EPA chief Michael Regan puts Illinois and Chicago on notice; old ways of approving permits may no longer apply
President Joe Biden has made environmental justice a priority like no other president. He campaigned on acknowledging and dealing with EJ and will try to blend it into the fabric of his $2 trillion infrastructure and climate plans.
That’s the talk, the goal and USEPA chief Michael Regan this week put some teeth into the Biden EJ agenda. Regan put Chicago and Illinois on notice that it will no longer be business as usual when it comes to the siting of industry in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods.
The issue brewing for some time is that a scrap metal processor was on the cusp of being granted permits to set up shop in Chicago’s Southeast Side, which is heavily Hispanic and already home to heavy industry and plagued with poor air quality. The company, General Iron, has a checkered environmental past and here’s the kicker. It’s moving from a mostly white North side neighborhood which is rapidly gentrifying.
The message sent is it’s ok to site industry in places where people of color live, but not in upscale or gentrifying White neighborhoods. General Iron says its facility will be “the most environmentally conscious recycling facility in the country,” according to Chicago Sun Times reporting.
Southeast Side citizens cried foul and launched a campaign to get Chicago to deny the permits, including a hunger strike but to no avail.
But EPA chief Regan this week called a timeout and told Chicago it needs to review the permits and conduct a study to examine them with health hazards and environmental justice in mind.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot quickly said the city would comply.
What’s the net of Regan’s action? It’s too soon to tell. Calling for a study is hardly awe inspiring and is common when you don’t want to deal with an issue. It could easily be seen as doing something of little substance to placate the Southeast Side community.
But I’m trying to be optimistic and give Regan the benefit of the doubt, especially given the politics.
Regan represents President Biden, a Democrat and Illinois is a deep blue state with Democrats controlling the governor’s office, the legislature and the city of Chicago. Even the Republican minority leans toward moderation eschewing the policies and practices of the previous occupant of the White House.
With Regan challenging Illinois’ decisions, it takes politics out of the equation. Minimally it says to legislators and regulators that they may have to expand their playbooks to include the issues like cumulative impacts and health concerns before issuing permits.
Whatever happens, other states and cities like Michigan and Detroit may want to take notice. Business as usual may no longer be an option.
EPA Administrator Regan’s letter to Chicago is here.
Photo: Satellite view of Detroit River courtesy NASA.
Canadian Consul General says Whitmer’s Great Lakes propriety is an “irritant.”
As Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s May 13 shutdown of the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline nears, Whitmer’s summary rebuke of Canada and the response from Canadian officials related to it increasingly grabs the spotlight.
Enbridge is a Canadian company and Canada’s politicians including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have made the case that continued operation of Line 5 is critical for its well-being and economy.
Whitmer’s position “certainly strains our relationship and we’ve had a very long history of working closely together,” Joe Comartin, Canada’s Consul General in Detroit recently told the Washington Post.
Comartin said a particular “irritant” is that by shutting down Line 5, Michigan portrays itself as more interested in protecting the Great Lakes than Canada is. “Basically, we reject that completely,” Comartin told the Post.
Sarnia, Ontario is directly across the St. Clair River from Port Huron, Michigan and has an economy heavily-dependent on Line 5’s operation. Its mayor expressed his frustration with Whitmer in the Post article.
“She may be focused on her one issue, but the relationship between Ontario and Michigan has been set back, in my view, for decades,” Mayor Mike Bradley said.
Bradley said he’s written to Whitmer several times about Line 5 and has never received a response. Previously Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Whitmer’s elected equivalent, said he had tried to contact her about Line 5 but wasn’t able to get a response.
Michigan and Ontario in recent times have had a good working relationship on Great Lakes issues, even when leadership came from opposite political philosophies. Whitmer’s predecessor, Gov. Rick Snyder when in a Great Lakes leadership position, always included premiers from Ontario and Quebec when discussing the lakes.
Snyder was also instrumental in forging the deal that led to Canada paying for construction of a new bridge that will traverse the Detroit River. The bridge is critical to trade between the countries and will exemplify the importance of good relations between the U.S. and Canada.
It’s hard to understand Whitmer’s stonewalling of Canada, especially as a progressive Democrat from whom you would expect better.
And it runs counter to the policy of President Joe Biden, a close Whitmer ally, who has emphasized returning to cordial and respectful international relations after the shabby treatment of certain countries, including Canada, by former President Donald Trump.
Perhaps her recalcitrance is a negotiating tactic. Act tough and give up nothing until you have to. More likely it’s to appease part of her political base, environmental groups who have lobbied for a Line 5 shutdown since 2013.
Whatever Whitmer’s motivation for giving Canada the silent treatment on Line 5, it doesn’t serve Michigan’s best interest over the long term.
She’ll leave her successor with a fence to mend with Michigan’s neighbor, Canada. The neighbor with whom Michigan shares the Great Lakes.
Because the lakes don’t belong to Whitmer or Michigan.
Move afoot to rename iconic highway after Chicago's first settler; but does it deserve $3 billion from D.C. for reconstruction?
Chicago’s 16 mile Lake Shore Drive, along with Route 66, is one of the most iconic highways in the United States.
Mention either and most people, especially Midwesterners, will immediately know what you’re talking about and both have been the subject of pop songs that describe their whimsical virtues, real or imagined.
Route 66 still exists but is now a secondary road long-ago usurped by the interstate highway system. Lake Shore Drive, officially U.S. Highway 41, remains a major north - south traffic artery in addition to its scenic virtues with Lake Michigan and Chicago’s skyline on opposing sides.
But change is in the air for Lake Shore Drive or, as locals refer to it - the Drive or LSD after the psychedelic hallucinogen.
How about Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Drive?
Chicago is on the cusp of renaming the Drive after DuSable, the Black man from Saint-Dominique, now Haiti, who is considered its first permanent non-indigenous settler in the late 1700’s.
A key city council committee voted recently to rename Lake Shore Drive after DuSable and the full council is expected to approve the change. This won’t be the first public recognition of DuSable. There’s a museum in his name and a park at the point where he is thought to have located. But renaming Lake Shore Drive after him is a game-changer. It will bring national attention to his legacy.
There’s still some Chicago-style political wrangling between the mayor, who isn’t quite onboard with the change yet, and the council to be resolved before Lake Shore Drive becomes DuSable Drive. Some names die hard. But it will likely happen.
And there’s potentially more brewing for Lake Shore Drive besides the name change that reflects history and changing values for the country’s 3rd largest city.
The Drive is a major highway in Chicago’s transport system that serves to make Chicago function, you know… the city that works. Chicago exceptionalism implies that other cities don’t.
And most importantly, it literally borders Lake Michigan with its record high lake levels that with increasing frequency, lap over the Drive. Toss in climate change with increased severe weather events - torrential rains and flooding - and that begs questions about the Drive’s future. Or it should.
If starting from scratch, you wouldn’t construct a highway bordering Lake Michigan today given climate uncertainties.
Now comes President Joe Biden with a climate plan that intersects with our critical need to update infrastructure including roads. Central to it is reducing greenhouse gas emissions that come from a lot of sources, but especially cars. Or more aptly named today, SUVs and pickup trucks.
Biden, congress willing, will have a couple of trillion dollars to implement his climate and infrastructure plan. When the federal government has that kind of money to dole out, the sharks start circling.
Entities everywhere are preparing to toss their pet projects into the funding hopper and that includes the Illinois and Chicago political intelligentsia, and guess what? They’re floating a $3 billion dollar reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive. The section that runs from downtown past the Gold Coast to the city’s northern border which leads to affluent North Shore suburbs. The portion of the Drive from downtown to the South Side would not be part of the project.
Do we need to spend $3 billion on a highway do over when we’re about to de-emphasize driving, especially on roads that could be swamped by rising waters driven by climate change? And just for the record, there’s ample public transit that serves Chicago’s North side and those spiffy suburbs. If there’s a billion dollars to throw around, invest there. It’s time to ride the train folks, not drive solo in a $50,000 small tank-size vehicle.
Surely, with all of Chicago’s infrastructure issues, there’s a better way to blow through $3 billion. Modernize schools and increase medical facilities in long-disinvested areas in Chicago’s West and South sides. Build parks and after school facilities in those neighborhoods too. That’s infrastructure by Biden’s 2021 definition.
Biden’s big plans are in the blueprint stage right. They’ll be passed in some form after they go through the Washington political sausage-making process known as legislation.
Please, Washington political intelligentsia, spare us the $3 billion concrete escape route from downtown Chicago to cushy homes near nice schools in tidy, toney suburbs.
I suspect Jean Baptiste Point DuSable would appreciate that.
Can the U.S. deliver on a mega-plan? Is replacing cars with cars with a different power source a winning climate strategy?
President Joe Biden has been busy in the last few weeks. First came his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, officially titled the American Jobs Plan. A plan unrivaled in its scope since President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s.
That was quickly followed by hosting a climate change summit for leaders from around the world. No small feat given that the U.S. has been absent from the world stage on climate for the previous four years. The previous White House occupant didn’t see it as a priority, or didn’t see it at all.
A few off the cuff thoughts on both.
In the abstract, there’s little to not like in Biden’s infrastructure plan. It hits the traditional hot spots like roads, bridges and airports. And it proposes getting rid of all the lead pipes that deliver water to homes, traditionally a state and local responsibility. Then it expands the definition to include stuff like taking care of caregivers and investing in high-speed broadband. Both make sense.
My concern is about classic overreach, can the U.S. government deliver on a plan of this magnitude? There will be more demand for money than can be accommodated. Every member of congress, all 535, will have pet projects of which some will be worthy, others not. How does that sort itself out? And let’s face it, the bureaucracy-laden U.S. government isn’t exactly a model of efficiency.
Republicans want to spend on infrastructure but on the traditional kind. They’ve floated an approximate $650 billion proposal which is a non-starter for the Biden administration. Let’s hope they can find a common ground that’s closer to what President Biden is proposing.
Then there’s climate change and it intersects with the president’s infrastructure plan.
The cornerstone of the Biden climate initiative seems to be electrification of the auto industry, replacing cars with cars with a different power source. Or better-said, replacing one bloated SUV and pickup truck with one that has a different power source.
Does that make sense? Not to me. It wreaks of having your cake and eating it too. Sounds like, let’s deal with the climate conundrum but without sacrificing anything from our comfy, consumption-focused lifestyles. I’m not sure nature will recognize the nuance.
All props to New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo for questioning if cars replacing cars makes sense as a way to deal with climate change. His column is here.
The wild-card in this is the Covid-19 pandemic. Not much of substance can take place until it’s extinguished and we’re not there yet. Even if some have declared victory.
The name changes of the bottled water extractor but the status quo remains, all with the blessing of Michigan's top leaders. If you have a gripe, don't blame BlueTriton
You’ve heard the saying “the more things change the more they stay the same.” Rough translation, superficial change isn’t change, it just reinforces the status quo.
And that’s the case with the bottled water business in Michigan. The sale of Nestle Waters North America - Ice Mountain and a bunch of other brands - closed recently. That means Nestle, the bete noire of bottled water activists, won’t be around to demonize. You can no longer blame the Swiss company for taking precious groundwater, paying a pittance for it and putting it in plastic bottles to sell back to us.
Game changer, right?
Nope, the same take, bottle and sell water scheme continues apace, it’s just a new entity driving the process. BlueTriton Brands now runs the water extraction biz that Nestle had in the Great Lakes state.
BlueTriton breaks its name down like this. Blue, for water and Triton is god of the sea in mythology. The new name “reflects the company’s role as a guardian of sustainable resources and a provider of fresh water," according to its press release.
The release goes on to say BlueTriton is committed to sustainability and high-quality products, the obligatory mentions.
The BlueTriton name doesn’t work for me. But it’s their business and who knows, maybe their smart branding team got it right.
Here’s what makes me anxious. BlueTriton sees itself as a “guardian of sustainable resources.” Consumer of sustainable resources? Yes. But it exists to take and sell a natural resource, not to protect it.
The guardian of Michigan’s groundwater extracted and sold for bottled water is the state of Michigan with the public’s interest in mind.
It’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and before her Govs. Rick Snyder and Jennifer Granholm. It’s Department of Environment Great Lakes & Energy’s Dir. Liesl Clark and her predecessors when the agency was the DEQ. It’s the legislature, both parties, with the power to enact new laws.
If you have a gripe with BlueTriton, save it. Direct it toward leaders in Michigan’s government. They can be bottled water game changers, but so far they’re ok with the status quo.
Comprehensive $2.3 trillion plan redefines infrastructure but fails to include an end to drinking water shut offs.
President Biden released his long-awaited infrastructure plan recently and there's seemingly something for everyone. Traditional infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and airports? Yep, they're covered. Emerging infrastructure like expanding broadband, covered. Neglected forever issues like replacing lead pipes that deliver water to homes? It made the cut.
Then there's taking care of caregivers, a worthy endeavor but not infrastructure you may say. It is now. What about bad local zoning laws. That too is an infrastructure issue according to the president.
There are so many things in the plan and so much money to flow from the federal coffers that it prompted New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo to write that it reminded him of an Oprah giveaway.
"Here’s $400 billion for home care workers, $300 billion for manufacturers, $100 billion for
workforce development — but wait, there’s more! The electric grid, water systems, broadband — you get $100 billion, and you get $100 billion, and you get $100 billion," Manjoo said.
And there's more, most of us won't have to pay for the largesse. Congress willing, Biden is sending the bill to wealthy people and corporations. It's magic, those guys finally have to pay up.
By the way, Biden's plan isn't even an infrastructure plan, it's a jobs plan... The American Jobs Plan. A little misdirection to help garner support from the people. I know, grow up, it's Washington.
What's not in it? Probably a lot but one thing jumps off the page. An end to drinking water shutoffs for people who can't afford to pay their water bills.
A plan from a well-respected, progressive president that tosses a billion dollars around like it's a nickel couldn't find $1.5 billion to end water shutoffs. That's how much Michigan Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell, both Democrats, are asking for according to Detroit News reporting. Tlaib, in the News story said the White House was listening to what she and Dingell had to say.
Listening? I'd hope so.
We're about to embark on an infrastructure program for generations to come and it won't end water shut offs? C'mon!
Biden's infrastructure, uh... jobs plan will be dissected and debated for months in Congress.The final product? Roads and bridges for sure. Biden is all in on cars, he just wants electric ones and they need roads and bridges too. Airports and broadband, in. But some of the softer items may not make the cut. Not everyone in Washington and Congress is enamored with Biden's unilateral redefining of what constitutes infrastructure.
But I'm sure people struggling to pay for drinking water will be enamored with the president if he could see fit to keep their taps on, no matter what. Besides, it's the right thing to do.
Photo: Greater Detroit, the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario courtesy of NASA.
Ohio legislative chamber tells Gov. Whitmer to keep Line 5 running; former Michigan governor weighs in
The Ohio House of Representatives last week joined the Canadian chorus of objectors to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's decision to shut down the aged Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline that traverses the Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Michigan and Huron.
In a 73-10 vote, the chamber passed a resolution urging Whitmer to make all efforts to keep Line 5 running. Last November Whitmer set a May 2021 date for the shut down. The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Michael Sheehy (D) who said the shut down will disrupt energy supplies and it threatens hundreds of jobs in Ohio.
“I have enormous respect for Governor Whitmer, and for her leadership in the State of Michigan. Why, however, in the midst of a global pandemic, are we risking hundreds of jobs when Enbridge is already working on a safer alternative to the current pipeline," Sheehy said in a press release.
As previously reported here, Canada under the Liberal administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has mounted a high profile campaign including to the Biden administration to pressure Whitmer to rescind her shut down order. And a prominent Michigan voice with Canadian connections has also spoke out on the U.S. and Canadian conflict on Line 5.
Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard (D) said in a TV interview that the way things are going Line 5 will be "litigated forever." Blanchard said it's important to get the pipeline in a tunnel built that will replace Line 5 and he expressed confidence that Whitmer will lead and resolve the issue.
A former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Blanchard said nothing good comes from this dispute for either country. Blanchard previously served on the Enbridge board.
Whitmer has been largely silent on Line 5 since ordering the shut down and her Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has been advancing an alternative energy distribution study assuming that Line 5's demise is soon.
Michigan has an agreement with Enbridge to construct and pay for the tunnel replacement for Line 5 and EGLE has granted permits allowing it to proceed. The Army Corps of Engineers must still give its green light for the tunnel. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel tried twice to get a court to invalidate the agreement but it was a no sale. Nessel has said she will not appeal.
A wild card is if or how the Biden administration may play a role. Biden is generally anti-pipeline
but he also wants to improve relations with Canada following President Trump's shabby treatment of our northern neighbor. And he wants to get along with Trudeau who is considered a leader on the world stage on climate change, a priority for Biden. Biden has also has close ties to Whitmer, so a tangled web of allies at odds.
Whitmer, according to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, hasn't exactly been neighborly when it comes to Line 5. Ford alleged in February that Whitmer hasn't returned his call to discuss Ontario's position on the shutdown.
For its part, Enbridge says it will defy Whitmer's Line 5 shut down order. The company maintains that the U.S. federal government regulates its operations, not the state of Michigan.
Anti-pipeline activists remain staunchly supportive of the Line 5 shutdown and are resolute in opposition to its tunnel replacement. They say there are ample energy distribution options to make up for the loss of Line 5.
Court upholds legality of 2018 carbon tax law designed to reduce ghg emissions
The Canadian Supreme Court today took a big step in keeping Canada in its leadership position on the world stage in the battle against climate change.
The court, in a 6-3 decision, upheld the constitutional legality of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2018 tax on carbon emissions designed to hit emission reduction targets by the 2030 goal.
The decision re-affirms Canada's place as a global climate leader and the Environmental Defense Fund makes the broader case for Trudeau and Canada here.
In a carbon tax, emitters of greenhouse gas pollutants pay a fee, a tax, if they fail to hit emission reduction targets. So there’s an incentive to do the right thing. It’s more complicated than that but in general, a carbon tax is thought to be more effective than cap and trade programs that are now being questioned.
A couple of things worth noting on Canada’s carbon tax. First, it was enacted in 2018, three years ago and was probably a couple of years in the making. So 2016ish. That was the last year of the Barack Obama presidency.
Second, a carbon tax has been talked about in the U.S. for some time and has had bi-partisan support. It’s just never been able to get enough traction to get serious consideration in congress prior to the Donald Trump presidency. Then there were four years when even the mention of climate change let alone a carbon tax was off limits.
Now comes President Joe Biden with an aggressive climate agenda and a team of climate hawks on staff to develop and launch it. The reference to “aggressive” by the way, is by U.S. standards. We are more laggards than leaders on climate initiatives. Congress is split and politics are polarized so any climate action in this country that requires a law will be a tough sell. A carbon tax would require a law.
Back to Canada.
In Michigan, it’s become a sport to criticize Canada for its support to keep the Line 5 oil pipeline running. That’s the one Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered shut down in May. Michiganders look at the issue with blinders on as in, pipeline equals bad. Canada, bad. The Michigan League of Conservation Voters accuses Canadian officials of creating “false narratives” about Line 5. It serves their narrow purposes.
Whitmer and Michigan in early 2021, three years after Canada instituted its carbon tax, is in the earliest stages of formulating a carbon reduction initiative. The governor and her strident supporters incessantly refer to her climate action as “bold.”
In between dissing Canada over its Line 5 support, if Michiganders would exit their echo chambers and look for bold action on climate, they only need to look across the border to Canada.
Updated 3/26 to include EDF column on Trudeau and Canada.
“O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.” Canadian national anthem.
Spotlight on new Great Lakes region EPA exec. Restore credibility, re-establish oversight and protect 20 percent of Earth's fresh surface water on the agenda.
To Great Lakes insiders the EPA's Chicago office is referred to as simply, Region 5. If one says "Region 5," everyone knows what you mean. To others eavesdropping on the conversation it could sound like an Area 51 reference, the federal property where the U.S. government purportedly houses UFO secrets.
The grey building is just off Chicago's Loop and requires airport-type security to enter. I once tried to take a picture of it as background for a story and was quickly told by a security guard, "no photos." I identified myself as a reporter but no sale, "no photos" the guard said as his face took a more determined look. Just as well, he may have saved me from a tow of my illegally parked car. You also can't stop near the building with blinkers on.
Now that Michael Regan has taken office as EPA administrator, one of his more important tasks is to name the regional administrators and the choice for Region 5 will be one of the more important ones. Region 5 you see is home to the Great Lakes National Program Office, GLNPO for the insiders, and it oversees all things Great Lakes.
That includes the multi-billion dollar program to restore the lakes that's so popular in the region. One of its biggest tasks is to restore a whole bunch of toxic sites like the Detroit River on a list developed in the 1980's. Progress is being made but it's slow and a total cleanup may still be decades away.
Region 5 is also responsible for oversight and enforcement. Enforcement of laws and regulations wasn't a priority during the last four years to the point that it could have been seen as a retained hobby. The new Region 5 chief will have to jump start that work.
Equally important is oversight of what the states are doing, or not doing. A deficiency in oversight by Region 5 is broader than the last four years. Minimally it goes back to the time of President Barack Obama when it delayed on taking action on Flint's lead problems. That caused administrator Susan Hedman to resign though EPA has never taken any responsibility for Flint. The people of Flint haven't forgotten though and there's a $600 million negligence suit against the agency working its way through the federal court system. So far, EPA has tried to say it's immune from that type of suit but that defense was rejected.
There's also an oversight issue related to Lake Erie's algae problems that have threatened drinking water quality for years. To date, EPA is in federal court defending its lack of oversight in suits brought against it for not taking a tougher stance with the state of Ohio.
The new Region 5 exec will have to deal with that conundrum.
So far, two candidates have publicly surfaced for the Region 5 job. Detroiter Michael Ragland who has a Flint background and who worked at EPA in the Obama years. And Chicago water executive Debra Shore, best known for trying to revitalize Chicago's stodgy water reclamation district. Both have backing from their respective congressional delegations in Michigan and Illinois.
Don't expect miracles no matter who gets the Region 5 job. EPA is a huge bureaucratic agency bound by laws and regulations and it won't turn on a dime. And while new Administrator Michael Regan comes to EPA with stellar credentials, he's known as an executive who seeks consensus instead of overturning the apple cart at the risk alienating constituencies, like big ag.
The new Region 5 administrator pick is worth tracking for a lot of reasons. Primarily because, important but overused fact alert, the selection will be responsible for 20 percent of the Earth's fresh surface water.
With climate change instability in the foreground and demand for water only expected to increase, think about that one for a minute.
Great Lakes, water issues in the region subject to the exceptionalism myth too
I love a good, quiet Sunday morning read and this one in the Washington Post titled "In the shadow of its exceptionalism, America fails to invest in the basics," jumped off the page.
The article's essence can be boiled down to this. "Historic breakthroughs in science, medicine and technology.... coexist alongside monumental failures of infrastructure, public health and equitable access to basic human needs."
Think Mars Rover, but so many still get drinking water delivered via toxic lead pipes. The Flint water crisis, you get it.
My beat for 15 years has been the Great Lakes and the region's water, writ large. Since 2015 it has included environmental justice issues like Flint where the water was poisoned, and recently drinking water denied to people who can't afford to pay for it. How "exceptional" are we when it comes to our wealth of water? The water whose abundance was officially declared a "national treasure" by President George W. Bush.
I'm afraid not very.
It could be said that it was exceptional when the eight Great Lakes states passed the Great Lakes Compact that keeps them from being drained by shipping it to areas outside the basin. A wise and necessary action that required collaboration and grit. But we fail the exceptional test when there are people in Detroit, Chicago and other cities who are denied basic drinking water because of an inability to pay, and they may live only a mile from the source.
In Michigan, the Great Lakes state, there is right now a pitched battle over whether an aged oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac should be decommissioned. Anti-pipeline activists and the Michigan governor say its shelf life has expired and it is a tremendous threat to the Great Lakes, its economy and way of life. That's debatable but it's a solid argument and Michigan is taking the high road to protect the Great Lakes by erring on the side of caution. Better to act now than have to react in case of a catastrophic oil pipeline failure. I'll give Michigan an "exceptional" grade.
Michigan has 14,000 contaminated groundwater sites and 130,000 failing septic tank sites according to longtime Great Lakes policy expert, Dave Dempsey who currently tracks the issue for a non-profit group. Here's the kicker, this is a decades old problem and Michigan lacks effective laws to deal with this contamination. Groundwater supplies are vast and are often referred to as the 6th Great Lake. It's beyond unexceptional that Michigan hasn't figured out a way to protect it. Spare us the Pure Michigan ads.
There's more. Since the Cuyahoga River burned in the 1960's Lake Erie has been the poster-child for restoring the Great Lakes and there has been real progress. That's an accomplishment. But the lake is beset by a problem that is a direct threat to safe drinking water. Toxic algae blooms that result from nutrient runoff from farms. A fixable problem with a few regulations and some financial incentives to get farmers to change their ways. A typical carrot and stick approach. But regulating farmers is the third rail for politicians so the threat of another Toledo water crisis remains.
I'll stop, you get the picture.
Our perceived exceptionalism is ingrained in our culture, especially in recent years. We live in an era of 8th grade graduation ceremonies where kids are lavished with praise for "graduating" from, 8th grade. A ceremony former President Barack Obama eschewed saying, and I'll tidy it up, 8th grade isn't a goal.
And there's the hyper-use of "amazing." Everyday I get announcements about conferences, workshops, seminars, speeches and new job announcements with an "amazing" reference. What if that conference and its speakers were simply knowledgeable or had a unique perspective? That'd work for me, I don't need faux amazing. And don't get me started on the overuse of "bold" by politicians and their supporters to describe something average that should have been addressed long ago.
Let's find a way to remove the threat to the Great Lakes from that oil pipeline, stop the pollution to the 6th Great Lake and guarantee basic drinking water as a right, no matter one's financial status.
That could qualify as exceptional and future generations may find it, amazing.