Granholm’s Great Lakes Initiative
Attorney General, a candidate for governor, introduces water security plan
February 27, 2002 | By Andy Guy
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service
|Attorney General Jennifer Granholms said Michigan needs to develop a new attitude about environmental protection and new statutes to put it into effect.|
Speaking here on Friday, February 22, at the annual banquet of the local Izaak Walton League, a national conservation organization, Ms. Granholm said Michigan needs strengthened zoning to protect its world-class rivers and wetlands from sprawling development, improved sewage management to keep beaches free of fecal bacteria, and laws that promote more efficient use of water.
Ms. Granholm’s 10-point plan and her remarks on the need to develop a new attitude about environmental protection, and statutes to put it into effect, were the most comprehensive yet by any of the Democratic or Republican candidates for governor.
"The next Michigan leadership must embrace the principles of stewardship and sustainability," said Ms. Granholm, who introduced her Clean Water Forever Initiative for the first time. "We must manage and care for our natural resources by recognizing our responsibility to future generations. The next Michigan must establish and advance a conservation and environmental ethos that protects and celebrates our heritage."
Ms. Granholm also criticized her predecessor, Republican Governor John Engler, for excluding citizens from the regulatory process during the past decade. She promised to welcome the public voice when making decisions that affect Michigan’s land, air, and water.
"I’m certainly troubled by the state’s departure from a long-term commitment to the protection of our natural resources," Ms. Granholm said. "Our system of environmental laws and programs is nearly in ruins because of more than a decade of neglect and indifference. We’ve drifted away from the legacy of Governor Milliken and other leaders who taught us that a good environment means a good economy. Our environment is an engine that propels us."
Opinion polls show clearly that tuning the environmental engine is a high priority for voters, and candidates in both parties have made the environment a top campaign issue for the November election. All of the candidates regularly discuss the need to halt trash imports from Canada, improve public land management, and boost funding for public transit. But water security – the promise of a robust, clean, fresh supply of aqua for drinking, farming, fishing, manufacturing, and playing – is emerging as the most prominent environmental issue.
Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus, a Republican aiming to succeed Gov. Engler, his longtime friend and mentor, called last summer for a ‘Marshall Plan" to protect the Great Lakes. U.S. Representative David Bonior, a Democratic candidate, said he wants to improve water treatment systems and sewer infrastructure to ensure safe water for drinking and swimming. Jim Blanchard, a former Democratic governor who is running again, pledged on February 1 to establish a new state Department of Great Lakes and Water Quality as one of his first acts if elected again.
The Great Lakes contain enough water to submerge the nation under approximately 9.5 feet of water. But a multitude of threats exist. More than 50 billion gallons of untreated raw sewage are discharged each year to Michigan’s waterways. Blue-ribbon trout streams like the wild and wooded Pine River near Cadillac remain vulnerable to intense real estate development pressure. And unusually warm and dry winters, receding lake levels, localized water shortages, and intentions to bottle Great Lakes water for sale have encouraged Michigan residents and lawmakers to reevaluate the state’s water policy.
Ms. Granholm’s 10-point plan shared the concerns of a similar plan introduced in January by the bipartisan Senate Task Force on the Great Lakes led by state Senator Ken Sikkema, a Republican from Grandville. Ms. Granholm’s Clean Water Forever Initiative would:
- Safeguard the quantity of Great Lakes water by enacting a new water law that bases decisions about a proposed water use on how that withdrawal would affect the natural environment. Ms. Granholm said she will oppose with vigor any proposed export or transfer of Great Lakes water that is not coupled with measures to improve the integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem.
- Direct state agencies to develop and implement plans to promote comprehensive water conservation by all Michigan citizens.
- Modernize state programs to manage water not according to political borders, but by the natural boundaries of watersheds, the land area that drains to particular lakes, rivers, and streams.
- Carry forward and expand on the work of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, a partnership of the governors of the eight Great Lakes states formed in 1983 to create clear water use rules that encourage cooperation and consultation among the other jurisdictions throughout the Great Lakes basin.
- Lead a state attack on PCB’s, which she called "the worst chemicals plaguing the Great Lakes," and continue to improve overall water quality in the region through improved enforcement of Michigan’s existing environmental laws
- Enact legislation to curb the dumping of exotic species from the ballast water of overseas vessels floating the Great Lakes and challenge other states in the region to join Michigan in fighting the scourge of sea lampreys, an exotic species that preys on sport fish.
- Increase state funding to expand volunteer citizen programs, improve water quality monitoring, strengthen sewage treatment, and better control stormwater runoff.
- Rely on sound science and the wisdom of state scientists when making water-related decisions. Ms. Granholm said she would direct the state Department of Natural Resources to improve protections for isolated wetlands and recommend new streams for protection under Michigan’s nationally recognized Natural Rivers Program.
- Consult citizens, as well as conservation and environmental groups, when making decisions that affect natural resources.
- Create a cabinet-level position, the Office of Environmental Ombudsman, to cut back bureaucracy, expedite citizen environmental complaints, and assist communities that seek to enact ecologically responsible ordinances.
Most of the approximately 170 citizens in attendance embraced Ms. Granholm’s ambitious plan. "I’m very impressed by Ms. Granholm’s comments," said Betsy Lyon, a retired teacher and member of the Izaak Walton League. "What she wants to do really makes sense. Her speech made me feel good."
Andrew Guy is an environmental journalist based in the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Grand Rapids office. Reach him at email@example.com. For more of the Institute’s first-rate environmental journalism, see www.mlui.org