"Micro consumerist" and "tokenistic" solutions divert our attention from the pending climate disaster, says George Monbiot.
I consume a lot of news, probably more than is healthy. There are a couple of reasons.
First, it started when I was a kid where, at different times, I delivered the two Detroit papers and a couple of local ones. The imprint stuck forever. And for the last 15 or so years I've been writing for various media outlets and that requires constant reading to stay on top of the issues.
Which brings me to a recent column by George Monbiot in The Guardian, the left-leaning British publication. I enjoy The Guardian's coverage of the environment and social issues, but confess that I don't read it regularly. One can only consume so much news. But the title of Monbiot's column was too good to let pass.
"Capitalism is killing the planet - it's time to stop buying into our own destruction." Click! If the headline didn't convince me to read on, the subhead did.
"Instead of focusing on ‘micro consumerist bollocks’ like ditching our plastic coffee cups, we must challenge the pursuit of wealth and level down, not up," Monbiot wrote. I stopped watching yet another football game and dove in.
It's a long column and I won't go near hitting all of its points, as worthy as they are. But there are a couple of themes that jumped off the page because they've been favorites of mine for years.
The first is our collective obsession with perpetual economic growth. We use it to measure the economic well-being of the country and the world as well as our own well-being. And it's not a politically partisan issue. Growth is good, right? (Remember "greed is good" from the Wall Street movie?). And I suspect Republicans and Democrats would agree.
Here's Monbiot on economic growth. "All the crises we seek to avert today become twice as hard to address as global economic activity doubles, then twice again, then twice again."
The second is personal responsibility. The tendency of many of us to think we're doing our part by recycling or driving a Prius or in the near future, an electric vehicle.
It's time to think differently according to Monbiot. "While you might persuade yourself that you are a green mega-consumer, in reality you are just a mega-consumer," he says.
A perfect example is the move to electric vehicles (EV's) as a climate change solution. New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote last year that the sudden hyper-emphasis on EV's makes a "perfectly reasonable technological hope into overblown hype."
"E.V.s represent a very American answer to climate change: To deal with an expensive, dangerous, extremely resource-intensive machine that has helped bring about the destruction of the planet, let’s all buy this new version, which runs on a different fuel," Manjoo wrote.
Not to mention that President Biden, in pitching his climate plan, made two trips to Detroit to promote EV's, the huge $50,000+ pickup truck type that most of us don't need and can't afford.
Tease alert, Monbiot closes his treatise with a solution that's best explained by him.
Monbiot's piece is a long-read by newspaper column standards but stick with it. It's also likely to take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to examine popular left-leaning thinking.
I'm all in for that.
I'll close this "worth noting in 2021" series with a couple of random thoughts. Things I've thought about but haven't reduced to writing.
How long does it take to restore an ecosystem?
It depends on who you ask. Great Lakes advocates may respond it's ongoing. There is no end date because systems are complicated, they evolve and new threats emerge. It's like funding the Department of Defense in the federal government one former Great Lakes exec told me recently. You fund it every year.
I ask because the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is entering its 13th year. It has received $3.8 billion to date and will get an extra $1 billion spread out over the next four years plus, it's eligible for $300-$400 million a year for the next four years in the annual budget.
But legislators who have to write the checks are asking how much longer they have to do that. Florida Everglades advocates led by Sen. Marco Rubio tried to get $5 billion for the Everglades in the recent infrastructure bill, but it didn't make the cut.
That should be a heads up for the Great Lakes region whose restoration program is modeled after the Everglades. The money will dry up some day and it should. I'm all in for the funding the Great Lakes has received to date. It was long overdue but at some point the region that regularly touts its $6 trillion economy needs to get off the federal dole and take responsibility for the bounty and treasure that are the Great Lakes.
Plan now I say because it will be sticker shock for the states if and when the feds bail out on Great Lakes funding.
Where's Michigan AG Nessel?
If you follow Michigan politics you're aware of Dana Nessel, the high-profile, sharp-elbowed Attorney General. She's seemingly everywhere with an opinion on every issue. Nessel is best known for her involvement in trying to shutdown the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline. Even though the attorney general isn't part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's team, they've worked hand and glove trying to shutdown Line 5. If you get her press releases, I do, not a day goes by that she isn't touting her official endeavors large and small.
But she's been uncharacteristically silent on Michigan's biggest faux pas of the year, the Benton Harbor drinking water crisis. And it's the type of issue tailored to her activist leanings. Disadvantaged, predominantly Black community plagued by drinking water issues. State agency slow-walks a response while denying responsibility. Federal government intervention required. It's Flint redux from an administration that didn't learn the lessons of Flint.
But deafening silence on an issue of environmental justice from AG Nessel, a former civil rights attorney.
More to come in 2022!
Whitmer ignores longstanding relationship with Canada to promote Line 5 agenda.
There's so much about the Line 5 saga that has been predictable.
That former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder would make a last minute deal with Enbridge to construct (and pay for) the pipeline in a tunnel to replace the existing Line 5. That Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who campaigned against Line 5, would actually try to shut it down and that Attorney General Dana Nessel would join the fray as Whitmer's de facto team mate.
What I didn't foresee is that Whitmer, Nessel and their supporters would make Canada the bogeyman. That's right, Canada, Michigan's neighbor. The country with whom Michigan shares the Great Lakes. The country that's building a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit. You get the picture, collaborators.
It started in 2019 when Nessel characterized Canada as a foreign country. Michigan "will not rely on a foreign corporation to protect and preserve our state's most precious resource, its Great Lakes," Nessel said as reported in the Detroit News. Enbridge is a Canadian corporation.
Canada is a foreign country in a legal and diplomatic sense. But the U.S. and Canada relationship has been one of cooperation and collaboration seemingly forever. And growing up a mile from the Detroit River which separates the countries, the words "Canada" and "foreign" never entered my mind.
Then came Whitmer, who must have thought it was best to just ignore Canada, like it wasn't there, as she pushed her Line 5 agenda.
As time passed and the shutdown of Line 5 moved closer to being a reality, Canadian officials wanted to have a conversation with Whitmer.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford tried to contact Whitmer to discuss Line 5 but was rebuffed, he said, never being able to get through to her. Sarnia, Ontario has 3,000 jobs that are in jeopardy if Line 5 is shut down.
It's worth noting that Whitmer and Ford represent Michigan and Ontario respectively on two U.S. and Canada intergovernmental organizations that deal with common Great Lakes issues.
Then came a protocol breach by Whitmer.
Canada invoked a 1977 treaty with the U.S. that Canada says would prohibit the shut down of Line 5. That move elevated the discussion with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden being the principles.
Whitmer reacted with a direct criticism of Trudeau.
Whitmer said she was "profoundly disappointed" by Canada's decision and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reverse the invocation of the treaty, the Detroit News reported in October.
In an instant Whitmer went from not returning a call from a Canadian colleague to publicly criticizing the Prime Minister of Canada.
I'm not sure how the Line 5 saga will end. It's now in a protracted legal process and is being discussed at the highest levels of the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Michigan is losing the legal battles but predict what a court will ultimately do at your own peril. And the Biden administration is caught between two allies, Trudeau and Whitmer.
But I do know that Whitmer, Nessel and their supporters haven't acquitted themselves well in the Line 5 debate. Agree with Canada or not, blatant disrespect of Canada was the tactic of the D.C. administration that left office in January.
For the long term, it's in the best interests of Michigan and Whitmer to mend fences with Canada. Hopefully that happens in a second term, if she's re-elected. If not sooner.
Drinking water advocates form coalition, challenge Michigan on Benton Harbor.
I'm not a fan of year end top 10 lists. They over-simplify complex topics and help perpetuate our Super Bowl mentality where an ultimate winner must be determined.
But there are 2021 stories worthy of recognition. Here's the first, others will follow.
Benton Harbor drinking water advocates
In September a coalition of 20 groups and individuals sent a formal petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking it to use its emergency authority to intervene in Benton Harbor's drinking water issues. Lead in the water, think Flint, was the issue and the groups had tired of Michigan's slow-walk and bureaucratic response.
It was time to put the issue in a different venue, one that was likely to take action on an environmental justice issue versus one, the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), that talked a better EJ game than it played.
What followed was a rapid response to get bottled water to Benton Harbor citizens and other actions for the longer term. You can read more about Benton Harbor here and in other media outlets. My purpose is to recognize the coalition of activists. Without their willingness to challenge EGLE, the EPA intervention would not have happened. The national spotlight needed to hold Michigan to account for its handling of Benton Harbor would have been missing.
When praising a group action, it's risky to single out individuals, but I'll go out on the limb.
Nick Leonard from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center who was on point for the legal process needed to file the emergency petition.
Cyndi Roper, the Natural Resources Defense Council's Michigan policy advocate, for her expertise and for bringing NRDC's national clout to the issue as it did in Flint in 2015.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and drinking water engineer Elin Betanzo, again both Flint veterans, for lending their credibility to the cause and for signing the petition and speaking publicly on the need for it.
And for groups like For Love of Water from far away Traverse City, who could have stayed on the sidelines, but didn't.
They're not heroes, but they do care and were willing to take action when they didn't have to.
Still to come, Michigan, Line 5 and Canada
Notes on another Michigan drinking water crisis
It’s been an intense eight weeks since drinking water activists, tired of Michigan’s intransigence on Benton Harbor’s lead problems, appealed directly to the U.S. EPA to intervene as the agency did in the Flint water crisis.
The EPA intervened, well… sort of and Benton Harbor residents are getting bottled water while Michigan works on the bigger issue of replacing lead service lines, which it has pledged to do.
Here, a few takeaways on what’s important to know from Michigan’s second drinking water quality debacle in a predominantly Black community in six years.
Don’t underestimate the power of a dedicated and smart group of activists.
That’s the coalition of organizations and individuals who challenged Michigan’s overseer of drinking water, the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).
The group was led publicly by Benton Harbor community leader Rev. Edward Pinkney, Cyndi Roper, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Michigan advocate and Nick Leonard who directs the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.
The mix of community organization, environmental justice advocacy and legal expertise proved to be a powerful antidote to EGLE’s delay and reticence on Benton Harbor.
Benton Harbor residents would still be drinking lead contaminated water without the action taken by this coalition.
EGLE is the result of the reorganization of the Department of Environmental Quality that under former Gov. Rick Snyder, failed the people of Flint.
Part of the reorganization under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointee Liesl Clark was the creation of a Clean Water Public Advocate designed to help prevent another Flint-type crisis.
As the Benton Harbor water problems hit the spotlight in September, I attempted to ascertain what role the clean water advocate played in preventing or reacting to the crisis. I asked EGLE what, if any, advice the advocate provided to superiors on Benton Harbor. The executive order creating the advocacy position provides authority to alert the EGLE director and governor about water issues.
“Report matters relating to drinking water quality to the governor and the director of the Department, as the Clean Water Public Advocate deems necessary,” the order says.
The request was a no sale. I was referred to links in an annual report and a massive file of documents when a simple two or three sentence explanation could have sufficed.
For their part, Clark and her counterpart Elizabeth Hertel at Health and Human Services, could not bring themselves to say Benton Harbor’s water is unsafe to drink. Even when experts like Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and water engineer Elin Betanzo said no, it’s not safe.
Something is fundamentally amiss again in Michigan when the state’s top water quality and public health executives did not learn the lessons of Flint.
Squishy U.S. EPA
When groups like the Benton Harbor advocates request an emergency intervention by the EPA, it’s not done on a whim. It’s a formal process rooted in the law and has to be properly presented to receive consideration.
The petition on Benton Harbor is 35 pages full of legalese, data and citations designed to bolster the petitioners’ case. It’s not for the EPA to take lightly.
EPA did “intervene” and in numerous responses to my questions said that it was making sure the bottled water was distributed and that it was monitoring Michigan’s actions. But there was no formal declaration of an emergency. I asked the EPA if they would be responding to the petitioners’ emergency request.
An agency spokesperson said it wasn’t necessary as Michigan was doing what the petitioners requested.
EPA did not respond to my question about Michigan’s responsibility to provide proper oversight of Benton Harbor’s drinking water operations that contributed to the crisis.
Quick take... EPA was trying to help Benton Harbor residents in MIchigan’s absence. But it was not interested in demanding accountability from EGLE and the state of Michigan, another indicator that lessons from Flint were not learned.
Props to the media
Yes, the media did its job in reporting on Benton Harbor.
With all that’s happening - Covid resurgences, Biden's imperiled agenda, an election, Afghanistan and more - it would have been easy for editors to let the Benton Harbor story slide.
But in addition to state and local coverage; PBS, the major TV networks, NPR, the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian and more provided significant reporting.
The PBS story headline captured the sentiments of Benton Harbor residents and was especially revealing.
“Benton Harbor’s Black community fuming over environmental racism, water crisis,” the PBS headline read.
Not the type of attention Michigan’s aspirational, high profile governor would want, I suspect.
It’s not over
With bottled water available in Benton Harbor and a pledge to replace lead pipes within 18 months, it would be easy for the advocates to declare victory and move on.
But that’s not the case according to environmental attorney Nick Leonard.
Leonard said he wants to see the “details and binding commitments that will ensure Benton Harbor residents have safe water both now and for the foreseeable future.”
He also cited the need to monitor Gov. Whitmer’s commitment to “safe” drinking water in Benton Harbor because what constitutes “safe” isn’t always clear, Leonard said.
Leonard said to prevent another Benton Harbor, the state needs to identify water systems that could have lead problems and have emergency protocols in place to facilitate a quick response.
Whether Michigan can deliver is unknown. It’s not a certainty given recent events in Benton Harbor.
Reluctance to declare water not safe to drink damages state’s credibility in the wake of Flint
The question asked of Michigan’s top environmental executive wasn’t complicated, it was straight forward.
“Is the water in Benton Harbor safe to drink,” asked Rep. Steven Johnson, a Republican who is chair of a legislative Oversight Committee.
But Liesl Clark elected to dodge the straight forward path to an answer and said, repeatedly, "the state of Michigan wants citizens to be drinking bottled water."
Clark directs the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), the successor agency to the Department of Environmental Quality of Flint water crisis notoriety.
Johnson wasn’t buying Clark’s dodge and asked her to answer like a “normal” person and she relented, “No it’s not, people should be drinking bottled water,” Clark said.
The exchange caused the Detroit Free Press to say in its reporting, “Michigan leader waffles on whether Benton Harbor water is safe.” A government official “waffling” on a question they don’t want to answer isn’t news, it’s a regular occurrence. But Clark took it to the extreme on an issue important to everyone, public health.
And that’s how it has gone in Michigan since a group of Benton Harbor residents and activists, tired of Michigan’s intransigence on Benton Harbor’s water issues, formally requested the USEPA to use its emergency authority to intervene.
Since September 9 Michigan, with the EPA involved, has reacted by supplying bottled water for an undetermined period while the use of filters is studied.
But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her Health and Human Services director Elizabeth Hertel still can’t bring themselves to answer the -- is the water safe to drink -- question. I’ve asked twice.
No response from Whitmer’s office, nothing.
Whitmer’s Benton Harbor messaging comes via press releases where she recycles phrases like all hands on deck and a whole-of-government approach “to move forward with urgency and ensure that every parent can give their kid a glass of water with confidence.”
Hertel spokesperson Lynn Sutfin did not answer the question, instead she responded with “out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that city residents use bottled water for cooking, drinking and brushing teeth.”
Sutfin included a rebuke in her response reminding me that the “out of an abundance of caution….” statement was in a previous press release. As if I had forgotten, I hadn’t.
What Whitmer, Clark and Hertel don’t understand or choose to ignore is that reporters and legislators are asking if the water is safe to drink, because Benton Harbor residents need to hear it from the state’s leaders.
Activist and community leader Rev. Edward Pinkney wants Whitmer to tell the people the water isn’t safe because “that way people will listen,” MLive reported.
With Clark on the record with the legislature that Benton Harbor’s water is not safe, I went back to EGLE with a follow up question.
For how long has Clark known that the water is not safe to drink? Why didn't she disclose it earlier, I asked.
Here’s the unedited response from EGLE spokesperson Scott Dean.
“EGLE has been aware that water from some taps in Benton Harbor exceeded the federal lead action level since the 2018 exceedance was recorded, which is why within days of being initially advised of the 2018 exceedance, EGLE instructed Benton Harbor to issue a public advisory through multiple media to all persons served by its water supply. And that is also why DHHS promptly provided funding to the Berrien County Health Department to make water filters available to every residence in the city. EGLE has given similar instructions to Benton Harbor after each reported exceedance. Director Clark was aware of each exceedance and the instructions given to Benton Harbor.”
The response is what I call agency-speak, the use of technical jargon like “exceedance” when there’s too much lead in the water.
When people turn on the tap, they don’t want to ponder if their water has a level of lead that “exceeded” an acceptable level. They want to know if it’s safe to drink, in direct, plain-spoken language
Language like Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Flint water crisis renown recently used when I asked if Benton Harbor’s water is safe to drink.
“No, the water is not safe to drink and especially not for children. There is lead in the water, and there’s been lead in the water for too long. We know what lead does, and it is absolutely not safe for anyone to be drinking at this time,” she said.
No waffling, quibbling or recycled talking points from Dr. Hanna-Attisha.
If only Michigan’s leaders responsible for public health would be so forthcoming.
Liesl Clark’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee is here.
Traverse City attorney best known for challenging Nestle Water, promoting the Public Trust Doctrine
Traverse City attorney Jim Olson’s environmental law career started when by chance, he noticed a poster in the Michigan State University student union announcing a lecture by the iconic law professor, Joe Sax.
It was 1971 and Olson was a recent law school graduate working as a law clerk for a Michigan Supreme Court justice. Sax was lecturing on a new law that allowed citizens to bring legal action to protect the environment.
After the lecture something clicked for Olson. "This is what I wanted to do, I wanted to be part of this law to protect our surroundings and community," Olson said, in an email exchange with Great Lakes Notebook.
That led to Olson and a colleague starting a law practice where they took on a potpourri of cases to pay the bills. Then came the first environmental case when they were asked to represent citizens who wanted to stop a major hotel chain from expanding on Traverse City’s waterfront. The genie was out of the bottle and an environmental law career was launched.
Fast-forward to 2021 and Olson has announced that after 50 years, he is stepping back from the rigor and intensity required by a full-time environmental law practice.
“I guess you would call it semi-retirement or shifting to less defined day-to-day work,” Olson said.
Environmental law evolved rapidly in the 1970’s when Olson was getting his legal footing and he said that made it possible for his environmental work to be a “full-fledged area of practice.”
He cited Michigan’s Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) as an example of the emerging changes. MEPA provided a legal basis for citizens to sue to protect the environment, specifically referring to “any person.” Prior to MEPA the standard for protecting the environment was the province of public agencies. Toss in an environmental review board and a polluter pay law and Michigan had “one of the strongest state environmental law frameworks in the country,” according to Olson.
At the federal level, the government established a wetlands program that enabled Michigan to become one of the first states to enact its own wetlands protection law, Olson said. Wetlands are known as Earth’s kidneys because of their ability to absorb pollutants and improve water quality.
But the 1990’s brought the beginning of budget cuts and staff reductions, Olson laments, which led to reduced government enforcement and occasionally rules were changed that facilitated environmental degradation.
Olson cited a recent law passed by the legislature and signed by former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as an example. Late in Snyder’s second term a law was enacted that prohibits any new environmental laws or standards that are more stringent than federal standards.
Federal environmental laws tend to be general in nature and are designed to allow states to set more stringent standards of protection based on conditions in the state.
Olson is best known for representing a small water activist group, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), in its effort to stop Nestle Water from taking groundwater for bottled water.
The citizens claimed the withdrawals were causing damage to a stream. In a classic underfunded grassroots group defeats corporate giant case, a court ruled in favor of MCWC and Nestle was ordered to reduce its withdrawals.
The Nestle case “cemented” Olson’s reputation as a major environmental protection lawyer in Michigan, the Grand Rapids Legal News said in 2010 when it honored him with a Defender of the Environment award.
In 2010 as an offshoot of his work with MCWC versus Nestle, Olson founded For Love of Water (FLOW), a non-profit focused on water policy in Michigan and the Great Lakes region.
FLOW’s primary focus is emphasizing the importance of public trust principles, the doctrine that says natural resources are held in trust for the people by the state.
The Public Trust Doctrine was cited by Attorney General Dana Nessel in a late 2020 lawsuit brought against Enbridge Energy. Nessel alleged that Enbridge violated the easement granted by Michigan to operate the Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. The case is pending.
Praise for Olson
As a law student, Noah Hall said he admired Olson's work even before meeting him. Hall is an environmental law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who specializes in water law. "I am personally grateful for Jim’s wisdom, teaching, forgiveness, and tireless devotion to the work," he said.
Canadian social justice and environmental advocate Maude Barlow praised Olson saying he “has been one of the most important voices in the world promoting the public trust doctrine and is widely respected for both his legal analysis and his tireless advocacy.”
Barlow, formerly a senior adviser to the United Nations on water, said Olson has brought energy and commitment to every court case and issue where he has engaged. Olson is “one-of-a-kind,” Barlow said.
With the daily demands of a law practice behind him, Olson said he will spend time advising FLOW and on personal writing projects that “have been on hold for many years.”
In September, FLOW established a fund to support its future work in Olson’s name and in that of his colleague, Great Lakes author Dave Dempsey.
.Whitmer directive calls for free bottled water, lead-related testing and health services. Activist says action is "overdue."
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer picked up the pace this week in dealing with the Benton Harbor drinking water issues when she announced increased action by the state to assist residents during the crisis.
In an executive directive, Whitmer said the plan to replace the city’s lead pipelines now has a goal of completion within 18 months. Free bottled water for residents will be available for an indefinite period and residents will be offered free or low-cost lead-related services including drinking water testing and health services.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist visited Benton Harbor to deliver the message of Whitmer’s directive and said in a statement it “brings together state, federal, local and municipal governments, and organizations on the ground, in the community, to solve short-term problems and replace Benton Harbor's lead service lines as quickly as possible.”
The directive comes five weeks after residents and activists, frustrated by the state's lack of action, appealed to the U.S. EPA to use its emergency authority and intervene in Benton Harbor as it did in Flint in 2016.
As previously reported here, EPA has mobilized staff in Washington and in the Chicago Great Lakes office to intervene and provide support to the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy. It is also monitoring the Michigan agency’s progress in dealing with the crisis. EPA has not yet formally declared an emergency.
Reaction to Whitmer’s directive from the groups who petitioned the EPA to intervene was cautiously supportive.
“It's important to note that we filed the petition because we didn't think any level of government - be it the local, state, or federal government - was adequately responding to the issue of lead in Benton Harbor's water,” said Nick Leonard, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.
Leonard said Whitmer’s action was overdue and he “expects the federal government to do the same.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council “is committed to working with Benton Harbor residents and state officials to move this plan forward,” Senior Policy Advocate Cyndi Roper said.
“It is still important that the governor and all state agencies make it clear that the water is unsafe to drink. There should be no ambiguity about the safety of the water,” Roper said.
The governor’s office, the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy and the Department of Health and Human Services have not responded to requests to declare if Benton Harbor’s water is safe to drink.
Two drinking water experts in Michigan have advised residents to not drink Benton Harbor’s water.
“Residents of Benton Harbor need to stop drinking water from the tap because we don’t have information to show that it’s safe,” Elin Betanzo, an engineer and Founder of Safe Water Engineering previously said.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha from the Hurley Medical Center told Great Lakes Now this week that “the water is not safe to drink and especially not for children. There is lead in the water, and there’s been lead in the water for too long.”
Betanzo and Hanna-Attisha were instrumental in exposing the lead in Flint’s water.
Environmental attorney Leonard said the emergency petition for EPA intervention is still outstanding and he is unsure if EPA signed off on Whitmer’s executive directive.
This story will be updated if a response is received from the EPA
Veteran water commissioner will have oversight of Great Lakes restoration, inherits a drinking water crisis in Benton Harbor
U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan named Chicago’s Debra Shore to lead the six-state Great Lakes region office in Chicago this week.
Shore, 69, is a current commissioner with the Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and has served in that elected position since 2006. She was selected over the other known candidate, Micah Ragland, a former Obama EPA executive who is in the private sector.
Shore had the backing of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the number two ranking senate Democrat and other Illinois Democratic leaders. Ragland was endorsed by the union representing EPA employees according to a Chicago Sun Times report.
Shore is best known for her work to transform the sprawling water district from an agency that was bound by bureaucracy and intransigence on the environment, to one that embraced and promoted progressive conservation values.
At Region 5, as the Great Lakes office is known, Shore inherits a short-staffed office whose morale sank to the depths during the Trump administration.
The Great Lakes National Program Office that oversees the multi-billion dollar Great Lakes restoration program will report to her. While the restoration program has had success, it has been slow to clean up the legacy toxic sites that dot the region and were put on an Area Concern list in 1987. The program has also invested over $100 million since 2010 to combat toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie with few results.
Shore also inherits a drinking water crisis in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Citizens and activists have formally petitioned the U.S. EPA to use its emergency authority to intervene as the state of Michigan has not properly addressed the lead in drinking water issues.
Region 5 is the same office that had oversight of Michigan during the Flint water crisis. The administrator at the time resigned under pressure and the agency was later criticized for management failings on Flint by its inspector general.
Shore’s appointment does not require Senate confirmation.