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
Chicago-based environmental journalist