Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the June 16, 2022 edition of Three Things Thursday!
As temperatures soar across the state and nation, we must remember that summer hasn’t even officially begun. The summer solstice is June 21st. I hope you are all taking good care: staying well hydrated, seeking shelter from the sun and, perhaps, finding refuge in one the thousands of lakes and rivers throughout the beautiful state of Michigan.
Before jumping into this week’s Three Things, I want to recommend a truly inspiring interview I just listened to, which was recorded at the 2022 TED Conference. It is a conversation between On Being’s Krista Tippett and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, co-founder of the Urban Ocean Lab (a think tank for coastal cities), one of the creators of the podcast, “How to Save a Planet,” and co-editor of the anthology All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. Her new book, which is in draft form, is entitled, What if We Get This Right?
To give you a sense of things, Krista Tippett tells Ms. Johnson that in preparing for the interview she invoked Sylvia Earle, as well as Albert Einstein and John Lewis. Having smiled, laughed and cried as I listened– and coming away completely energized – I can understand why. At one point, Ayana Elizabeth Johson says:
… the most depressing thing I can think of is to just watch the world burn and crumble before my eyes while I just wallow in self-pity on the couch…. I don’t have any delusions that I can “save the planet,” but you’ve got to try to do your part.
…We know what we’re supposed to do, ….We know that things are out of balance, on a cellular level. We can feel that sort of friction, with the way that we move through the world…..I dare you to stand in a redwood grove and not be humbled, or to dive on a coral reef and see even just the glimmer of its former magnificence and have some respect for these ecosystems and the fact that we are sharing this planet.”
…I think that climate communication has focused too much on the problem. I will admit, I don’t read the details of every UN climate report, because I know the summary is, it is worse than you thought, it is happening faster than you thought, and we really need to get our act together…..I focus on the ‘getting our act together’ part, because I think that’s the pivot that we need right now.”
Ms. Johnson encourages us to think about love of planet, love of place, love of people alongside imagination to help us solve the greatest challenges of our times.
I think it’s so funny that people say it’s too expensive to solve climate change, because… what’s your alternative? …. if your alternative is understanding the climate projections from the world’s top scientists as basically driving humanity off a cliff, then nothing is too expensive.”
Now on to this week’s Three Things:
1. Oil spills, oil spills… and the ongoing threat of Line 5
St. Mary’s River Oil Spill:
Last week’s oil spill in the St. Marys River near the Soo Locks was one the latest and most alarming warning signs of the dangers of Line 5 in a long time. Although Enbridge Energy – the Canadian oil company that owns and operates Line 5 – was not responsible for the spill, the 5,300 gallons of oil that entered the river and halted shipping traffic illustrate the catastrophic damage that a spill in the Straits of Mackinac would inflict on the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and Michigan’s economy.
After news of the St. Marys River oil spill broke, Michigan LCV swiftly issued a statement, which you can read here.
As Three Things readers all know, the 69-year-old Line 5 pipeline running across the Straits is well past its expiration date, it’s been neglected in terms of maintenance and upkeep across the decades, and it’s been subject to anchor strikes that could have caused it to rupture on multiple occasions. Bottom line: it’s a ticking time bomb.
Last year, Enbridge ignored Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s shutdown order, continuing to pump millions of gallons of oil through the Straits per day and taking the fight to decommission Line 5 to state and federal court.
While you and I may know a lot about this issue, polling tells us that most Michiganders know very little about Line 5. It is important that we engage our friends, family and neighbors in conversation, sharing Enbridge’s more-than-sketchy track record and reminding them that this is the same company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil disaster, one of the most catastrophic inland oil spills in U.S. history. The company’s negligence and numerous safety violations led to upwards of a million gallons of oil spilling into the Kalamazoo River, causing irreparable damage to the watershed, ecosystem, and surrounding communities.
If an oil spill were to occur in the Straits of Mackinac, more than 700 miles of Great Lakes coastline would be impacted, as well as the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. On top of that, a Line 5 oil spill would have devastating impacts on Michigan’s economy. An economic damage report from FLOW and Michigan State University estimates that $45 billion would be lost after 15 days if shipping is halted because of a Line 5 spill in the Straits. Countless families, communities and businesses rely on the health of the Great Lakes for their economic livelihood. Industries like fishing, agriculture and tourism would suffer massive setbacks, and the way of life for northern Michigan communities (and Michigan communities elsewhere) would be altered forever, including Native American communities whose entire culture – and subsistence – is connected in intimate and important ways to the natural world.
Significant flaws in Enbridge’s reasoning:
Last week’s oil spill in the St. Mary’s River was preceded by the release of expert findings that revealed significant flaws in Enbridge’s reasoning for keeping Line 5 open, including data that shows a closure of the pipeline would have negligible impacts on gas prices. As part of a lawsuit filed by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the new findings – from Enbridge’s own experts – show that energy price increases in Michigan and Wisconsin likely would be less than one cent per gallon. Additionally, they illustrate that Enbridge’s arguments for keeping oil flowing through the pipeline – and through the Great Lakes – have consistently been misleading, overstated, and exaggerated, particularly when it comes to the possible alternatives we can turn to to replace the lost energy from oil. Experts agree that a combination of rail and truck transport and other existing pipelines are viable alternatives.
Flint River Oil Spill:
Yesterday, “several thousands of gallons” of what appears to be petroleum oil spilled into the Flint River. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the oily substance was still leaking into the river. The Flint Water Treatment Plant was not affected (and, as you may remember, there is no longer an intake in the Flint River for drinking water).
Michigan LCV immediately released a statement about the second significant oil spill in Michigan in less than a week, echoing our previous statements about the dire need to shut down Line 5 and eliminate the threat of an oil spill in the Great Lakes. You can read the full statement here.
The Detroit News picked up our statement and Federal Government Affairs Director Bentley Johnson was quoted. Here is an excerpt:
The Wednesday spill is the second to strike Michigan in the last week. The U.S. Coast Guard closed a 12-mile stretch of the St. Mary’s River in the Upper Peninsula because of a gear oil leak from a nearby steel mill.
That should serve as ‘a wake-up call’ about pipeline safety, especially Enbridge’s Line 5 twin underwater pipelines that run through the Straits of Mackinac, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters said.
‘It’s alarming to hear of a second oil spill polluting Michigan waters in less than a week’s time and should be taken as a clear warning of the danger of oil pipelines in our waters,’ said Bentley Johnson, the league’s federal government affairs director.
‘Our water and our health are clearly threatened and this latest spill in the Flint River should serve as a wake-up call to shut down Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, and protect our state from this ticking time bomb in our Great Lakes.’”
As the fight to shut down Line 5 for good continues in the courts, it is clear that ridding our Great Lakes of the threat of an oil spill is of utmost importance. Nothing supersedes the health of twenty percent of the Earth’s fresh surface water and Michigan’s future. Wake up everybody!
2. PFAS update
In other water-related news, this week featured a big, positive development in the fight to address the toxic PFAS crisis and protect our drinking water and the health of our communities.
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new, more protective drinking water advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS and set final health advisories for GenX and PFBS, four PFAS chemicals. As you might remember, the PFAS family of chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they truly never break down. These tiny particles enter our groundwater and land, contaminating our drinking water, wildlife, and areas used for recreation. Over time, PFAS chemicals have been shown to cause serious health complications, including cancer, heart disease, and birth defects.
The new advisory levels will apply to PFAS chemicals that are commonly found in household products and frequently used for industrial practices. Following the latest scientific research, the more protective levels will set a strong baseline for monitoring drinking water for these chemicals, providing critical guidance to decision-makers to better protect communities’ health.
Here are two important caveats:
- These advisory levels are non-regulatory, meaning that they are not enforceable. EPA is working on actual drinking water standards and other regulations, which will end up being a critical means for enacting change.
- These advisory levels show that the risk to our health is much more significant than previous advisories have ever shown. In the past, federal decision-makers have not exhibited great concern about levels of PFAS under 70ppt despite the fact that those levels are actually really very harmful. This week’s announcement clearly indicates that no levels of PFOS or PFOA are safe from a human health perspective.. This is enormously concerning considering how widespread PFAS chemicals are in the environment and our bodies
Nonetheless, the EPA’s announcement of these new advisory levels is a big deal, representing a win for communities that have long experienced the implications of toxic PFAS contamination. Over the past year or so, Michigan LCV has worked with partners and allies to help build and support the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network (GLPAN), a coalition centered and driven by people directly impacted by toxic PFAS pollution. Now, GLPAN is a leading voice advocating for action to address the PFAS crisis, and people are taking notice.
In an article from the Washington Post about the EPA’s announcement, GLPAN co-chair and longtime PFAS activist Tony Spaniola was highlighted in regards to how PFAS has impacted communities across the country. Here is an excerpt:
Among the communities hit hardest with contamination are those near military bases, where PFAS-laden foams were used for decades to fight jet-fuel fires.
Many residents in Oscoda, Mich., for instance, have heeded warnings from state health officials and stopped drinking untreated well water and eating deer hunted near the now-shuttered Wurtsmith Air Force Base.
‘There still is no plan in place for the cleanup,” said Anthony Spaniola, an attorney and co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network whose family has a lakeside home in Oscoda. ‘The Department of Defense, quite frankly, has mismanaged this site, bordering on reckless.’
Spaniola hopes the new health advisories mean the military will ‘change the scope of what they need to clean up.’”
I’ve included a postscript with links to a whole host of other articles in which Tony and the GLPAN are quoted (see below).
While much more work needs to be done, I am proud of Michigan LCV and GLPAN’s collaborative efforts to raise awareness and advocate for action on PFAS contamination at both the state and federal levels. The PFAS crisis is something that will not be easily solved, but we can surely continue to move the needle and create change by working together.
3. Celebrating Juneteenth
Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, is this Sunday, June 19th, and the Michigan LCV team will be observing the federal holiday on Monday, our offices closed as we commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States.
To learn more about Juneteenth, I encourage you to check out both “Juneteenth: The History of a New Holiday” and “The History Of Juneteenth” in addition to what you might find through a quick Google search.
Racial justice and equity is a critical pillar of our work at Michigan LCV and is intersectional with every single issue we work on. From the inequities exposed by the climate crisis and environmental injustices relating to access to clean, safe drinking water to the creation of purposeful barriers to the ballot box and voting rights for Black Americans, there is a tremendous amount of work that we must all do to achieve true racial justice and equity for every single person in our state, and our country.
In advance of Juneteenth, I wanted to share some resources and ideas about how you can spend time this weekend learning, reflecting, and celebrating.
First, I heard a remarkable story on NPR this morning entitled, Songs to believe in: a Juneteenth playlist. I invite you to read and listen.
Here are events taking place this weekend in celebration of Juneteenth:
I hope that you may find time and space to commemorate the day as part of a growing community committed to learning, growing, and changing as we work collectively to create a more just and equitable nation.
I will end where I began, which is my hope that you are taking good care in the midst of this intense heat. Thank you for all you do to support our work. Until next week….
P.S. Links to all the media coverage in the past few days re: PFAS:
EPA warns toxic ‘forever chemicals’ more dangerous than once thought
EPA sets stricter advisories for PFAS chemicals in drinking water