Three Things Thursday: August 4, 2022
Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the August 4, 2022 edition of Three Things Thursday! This week we take a look at the results of our August 2nd primary election, a recent Michigan Supreme Court decision that most people missed, and a U.S. Senate field hearing on PFAS convened by our very own Senator Gary Peters.
Before diving in, I need to say a few words about this week’s news that Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom dumped over 8,000 gallons of toxins into the Huron River, 5% of which was hexavalent chromium. State and federal officials are now deeply involved and monitoring the situation. A
“Do not touch” warning has been posted for the Huron from around Island Lake/Kensington north, which means no swimming, fishing or contact of any kind. Michigan LCV released a statement immediately, which was picked up by numerous media outlets.
In a statement, Lisa Wozniak, director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters denounced Tribar’s two-day delay in disclosing the release and called out the inattention being paid to pollution concerns this election cycle.
“Toxic contamination in our drinking water continues to afflict Michiganders and we’re alarmed by the lack of attention on the campaign trail being dedicated to this tremendous threat – Democrats and Republicans alike,” Wozniak said.
This disaster was discovered by the Wixom wastewater treatment plant 48 hours after Tribar released the chemicals, throwing the Department of Environment Great Lakes & Environment into immediate action and putting all-hands-on-deck at the Ann Arbor water intake facility given that the City of Ann Arbor gets its drinking water from the Huron.
At this point, Ann Arbor residents are being told that it will take weeks for the toxins (hexavalent chromium is a carcinogen) to reach the water intake facility and that there is no immediate threat to drinking water.
Tribar is the same company responsible for the PFAS contamination in the Huron River months ago, which resulted in a “do not eat” fish advisory on the entire river downstream. Per Garret Ellison’s fine reporting at MLive, local officials have opened a criminal investigation around this latest chemical release.
Please know that bad actors like this unfortunately exist in many parts of the state. While the communities along the Huron work to address this awful threat to human health and the environment, the people of Wyandotte are battling with toxins released for years by BASF into the Detroit River, and the people of Flint are working to address a June oil ‘spill’ in the Flint River. Years ago, Michigan’s landmark Polluter Pay law was gutted, leaving us with very little recourse in having bad actors take responsibility for these catastrophes. It’s more than time that we make a change. Electing candidates to office who have the health of Michigan’s water and residents at the top of their priority list is essential.
Now, on to this week’s Three Things:
1. Michigan’s 2022 Primary Results: Environmental Champions were Victorious!
Michiganders went to the polls on Tuesday to vote in the 2022 primary election, the first statewide election in Michigan since the new district maps, created by Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, went into effect. With new districts – many of which consolidated communities and pitted incumbents against each other – Tuesday marked the beginning of a new political landscape in Michigan. As you know, our team was involved in a number of these races and we were eager to see how our candidates fared, as well as assess election outcomes, overall. So – yes — we closely tracked election results throughout the day and night!
Let’s look at the statewide outcomes first and then go to the legislature and county commission:
At the top of the ticket, the race became clear with Tudor Dixon emerging from a field of five Republican gubernatorial candidates. She is the Republican party’s first ever female candidate for Governor, and this is Michigan’s first-ever all female gubernatorial election. If you haven’t followed the Republican primary closely, Dixon is the DeVos favorite of those that qualified for the ballot and she was endorsed the week prior to the election by Trump. Dixon is clear that she believes that Trump “legitimately won the 2020 election in Michigan.”
In her acceptance speech, Dixon served up a buffet of attack lines for her supporters – criticizing Governor Whitmer on her pandemic response and energy policy, as well as blaming her for global inflation. While we expect the laundry list of Republican attacks to be ironed down, the speech was a preview of the general election fight before us, which will be the most expensive in Michigan history.
Please know that Michigan LCV already has all-hands-on-deck to support Governor Whitmer in her re-election. We proudly endorsed Whitmer, celebrating her leadership in the protection of our drinking water, Great Lakes and democracy, and her strong commitment to tackling the climate crisis. If you missed our endorsement, I invite you to check out this video.
On the state legislative and county commission front, I am happy to report that Michigan LCV’s endorsed candidates performed incredibly well, with many of our endorsees winning by wide margins against their primary opponents. With a myriad of challenges facing the safety of our drinking water, the natural environment, human health and our democracy, Tuesday’s election results made it clear that Michigan Democratic voters* care deeply about electing candidates who will advocate for clean air to breathe and water to drink, who will take action to address the climate crisis and protect our democracy. In short, voters want elected leaders who will have their constituents’ best interests at heart when representing them in Lansing.
It is with a big smile that I report that 51 of 52 (98%) of Michigan LCV candidates won their primaries. Only incumbent Rep. Richard Steenland, running for the new 12th House district, lost his primary to Kimberly Edwards from Eastpointe – who won despite being the rare challenger to win after waving her right to spend more than $1000 in the race.
At the County level in Oakland, all 13 Michigan LCV’s endorsed candidates won their primary. While many of these candidates had varying degrees of competition in their primaries – including a handful that had no primary challenger at all – the lot is well-poised to begin their general election campaigns.
Michigan LCV contributed to the stunningly high win percentage on primary night with its largest ever pre-primary coordinated campaign effort. Our team, with the help of volunteers from across the state, supported our environmental and democracy champions by canvassing over 2,000 doors in key races. In addition to our on-the-ground effort, Michigan LCV PAC supported candidates with tens of thousands of dollars in contributions and volunteer phone banks, and we provided extensive issue-based support on the impact and importance of clean water messaging for the campaigns.
A notable victory for climate and conservation was Jennifer Hill’s success in the 109th House District. Hill, a vocal opponent of Line 5 and a self-described “environmental enthusiast”, campaigned on her 30 years of professional work on water quality issues in the UP and her commitment to climate action in her community. Michigan LCV was not only proud to endorse Hill, but to be the only organization to bring staff and volunteers to Marquette to campaign. Expected to be one of the more competitive primary races of the evening, Hill ended the night with 54% of the vote.
Notable Congressional Results – National LCV is responsible for Congressional endorsements, and this cycle, they endorsed in a number of races before the primary, throwing their support behind incumbent congressional members Dingell, Kildee, Slotkin, and Tlaib, while also endorsing Hillary Scholten who is running in House District 3. National LCV remained neutral in House District 11, which pitted Haley Stevens and Andy Levin against one another. Stevens was the victor in that race by a solid margin.
With the primary now behind us, the Michigan LCV team is focused on the November general election. Given the candidate elections and the citizen initiatives that will likely be on the ballot (more on that in the coming weeks), 2022 is a monumental year for the protection of our water and democracy, and tackling the climate crisis. As our coordinated electoral work ramps up over the next month or so, there will be countless opportunities for you to get involved. Our team will be hitting the doors with endorsed candidates, working to get out the vote, training up to be poll workers and poll monitors, leaning into work with the Promote the Vote ballot initiative, and much more. We’d love to have you join us !
2. The importance of the Michigan Supreme Court’s latest decision
Two weeks ago, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in a case that has enormous implications for land preservation and is particularly important in relation to a proposed development in West Michigan. This is a huge deal.
On July 22, the court ruled in favor of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance (the Coastal Alliance), an organization founded in 2007 to protect and preserve the historical, cultural, and ecological values of the Kalamazoo River mouth area. Over the past many years, the Coastal Alliance has been battling a proposed private yacht marina, which the organization argues would cause irreparable damage and massive change for the area. Specifically, the Alliance stipulates that the project proposed by Northshore of Saugatuck LLC violates Saugatuck Township Zoning Ordinances in the following ways:
- Section 40-910(h) which states ‘In No Event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing the water frontage.’ NorthShore of Saugatuck’s proposal would nearly triple their already substantial 1,200 feet of frontage.
- Section 40-337 (c) (3), which prohibits uses and developments in the designated critical sand dune that have a materially adverse effect upon the natural contours of the land and its vegetation. NorthShore of Saugatuck’s proposal would permanently alter 6.5 acres of Michigan’s Critical Dune, remove nearly 250,000 tons of sand, and change the current natural contour from critical dune to water
- Requirements that prohibit Special Use Authorizations and Planned Unit Developments from changing the essential character of the surrounding area. The developer’s plans are a stark departure from the publicly funded natural areas that surround the proposed marina.
The decision made on July 22nd by the Michigan Supreme Court overturns lower courts’ rulings and clarifies criteria for the Coastal Alliance to appeal local zoning decisions, basically clearing the way for citizens to hold private developers accountable to local zoning regulations.
Bobbie Gaunt, the Coastal Alliance’s board chair, was quoted as saying, “This is a victory for citizens across the state. Developers, such as Northshore of Saugatuck… need to understand that complying with zoning ordinances isn’t optional. We are confident in the merits of the case and look forward to our day in (circuit) court.”
This is a very important decision in terms of good governance and efforts to hold private developers accountable for disregarding local zoning regulations. In addition to this being a precedent setting victory for all who are battling similar zoning challenges across the state, this is a big victory for my close friends, David and Alison Swan, who helped start the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance in 2007 when developers first started threatening the dunes and coastline they hold close to their hearts. For those who know and love the Saugatuck Dunes, please raise a glass to this amazing duo and the board of the Coastal Alliance for their countless hours of voluntary leadership to protect this incredibly beautiful place. And give thanks to the Michigan Supreme Court for this solid decision.
3. Senator Peters’ PFAS field hearing
On Monday, Senator Gary Peters hosted a field hearing on the campus of Michigan State University focused on PFAS contamination. You better bet that Michigan LCV was in attendance. The field hearing put a magnifying glass on the widespread, toxic PFAS contamination that continues to have devastating impacts on so many Michigan communities, including Belmont, Ann Arbor and, of course, Oscoda where the Department of Defense has left a legacy of poison on and around the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.
From left to right: Breanna Knudsen of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Dr. Cheryl Murphy, Sen. Gary Peters, EGLE’s Abigail Hendershott, and GLPAN’s Cathy Wusterbarth and Lt. Colonel Craig Minor at Monday’s hearing.
The field hearing featured two panels, each including individuals with unique perspectives, experiences and insights on the PFAS crisis in Michigan. The first panel was made up of Dr. Patrick Breysee, PhD, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official Bruno Pigott and Air Force deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force’s Environment, Safety and Infrastructure Department Nancy Balkus, P.E., and John Gillespie. Unfortunately, the representative from the Department of Defense was unable to attend.
Sen. Peters (left) questioning Monday’s first panel.
While Breysee and Pigott addressed the dangers that PFAS chemicals pose to human health, the Air Force’s Balkus and Gillespie – both of whom are involved in ongoing negotiations over the military’s responsibility for widespread contamination in Oscoda and remediation efforts – offered only bureaucratic talking points, few details, and even fewer meaningful commitments to address the contamination when questioned repeatedly by Senator Peters. While Balkus offered a commitment by the Air Force to incorporate Michigan’s PFAS standards into remediation efforts, she balked when asked to consider allowing community members to attend regular meetings regarding the Air Force’s plans.
Over the past 10 years, and to this day, the military has refused to accept responsibility for the contamination of drinking water, fish and wildlife in Oscoda, and the resulting impact on human health.
The second panel was composed of Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) representative Abigail Hendershott, Breanna Knudsen of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, Michigan State’s Dr. Cheryl Murphy, PhD, retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Craig Minor and Cathy Wusterbarth of Need Our Water Oscoda and the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network (GLPAN).
From left to right: EGLE’s Abigail Hendershott, Breanna Knudsen of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, MSU’s Dr. Cheryl Murphy, and GLPAN’s Lt. Colonel Craig Minor and Cathy Wusterbarth before the hearing’s second panel.
Breanna Knudsen spoke about how PFAS contamination and the Air Force’s lack of accountability have impacted the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, the health of the community, and tribal rights to the land and water that is now ridden with “forever” chemicals.
Lt. Colonel Minor and Cathy Wusterbarth spoke about their own lived experiences and how PFAS contamination in Oscoda has impacted their health and that of their families, as well as what must be done to address the contamination and impact to human health.
Speaking about her experience growing up in Oscoda, working on the base as a teenager, and being diagnosed with cancer in her twenties, Wusterbarth said:
Unfortunately our family in Oscoda is not unique. Military personnel, their families, and our neighbors are reporting the same conditions. Sadly some cases have to lead to preventable death… We have had health advisories throughout our community due to this uncontrolled spread of PFAS including foam, fish, venison, and all animals living in Clark’s Marsh.”
Detailing his time spent on the Wurtsmith base during his Air Force service, Minor had this to add:
Today, my liver and spleen are enlarged… It’s time for local, state and federal leadership to officially recognize this event. To start, governments and applicable agencies need to cut through the red tape and add this poisoning event to the (Department of Veterans Affairs) presumptive list.”
The Michigan LCV team was there to record video and capture photos. We also helped with the GLPAN press release, which garnered significant media coverage:
For those interested in more information about PFAS, we invite you to visit the GLPAN website, a new, vital organization started by impacted residents and supported enthusiastically by Michigan LCV.
As I say every week, thank you so much for your trust in our work. Until next week…
* NOTE: Extensive polling over the past 36 months indicates that voters across the spectrum–Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike–are deeply concerned about the safety of our drinking water.
P.S. The August installment of 1st Friday Focus on the Environment
Tomorrow, WEMU Program Director/Morning Host David Fair and I will be talking with the Minority Leader in the Michigan House of Representatives, Donna Lasinski, about the challenges facing clean energy installations in Michigan. I invite you to tune in to 89.1 FM at 6:50 and 8:50 AM to check out our conversation. The interview will also be posted on the WEMU website if you want to listen at a later date.