News Picks

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Commission urging reauthorization of GL Legacy Act

The Great Lakes Commission is beginning the 2008 legislative season by renewing its call on Congress to pass legislation to halt the introduction and spread of AIS, and is calling upon Congress to reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy Act. The Legacy Act, passed into law in 2002, authorizes funding to remediate contaminated sediments in the 30 remaining U.S. and binational Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCS) designated under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and is a cornerstone of Great Lakes restoration efforts. To date, five cleanup projects and seven projects to monitor and evaluate contaminated sediments have been implemented under the Legacy Act, with eight additional projects now under review. To better reflect the long-term costs of remediation efforts, the Commission is urging that the annual authorization under the Legacy Act be increased from $54 million to $150 million annually. The Commission is also recommending that the Act be amended to allow the use of funds to support pilot projects demonstrating innovative remediation technologies and techniques, and for habitat restoration. Contact: Matt Doss,

Thursday, January 24, 2008

RFK Jr. and Howard Ernst Crititcal of Maryland's Environmental Efforts

Sorry I haven't posted in a couple of weeks. Been pretty busy with a graduate course working on my masters degree.

Here's an editorial from the Baltimore Sun by two high profile environmental watch dogs. I heard a speech Ernst gave a couple of years ago. He definitely doesn't hold back anything in his opinions. I haven't read his book Chesapeake Bay Blues yet. Hopefully I'll get to it this year. Cheers!

Maryland's dirty secrets
By Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Howard Ernst
January 24, 2008,0,718905.story

The Chesapeake Bay, where we learned to swim, fish and crab, is dying. And despite millions of taxpayer dollars spent on research and reporting, there has been little action to hold polluters accountable for poisoning our beloved bay.

Drive around the country roads of the Delmarva Peninsula and you will find the leading source of the desecration of the bay and its estuarine tributaries: toxic animal waste piled outside chicken houses, sprayed over fields and running into the ditches, creeks and streams that flow to the Chesapeake.

For too long, Maryland's commercial chicken industry has been using the Chesapeake Bay, once a global treasure, as its personal dumping ground for illicit and harmful wastes. Billions of pounds of chicken litter have flowed into the bay in the decades since international poultry conglomerates such as Perdue and Tyson located their multimillion-dollar operations in the Delmarva Peninsula.

The destruction of our waterways by factory farms is illegal under this
nation's environmental laws, which contemplate transparency and cooperative enforcement among the federal government, state environmental agencies and citizens. Yet too many of Maryland's political leaders and poultry industry officials have partnered in a carefully choreographed dance around the many legal tools designed to protect our precious water resources. Together, they've succeeded in undermining all levels of safeguards to ensure that the poultry industry can continue to act in secrecy and without accountability.

On the federal level, the Clean Water Act provides a framework for holding polluters accountable by requiring all dischargers to obtain permits to control harmful substances. Factory chicken producers are no exception. Yet, defying federal law, Maryland holds out as one of the last states in the country not to require these pollution permits for poultry facilities; a draft permit released this month by Maryland's Department of the Environment that is purported to comply with federal laws falls woefully short.

While much of the authority to implement and enforce the Clean Water Act is delegated to state environmental agencies such as MDE, Maryland's 1998 Water Quality Improvement Act wrested oversight of chicken farms away from MDE in favor of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, essentially allowing the poultry industry to self-regulate and the Chesapeake Bay to slowly waste away.

Perhaps most egregiously, Maryland's citizens are being denied their
fundamental rights under this political-industrial compact. Under current law, Maryland chicken farmers must file nutrient management plans with the MDA, describing how they control and dispose of their billion pounds of chicken waste each year. In states across the country, including Virginia and Pennsylvania, these plans are public documents that empower citizens with an invaluable tool to monitor irresponsible behavior and allow for citizen enforcement of environmental regulations. Yet the MDA shields the poultry industry by refusing to make nutrient management plans public. Why the secrecy? Why are there no federally required permits for poultry operations in Maryland? And why can't state citizens gain access to public documents? There are no permits to review and no records to inspect. Maryland's poultry industry is operating under a state-sponsored cloak of darkness designed to protect it from any scrutiny.

It is time to shine a light on improper industry practices. Allowing public access to nutrient management plans is the first step in empowering citizens to protect their communities and waterways. The many chicken growers that are acting responsibly have nothing to fear from the transparency that would be gained by allowing public access to waste-disposal plans. And those in the industry who pollute our waters or fail to develop and properly implement waste-disposal plans would rightfully be subject to enforcement by state and federal government, or citizens, for their illegal activities.

The bay and our local waters are not privately owned commodities.
Maryland's citizens have the right to clean water and healthy communities, and this right depends on public knowledge of where and how the largest industry on the Eastern Shore is disposing of its waste.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is president of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Howard Ernst, author of "Chesapeake Bay Blues: Science, Politics, and the Struggle to Save the Bay," is senior scholar at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Copyright © 2008,
The Baltimore Sun

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Nestlé's water pumping harmful to Michigan

Saturday, January 05, 2008
By Terry Swier
Special To The Press

I am writing to set the record straight on the harm done to Michigan's waters by Nestlé water mining operations. When the guest column, "Nestlé success in Michigan in spotlight" by Nestlé Vice President of Corporate Affairs Heidi Paul in The Grand Rapids Press was being read Dec. 12, I was testifying in front of the U.S. Congress.

I am the president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC). I was on the same panel as Ms. Paul, testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Domestic Policy Subcommittee Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and was asked many of the same questions. Ms. Paul stated that Nestlé's pumping is good for Michigan, and the company has caused no harm.

Courts have determined otherwise. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation won on this point in all three courts in the case MCWC v Nestlé.
The finding of fact that Nestle would cause substantial harm at levels lower than they are pumping now, was made by the Mecosta County Circuit Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals, and affirmed by the Michigan Supreme Court when it rejected Nestlé's argument that the findings were in error.

A picture of the mudflat at Dead Stream was projected on the walls at the hearing. As stated in my written testimony, before pumping, there was water in the stream, even during natural low flows and levels. Sound science, considered and argued over during 19 days of trial in MCWC's case, found Nestlé's pumping at 400 gallons per minute would reduce stream flow by 24 percent, drop levels by 2 to 4 inches, and drop the levels of two lakes by 4 inches to 6 inches.
The findings can be found in Judge Lawrence Root's opinion following the bench trial. The stream has narrowed and wetland edges and bottomlands have been invaded by plant species. Nestlé did not halt pumping. Where is Nestlé's "good neighbor" policy?

At the hearing, Congressman Dennis Kucinich asked witness Dr. David Hyndman about the picture, and asked if beaver dams had anything to do with the harm of Dead Stream. Dr. Hyndman testified, as the courts agreed, that the beaver dams had nothing to do with low levels on Dead Stream. He testified that the low levels were caused by Nestlé's pumping during low flow or growing season when the stream is most vulnerable.
Nestle continues to claim there is no harm. Nestle continues to present itself as just another business using a little water. Instead, this is water mining, pure and simple -- at the expense of the public and at enormous profit to Nestlé. No amount of Nestlé bubbly talk can obscure that fact.

Nestlé also recently argued to the Michigan Supreme Court that citizens have no right to bring a lawsuit to protect wetlands or lakes on Nestlé's own property, even though it has been undisputed that their water resources are protected by state laws.

MCWC believes much of what it has done and stands for is supported by a majority of citizens in Michigan and the Great Lakes. Many citizens oppose the removal of water for export and sale as water, because this converts water under public control to private control and profit without adequate consideration of the public trust, the environment or an accounting for a substantial subsidy of a private exporter without public purpose.

Every gallon extracted as "spring water" as it appears on the label of Nestlé's Ice Mountain bottles, extracts a gallon of water that would otherwise feed a wetland, stream or lake. The diminishment of flow and level causes significant adverse impacts to these water bodies and their habitat and wildlife.

Water grabbers, like Nestlé, undermine the interest of our sixth-generation residents who live in Mecosta, on its lakes and streams; the public that fishes, boats, swims and enjoys our lakes and streams; farmers who rely on our groundwater; industry and our economy that are so dependent on our water, and the environment and public trust.
Our water is our heritage and our culture. It must be protected for our future generations. Let the water stay where it flows, not where it goes.

-- Terry Swier is President of the grassroots group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation in Mecosta.

©2008 Grand Rapids Press
© 2008 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Video: Regionalism in Northeast Ohio

Interview and Slideshow on WCPN Radio regarding regionalism in Northeast Ohio


Friday, January 4, 2008

City of Detroit Should Sell Under Utilized Small Parks

The Detroit City Council will be considering a proposal from the its Parks and Recreation Department to sell about 90 small city owed parks. The proposal seeks to condense and consolidate park space and resources in thriving areas. Recreation officials are endorsing it as a sensible way to look at needed downsizing, a way to reconcile surplus park space with the significant demographic shifts over the last half-century in Detroit, which has lost about a million people since 1950. If sold, the city estimates it can raise $8.1 million from selling the land. The cash strapped city would use the money earned from any sales to maintain and possibly expand parks in parts of the city that are more densely populated.

Is it worth it to do this? I think it is. Without question, parks do serve immensely important benefits and functions to urban/city life. Parks are set aside for people to enjoy--to relieve some of the stress of life. Normally, I would tend to agree with them that selling park land is a bad idea. But in the case of Detroit, I have to say that the city's recreation department proposal seems logical in terms of fiscal demands. By concentrating parks and recreation in neighborhoods that are more likely to utilize them makes sense to me. The city should take any funds made from land sales and reinvest in good or mediocre city parks and make them GREAT parks. I would rather have a dozen great parks than 100 crappy ones.

Opponents are calling the plan short-sighted and wrong, pointing out that once gone, it's gone forever. Colleagues of mine have said to me with all the land available for redevelopment in Detroit, who is going to buy these parks, for what reason, and at what price? Also, it could encourage a developer who has the money to purchase the parks, and the time to wait for the opportunity for resale or development. Still not an optimal use for parkland. Some would likely argue that keeping and maintaining the pocket parks can be used in revitalizing neighborhoods and attracting new residents, small businesses, etc.

Granted, if given a choice between developing a greenfield vs. a gray-field, I would certainly prefer to redevelop the gray-field. No argument here. But, in the case of Detroit neighborhood resurgence, I think that the city needs to attract new neighborhood mixed-income dwellers from outside of the downtrodden neighborhoods. As well as outside of the city limits. Barely satisfactory/poorly maintained pocket parks are not enough to attract these people in order to bring up neighborhoods.

But I’m not letting the city off that easy though. It will take a lot more than selling off currently under-used parks to revitalize Detroit. Detroit still has to do a much better job in maintaining and investing in existing open spaces. They also need to spend more time and effort in planning for quality urban greenspace. Detroit should consider planning for permanent nature preserves, larger urban parks connected to other greenspaces, urban farming, and even restoring wetlands or daylighting some historical watercourses. Such uses would have practical benefits such as increasing property values in nearby neighborhoods and creating educational and tourism opportunities, and would greatly add to the quality of life in Detroit. Fix what’s broken. I’m referring to the parks as well as decisions made in city hall.

NY Times
Detroit considers sale of City's small parks