I hope you will join Michigan LCV in both honoring the generations of Black Americans who helped shape this country, and reflecting upon the ongoing struggle for equality and justice that shapes and defines our collective experiences.
As you know, a commitment to racial justice and equity sits at the heart of Michigan LCV’s work. When we look at issues like the climate crisis, the protection, accessibility and affordability of our water, and voting rights, we find that low income communities and communities of color are impacted most significantly (see Thing #1 below). Last week, in my tribute to Dr. Bunyan Bryant (whose memoir I truly hope you read), one can see how these issues are intersectional and at the very core of what defines the quest for environmental justice.
Throughout February, I will provide updates about what Michigan LCV is doing to celebrate and honor Black history and culture, as well as information,resources and events for you to plug into. To start, here’s an amazing fun fact: Did you know that Aretha Franklin’s voice was officially declared a natural resource by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 1985? In addition to performing at three presidential inaugurations, having streets named after her, and providing part of the soundtrack of the civil rights movement, Aretha Franklin’s voice is a treasure celebrated in our state, just like our majestic Great Lakes and amazing forests. What a testament to the greatness and the legacy of the Queen of Soul!
Now onto this week’s Three Things, which examines the expired moratorium on water shutoffs in Detroit and the latest developments in Attorney General Dana Nessel’s PFAS litigation work to hold polluters accountable. I also celebrate a Michigan LCV staff member who recently joined our team. Let’s jump in!
1. Preventing water shutoffs in Detroit
Detroit’s moratorium on water shutoffs expired on January 1, 2023, meaning that low-income Detroiters are once again at risk of having their water service disconnected due to unpaid bills.
Background: In March 2020, the City of Detroit launched its COVID-19 Water Restart Plan, which restored water service to thousands of Detroit residents and established a moratorium on shutoffs as Michiganders reeled from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after that, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order that both suspended all water shutoffs and created the Water Restart Grant Program to help communities maintain water service. And, in December 2020, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced the city’s moratorium would be extended through 2022.
Now that the moratorium has expired, more than 60,000 Detroit households with unpaid water bills are at risk of having no running water once again. That’s nearly 30 percent of the households in Michigan’s largest city, which has an 85 percent Black population.
A photo from the People’s Water Board: Stop The Water Shut Offs Rally in Detroit last month!
Access to water is a human right. Water affordability, however, remains an incredibly pervasive issue, especially in Michigan’s Black and Brown communities. A 2020 study found that water is largely unaffordable in Michigan, with costs rising consistently over the last four decades. In fact, one in 10 households in Detroit and Flint spend more than a quarter of their income on water services.
Answers to this crisis? Detroit’s Lifeline and Water Residential Assistance programs are in place to offer support to low-income Detroit residents, but income-based rates and credits are only available to those who apply and enroll. There are also limits on water usage for enrollees, which cap out at 4,500 gallons per month. This number is based on a three-person household and doesn’t consider the underlying factor of Detroit’s ongoing housing crisis. At this point, out of the more than 60,000 at-risk households, there are only approximately 2,300 enrolled.
Michigan LCV teammates Shannon Ervin, Lena Swirczek and Shannon Rochon with signs protesting water shutoffs during the Detroit MLK Day march!
Residents and groups like We the People of Detroit and the People’s Water Board Coalition are calling for a permanent, equitable solution, but there is little indication that the City is moving to do anything quickly. Last week, federal Judge Denise Page Hood heard arguments for an injunction that would further prevent water shutoffs now that the moratorium has lapsed. No decision has been made.
Michigan LCV is paying close attention to this issue and partnering with frontline and allied organizations to advocate for accessible, affordable water for all Michigan residents. The answer must be much more than assistance and would ideally come from legislative action, which would impact Michiganders everywhere, from Oscoda and Traverse City to Benton Harbor, Ann Arbor and Detroit. I will be sure to keep you updated on the situation in the days and months ahead.
2. AG Nessel announces first PFAS litigation project settlement
On Monday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the settlement of a lawsuit she filed against Asahi Kasei Plastics North America, Inc., a manufacturing company responsible for releasing PFAS chemicals from its former facility in Brighton, Michigan.
The settlement is the first to come from a series of lawsuits the Attorney General filed as part of her PFAS Litigation project, which is focused on holding polluters accountable for cleaning up their contamination in Michigan communities. The settlement means that Asahi will be required to investigate the release of toxic PFAS chemicals from its facility that then contaminated the surrounding soil, groundwater and surface water. If contamination levels exceed state standards, Asahi will also be required to take additional steps to remediate the contamination.
Attorney General Nessel’s settlement is an important step forward in the fight against PFAS contamination and provides much needed momentum in holding polluters accountable for the contamination they caused. It’s also a huge win for our friends at the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network (GLPAN), who have been working tirelessly to bring PFAS-impacted citizens together and empower communities to hold polluters responsible.
You can read GLPAN’s statement on the settlement here.
Sandy Wynn-Stelt, co-chair of GLPAN, giving a TV interview last year.
In response to Monday’s announcement, both GLPAN co-chairs – Sandy Wynn-Stelt and Tony Spaniola – were quoted extensively in the media. In an interview with Fox 17 West Michigan, Sandy said:
We’re finally getting to a place where polluters are being held accountable. I think anything we can do to take the burden off of taxpayers and put it where people have made profits off of this, just feels like justice. I think this is just the beginning but it’s a real positive turn. I feel like we’re starting to get some traction.” – Sandy Wynn-Stelt, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network
Tony Spaniola, co-chair of GLPAN, testifying in Congress about PFAS in 2021.
In an interview with WKAR, Tony emphasized the importance of enforcing state law when it comes to PFAS polluters:
It’s like saying, ‘You know what? We have a police force that’s actually going to enforce the law.’ And so, we ought to all be feeling a little safer because of that. That doesn’t mean that we’re all set and we’re out of the woods because there’s a whole bunch of other lawsuits going on” – Tony Spaniola, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network
This is a huge win for Michigan, and for the Michiganders and communities across our state that have been devastated by toxic PFAS contamination. But, it is only the beginning. We must keep up the momentum because there is much more to do. The great news is that we have a tenacious, determined Attorney General who will be with us every step of the way.
3. New Michigan LCV team member spotlight: Amani Johnson
2023 is going to be a big year for Michigan LCV, so our search continues for talented, dedicated individuals to join our team. This week, I am excited to welcome Amani Johnson to the Michigan LCV family!
Amani joins our Advocacy & Outreach (A&O) team as our new Southeast Michigan Regional Coordinator, a role focused on organizing voters to support climate action, water justice and a safe, secure democracy that works for everyone.
Prior to joining the Michigan LCV team, Amani worked on a number of campaigns, beginning in 2014 when he served as an intern on Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Realizing the importance of electing good candidates to public office, Amani has dedicated his career to doing just that. From his work on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign to work with the Michigan House Democrats, Amani has amassed a breadth of experience and will be an enormous asset to Team Michigan LCV.
A life-long Southfield resident, Amani is a proud graduate of Central Michigan University where he earned a degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration. In 2020, Amani was elected to the Southfield Board of Education at age 23, becoming the youngest elected official in Southfield’s history.
In his spare time, you’ll find Amani cooking up delicious meals, traveling the world, spending time with loved ones, or binging on his most recent Netflix obsession.
Welcome, Amani! We are thrilled to have you on the Michigan LCV team!
As always, thank you for all you do to support our work! None of this would be possible without you.
P.S. Remembering a real hero
Last week the Michigan LCV family lost a real hero: Mary Lousie Waddell Sutherland, mother of board member Bob Sutherland. Mary was an amazing woman. She was not only a wonderful and very proud mother and grandmother; she was a mighty feminist, leading the charge for equality from her perch in northern Michigan and having an impact across this state and beyond. Mary’s obituary is beautiful and can be found in the Traverse City Record Eagle (if you have a subscription).
Our hearts go out to Bob and the entire Sutherland family, as well as the Cherry Republic family. Mary was a mainstay at the Glen Arbor location for years, helping support the team and grow the business through her very presence. Bob’s blog, written the day before Mary died, is intimate, full of love and grief. May you rest in peace, dear Mary.