Michigan

Michigan Public Radio: ELPC’s Kearney Speaks Out to Protect Saugatuck Dunes

Some Michigan residents are saying no to a potential development along the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality held a public meeting last night to hear from residents about a proposed development project along dunes on Lake Michigan.

At issue is a plan to build a marina and resort along the Saugatuck Dunes, which are off of Lake Michigan, more specifically off the Kalamazoo River.

John Bayha, an Environmental Engineer with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, says the meeting was to get public comment.

“We have two main permit applications right now under review, and so this hearing was just the opportunity for the public to provide comments that we will take into consideration in our decision making process on these applications,” Bayha said.

Margrethe Kearney, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says the proposal raises several red flags.

“We think there are a lot of issues related to public safety, related to the public interests, related to protection of endangered species and natural resources,” Kearney said.

Kearney says the proposal also goes against state and local laws.

“There are several Michigan laws built to protect the natural landscape and protect the natural beauty we have here. [Michigan’s] scenery is a big tourist attraction and it doesn’t make sense to do anything that might hurt that,” she said.

Development along the dunes has been the subject of debate for decades in this area, but Bayha says the department’s decision regarding the application will be made sometime next month.

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Press Release: ELPC Commends Full Funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SEPTEMBER 14, 2017

ELPC Commends Full Funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 

House Rejects Trump Administration’s Zeroing Out FY 2018 Budget for this Successful Program 

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

 

CHICAGO – Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the U.S. House of Representatives’ approval of full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget:

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center commends the bipartisan legislators who worked together to reject the Trump Administration’s cuts and provide full funding of $300 million for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Learner said. “This program has supported more than 3,000 sensible projects to protect and restore the Great Lakes since 2011. That’s great value for all of us who live, work and play in the Great Lakes. We urge the U.S. Senate to include full funding as it considers the budget.”

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The Detroit News: ELPC’s Learner says “This isn’t the Time for Halfway Measures” to Protect the Great Lakes from Asian Carp

The Detroit News

Army Corps Unveils $275 Million Plan to Battle Asian Carp
By Melissa Nann Burke

Environmental groups and Gov. Rick Snyder demanded immediate action on Monday after the Trump administration released a long-awaited report on a $275 million plan to control the invasive Asian carp before it reaches the Great Lakes.

The report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lays out tentative measures that include installing a new electric barrier to repel or stun the destructive fish and underwater speakers generating “complex noise” to deter them from traveling beyond the lock and dam at Brandon Road near Joliet, Illinois. It came after five months of prodding from bipartisan members of the Michigan delegation and others.

The Army Corps stopped short of recommending closure of the Brandon Road lock, citing the potential economic impact on the barge and shipping industry.

Snyder said Monday that steps laid out in the report “must be taken” to stop the advancing Asian carp, calling for “immediate, decisive action.”

“It is time for all the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces — and all who care about the lakes — to come together to demand action at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a critical pinch point for stopping invasive carp,” he said.

But construction is likely years away. The agency will collect public comments for 45 days, then begin a feasibility study, followed by reviews by federal and state agencies and a Chief of Engineers report, which is not expected until August 2019.

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Associated Press: ELPC’s Learner says It’s “Time for Serious Preventative Actions to Keep Asian Carp Out of the Great Lakes”

Report Proposes Steps to Keep Asian Carp out of Great Lakes
By John Flesher

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A federal report released Monday proposes a $275 million array of technological and structural upgrades at a crucial site in Illinois to prevent invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes and its vulnerable fish populations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlined its tentative plan in a report that had been scheduled for release in February but was delayed by the Trump administration, drawing criticism from members of Congress and environmental groups.

It analyzes options for upgrading the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, a complex on the Des Plaines River southwest of Chicago that is considered a bottleneck where defenses could be strengthened to prevent carp populations in the Mississippi River watershed from migrating into Lake Michigan.

Scientists say if the large, voracious carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could devastate the region’s $7 billion fishing industry by crowding out native species.

The Army corps said the plan outlined in the 488-page document is intended to block the path of invasive species “while minimizing impacts to waterway uses and users.” Elected officials and business leaders in Illinois and Indiana have said that significant changes to the Brandon Road complex could hamper cargo shipment on the busy waterway.

Among technologies the report endorses is using sound systems to create “complex noise” underwater that would deter fish from the Brandon Road area, plus installing a new approach channel and placing an electric barrier at its downstream end that would repel fish and stun them if they get too close. Brandon Road is several miles downstream from an existing barrier network.

Other measures would include installing water jets to wash away “small and stunned fish” that might be caught up around barges, plus a new lock where floating invasive species could be flushed away.

The report says the federal government would pay 65 percent of the costs project’s costs, with the rest coming from a “non-federal sponsor.”

The corps will take public comments on the report until Sept. 21. After a feasibility study and series of federal and state reviews, a final report is scheduled for release in August 2019. Congressional approval and funding would be required to get construction underway.

“The Army Corps report makes clear that it’s time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “The ecological and economic costs of further delays are not sensible or acceptable.”

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Toledo Blade: Report Proposes Plan to Deter Asian Carp From Entering Great Lakes

Report Proposes Plan to Deter Asian Carp From Entering Great Lakes
by Tom Henry

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is recommending the electrical barrier near Chicago that has been used to deter Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan be augmented with complex noise, water jets, an engineered channel, and other structural improvements such as a flushing lock, and a mooring area.

The Corps is not recommending a complete separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, as many Great Lakes scientists and policy-makers, such as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) have urged for years to provide optimal protection for the region’s $7 billion fishery. The issue has long pitted the Chicago-area shipping industry and Lake Erie sportsmen. The shipping industry wants the status quo while Lake Erie – which spawns more fish than the rest of the Great Lakes combined – could have the most to lose if Asian carp are able to colonize the lake system, regardless of the entry point.

The long-awaited, 488-page Corps report went online Monday at http://bit.ly/2vIibCN. Miss Kaptur pushed for its release after the Great Lakes congressional delegation learned the study was completed in early 2017 but that the Trump administration was keeping it from being made public.

Six alternatives were considered.

The Corps would pay for 65 percent of the estimated $275 million of work outlined, or $179 million. The other $96 million would be paid by non-federal sources. The focus area for the work is the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Ill.

In its report, the Corps called its plan the “Technology Alternative – Complex Noise with Electric Barrier” plan.

That option is recommended “because it meets the project objective by reducing the risk of Mississippi River basin [aquatic invasive species] establishment in the Great Lakes basin to the maximum extent possible, and it provides for continued navigation,” the Corps said in its report, adding that the plan “will be most effective if the electric dispersal barrier operates continuously at optimal parameters to deter fish.”

The Corps is taking comments on its recommendation until Sept. 21. It is making plans for two public meetings.

On June 22, a silver Asian carp – the type so sensitive to boat motor vibrations they flop out of water – was found nine miles from Lake Michigan near the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam, upstream from a series of electrical barriers designed to keep it out.

Howard Learner, Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center director, said the report “makes clear it’s time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.”

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Christian Science Monitor: Battle Over the Clean Water Rule; What’s at Stake?

Christian Science Monitor

Battle over the Clean Water Rule: What’s at stake?

By Amanda Paulson

Just who gets to regulate America’s many seasonal streams and wetlands?

That’s a question that has long been contentious.

At the end of June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt formally proposed revoking the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the “Waters of the US” rule, or WOTUS.

Mr. Pruitt was acting on an executive order signed by President Trump back in February. And depending on whom you talk to, the move to repeal the rule is either an environmental disaster that opens up America’s waterways to pollution and development and puts Americans’ drinking water at risk, or a common-sense action that gets rid of a rule particularly despised by many farmers, ranchers, and developers and returns regulatory authority to states.

Q: What is the rule?

The term “Waters of the United States” comes from the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. The 2015 Clean Water Rule was designed to provide long-sought guidance on just which “navigable waters” fall under federal jurisdiction and are covered by the protections in that act.

Some waters, including permanent rivers and streams, clearly meet the definition. But many wetlands, seasonal streams, and ditches don’t necessarily qualify: They’re not connected to US waterways much of the time, even though they may ultimately feed into them.

In a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling to determine the jurisdiction, Rapanos v. United States, the court was split. Four conservative justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, offered a constrained definition that includes only “relatively permanent bodies of water.” Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred, but added that it should also include wetlands and intermittent streams that have a “significant nexus” to those waters – an opinion that has largely governed decisions since.

The Clean Water Rule carried over existing exemptions for things like agriculture and ranching. It has never taken effect, as lawsuits from states (including one involving Mr. Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general) are working their way through the courts.

Q: What change is the EPA proposing?

The rule the EPA has put forward – currently in the 30-day comment period – would mean going back to the standards used 10 years ago. Since the Clean Water Rule is currently under a stay, it wouldn’t actually change practice on the ground.

There’s also some question about whether the repeal is fully legal – and it’s likely to be challenged in court. The EPA “can’t declare that within 30 days it’s going to stop following the law and ignore the standards that have been adopted” through long-standing administrative procedure, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which supports the Clean Water Rule.

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Traverse City Record Eagle: GLRI Funding Safe for Now; Environmentalists: Trump Policies Threaten Great Lakes

Traverse City Record Eagle

By Jordan Travis

TRAVERSE CITY — Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative appears to be safe through 2018, despite calls from the White House to eliminate it.

But an environmental law expert and Traverse City environmental nonprofit director fear other proposals from the Trump administration and federal lawmakers could hurt the Great Lakes’ environmental health.

Trump’s budget proposal called for eliminating the GLRI’s $300 million in funding for the coming fiscal year, the Associated Press reported. The wide-reaching program funds environmental cleanups, fights invasive species and more. It enjoys broad support from environmental advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and the proposal to blank its funding drew widespread criticism.

Great Lakes advocates can claim a small victory now that federal lawmakers have formally proposed leaving GLRI funding untouched, Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay Executive Director Christine Crissman said.

Members of a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee have called for keeping GLRI funding at $300 million through September 2018, subcommittee records state.

Their bill has yet to make it through the full committee and legislative process before Trump can sign it — or not — but it’s a good start, Crissman said. The Watershed Center has used GLRI funding for every large-scale water quality improvement project it has undertaken for the past six years.

“We should absolutely celebrate this as a huge victory and a really big win in the battle on environmental issues,” she said.

But Environmental Law & Policy Center founder Howard Learner said it’s too soon to declare victory on GLRI funding. Yet he was also encouraged by the small step, and echoed Crissman in saying there’s plenty more to fight for.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

By Greg Hinz

With a big assist from a bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Ohio, it looks like plans by the Trump administration to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are on the way to being derailed.

As previously reported, Trump proposed cutting the program—which pays for everything from sewage treatment plants in Milwaukee and water-permeable concrete in Uptown to electronic barriers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan—a whopping 97 percent. Trump aides said that and other kinds of spending have to go to make room for tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

​ But yesterday, GOP Rep. David Joyce and Democratic colleague Marie Kaptur, both from the Toledo area, convinced the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to include the normal $300 million in the pending fiscal 2018 federal budget.

The action is only “a first step,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center here. But the full appropriations committee likely will go along with the subcommittee, and traditionally so does the full House. It’s worth noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin comes from a lakefront district.

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PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          Contact: Judith Nemes                                                                                                                                                       ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 

 STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the U.S. House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee acting to fully fund the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 Environmental Protection Agency’s budget:

“This is a big first step forward for protecting the Great Lakes and achieving full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee rejected President Trump’s zeroing out FY 2018 budget funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  With bipartisan support, the Committee restored the full $300 million of funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

“Since GLRI was launched in 2010, it has provided vital funding to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. GLRI projects also protect safe clean drinking water for 42 million people and support a $62 billion economy based on fishing, boating, and recreational activities.  That’s great value for all of us who live, work and play in and around the Great Lakes.

“Members of Congress across the Midwest heard loud and clear from their constituents that the Trump Administration’s completely eliminating GLRI funding in the FY 2018 is a bad idea.  We especially thank Representatives David Joyce (R-OH) and Marci Kaptur (D-OH) for their leadership in supporting the $300 million of appropriations for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative programs.

“Unfortunately, the House Subcommittee also carries out the Trump Administration’s harsh EPA budget cuts that will compromise the EPA’s ability to advance healthier clean air and protect safe, clean drinking water protections that are vitally important to our health.   The American people deserve better protection than that for our core clean air and clean water values.”

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MLive Michigan: Nearly 4k Miles of Lake Huron May Lose Protection Under Trump Order

Nearly 4k Miles of Lake Huron May Lose Protection Under Trump Order

by Garret Ellison

ALPENA, MI — A 3,850 square-mile expansion of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron could be rolled back under President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider protections for offshore waters that could be opened to oil and gas drilling.

The 30-day public comment window began June 26 on the Department of Commerce review of 11 national marine sanctuaries and monuments following Trump’s April 28 executive order, called “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

The order targets any marine sanctuaries or monument established or expanded since April 2007 and halted the government from naming any more. It includes designations made under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

The order aims to expand offshore drilling, but questions remain about how that might pertain to the Great Lakes, which have been off-limits to oil & gas drilling since 2005. Michigan banned drilling in its Great Lakes waters in 2002.

The Thunder Bay sanctuary and preserve in Lake Huron was designated in 2000 and expanded from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles in 2014. The sanctuary is a destination which draws shipwreck divers and tourists to Alpena. It’s the only National Marine Sanctuary in the Great Lakes or fresh water.

The boundary, which extends from Cheboygan to Alcona counties and east to the mid-lake border, protects from disturbance several hundred known and suspected shipwrecks in Lake Huron. The Alpena headquarters features a shipwreck museum and provides a staging area for scientists and researchers studying ecology, natural resources and maritime archaeology.

Thunder Bay researchers are busy this summer conducting an extensive review of the expanded area for undiscovered shipwrecks.

Environmental groups called the federal review a continuation of Trump’s “war on the Great Lakes.”

Trump’s White House has taken several actions seen as hostile to the ecology and economy of Great Lakes states, most notably eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative cleanup program in the administration’s 2018 budget proposal and blocking the release of a plan to stop Asian carp in the Illinois Waterway.

“The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron had broad Michigan public stakeholder and bipartisan support when it was expanded in 2014,” said Howard Learner, director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. “Scaling back the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is misguided and counterproductive.”

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