Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Third annual Women's March to be held Jan. 19 on Portage Lift Bridge

Participants in last year's Women's March gather near the Houghton waterfront and prepare to march across the Portage Lift Bridge. The Jan. 21, 2018, march in Houghton attracted nearly 500 participants. This year's Women's March will be Saturday, Jan. 19. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

HOUGHTON -- The third annual Women’s March will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, on the Portage Lift Bridge. Marchers will gather on the west side of the bridge near BridgeView Park and walk up to Shelden Ave. to reach the bridge. Hats and signs are welcome.

This march is in conjunction with the Women’s March in Washington, DC, and Sister Marches across the country and around the world.

The first March was held on the day after Trump’s inauguration when our nation’s capital was filled with women from around the country, including a contingent from the Copper Country. Those women led the second annual march on the bridge last year.*

This is an inclusive, non-partisan event. Women of all ages, their partners and children are invited to participate. This march is a diverse, inclusive, and grass roots effort to express concerns for rights, safety, health, justice, dignity, opportunity, and more.

For more information contact Susan Burack at 906-482-3270.

*Editor's Note: See our Jan. 28, 2018, article on last year's Women's March: "Nearly 500 Copper Country residents march across Lift Bridge in anniversary Sister March: videos, photos."

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

January Snow

McLain State Park Winter, by Eric Munch. (Photo © and courtesy Eric Munch)

By Mick McKellar, Midnight Poet
Posted Jan. 5, 2019, on out of my mind...*
Reprinted here with permission.

The breath of Winter's frozen heart released.
Shifting, sonorous, soft blanket of death,
Your grasping samite desert unappeased,
As all fall prey to creeping icy breath.
Your susurration sings of silent sleep,
And icy dreams cascading through the night.
Your shifting dunes on silent cat paws creep,
To sift and drift o'er landscapes lost from sight.
You fill the land -- a vast and soundless sea;
As muted, faint, and hushed, your rivers flow --
And dammed, your frost spray stings, when passing me
On winter winds that always seem to blow.
Your coverlet of frigid, frozen fleece,
Gives all about an icy sense of peace.

Mick McKellar
January 2019

I said to myself: "Say something nice about snow!" Imagine my surprise when I received a reply...

* Midnight Poet Mick McKellar lives in Laurium. Read more of his poems on his poetry Web site, out of my mind...
Learn more about Mick McKellar here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

MDEQ to hold Jan. 9 public meeting, comment period on Back 40 Mining Permit Amendment Application

About a year ago (Jan. 23, 2018) the large gym at Stephenson High School was filled with about 500 people attending the four-hour  MDEQ hearing on Aquila Resources' Back 40 mining project application for wetlands permitting. On Jan. 9, 2019, Stephenson High School will again be the scene of a public hearing on the project -- this time on an application for an Amendment to Aquila's Mining Permit. (File photo © and courtesy Emilio Amador Reyes)*

Public Notice from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ):

MARQUETTE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division (OGMD), is holding a public meeting regarding the Back Forty Mine Mining Permit Amendment Application from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. CST on WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 9, 2019, at the Stephenson High School, W526 Division Street, Stephenson, Michigan. The Back Forty Project is in Lake Township, Menominee County.

The purpose of the meeting is (1) to inform the public that the MDEQ has received an application from Aquila Resources, Inc., to amend Mining  Permit MP 01 2016, issued under  Part 632, Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended, and how to access documents, (2) to provide information regarding the review process, and (3) to provide interested parties the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendment for MDEQ consideration.

Meeting participants will be asked to fill out an attendance card and indicate intent to speak before entering the meeting area. Oral comment presentations will be limited to three minutes. This limit may be reduced or extended dependent on number of requests to speak. Written comments will also be accepted at the meeting.

MDEQ will also accept written comments regarding the amendment application by mail or e-mail from the day of the meeting until 5:00 P.M. EST, WEDNESDAY, February 6, 2019. Mail your comments to Back Forty Mining Permit Amendment, MDEQ-OGMD, 1504 West Washington Street, Marquette, MI 49855. E-mail your comments to the designated MDEQ mailbox at DEQ- Mining-Comments@michigan.gov, including "Back Forty Mining Permit Amendment" as the subject. The MDEQ will only consider comments that pertain to the Mining Permit Amendment Application prior to making a final decision. For additional information, contact Melanie Humphrey, MDEQ, Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division, 906-250-7564, or e-mail humphreym@michigan.gov.

The Mining Permit Application Amendment documents may be accessed at the following:
https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/DEQ_FTP_372266_7.pdf
Once you are in the FTP site, select the "Mining" directory, then select the "Back Forty project." The amendment documents are:
R-MP Amendment Volume II EIA_Nov. 2018.pdf R-MP Amendment Volume I_Nov. 2018.pdf

A paper copy may be viewed at the Menominee County Public Library, S319 Railroad Street, Stephenson, MI 49887

Individuals needing accommodations for effective participation at the hearing should contact Tina Coluccio, 906-228-4524 one week in advance of the hearing date to request mobility, visual, hearing, or other assistance.

* Editor's notes: 

Click here to read Keweenaw Now's Feb. 2, 2018, article on last year's hearing.

Click here for links to other documents on the Aquila Back 40 project.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority approves agreement to build multi-use tunnel, remove pipelines from bottom of Straits

A view of the Mackinac Bridge, crossing the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge's 65-year-old Line 5 pipeline, which lies under the Straits, is destined to be replaced by a multi-use utility tunnel, according to a Dec. 19, 2018, agreement between the State of Michigan and Enbridge. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

From: Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Bulletin

ST. IGNACE, Mich. -- The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA) approved on Dec. 19, 2018, an agreement with Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership to build a multi-use utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The tunnel will house a replacement segment for the Line 5 pipeline that sits on the bottom of the Straits and other utilities.

In addition, the authority, which held its inaugural meeting in St. Ignace, approved the transfer of a property right that will allow Enbridge to construct the tunnel in bedrock beneath the Straits.

Gov. Rick Snyder and leaders of the departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality signed a separate agreement with Enbridge on Dec. 19. This Third Agreement carries forward provisions of two previous agreements with the company -- one in November 2017 and one in October 2018. The Third Agreement requires Enbridge to undertake an enhanced inspection and stewardship regimen. The agreement also includes interpretations of the 1953 easement for the dual pipelines on the bottom of the Straits, as well as ongoing financial assurance requirements for the pipelines.

The Line 5 pipelines would be removed from the bottom of the Straits once the tunnel is complete. The construction could take 7-10 years.

Visit the Michigan Petroleum Pipelines Web site to download these Dec. 19 agreements.

Click here to read the rest of this bulletin from the Michigan DNR.

See also the Dec. 20, 2018, updated article on mlive.com: "Gov. Snyder finalizes Line 5 tunnel deal."

See the recent post from Enbridge here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Environmental, tribal groups oppose Enbridge-State agreement to construct tunnel in Mackinac Straits; 5-day comment period ends Dec. 18

By Michele Bourdieu

Today, Tuesday, Dec. 18, is the last day to submit comments (during a 5-day comment period) on proposed agreements related to a planned utility tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac. Construction of the tunnel could take 10 years while the aging Line 5 pipelines would remain under the Straits. Email or call in your comments as indicated above. (Photo courtesy Anishinaabek Camp - Shutdown Line 5 Facebook page)

LANSING, HOUGHTON -- On Thursday, Dec. 13, the State of Michigan released for public review and comment proposed agreements related to a planned multi-use utility tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac and the remaining life of Line 5 in the Straits. The documents are posted to the mipetroleumpipelines.com website. Public comment is being accepted through Tuesday, Dec. 18, and supplied to Gov. Rick Snyder, state departments and the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA) for consideration.*

Environmental groups are speaking out against this comment period of a mere 5 days following the legislature's hasty passing (during their lame-duck session) of outgoing Michigan Senator Tom Casperson's bill, SB 1197, for constructing a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to "protect" the aging Line 5 pipeline.

Last week that bill was passed on Dec. 11, and on Dec. 12 outgoing Governor Snyder signed it into Public Act 359. This law directs the MSCA to enter into an agreement with Enbridge Energy Corporation -- the company that owns and operates Line 5 -- for construction of the utility tunnel, provided the agreement meets certain conditions. Under the proposed agreement, Enbridge would pay for all design, construction, operation and maintenance costs for the tunnel. The law establishes a separate Straits Protection Fund to pay for the work of the MSCA, including independent experts to ensure proper construction and operation of the tunnel.

On Dec. 12, immediately after Gov. Snyder's signing PA 359, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Michigan LCV) issued this statement:

"After widespread opposition from Michigan citizens, businesses, experts and more, a backroom deal brokered by special interest groups to keep oil flowing through our Great Lakes was hastily jammed through the Legislature in the 11th hour," said Lisa Wozniak, executive director at Michigan LCV. "We are deeply disappointed Gov. Snyder approved legislation that will keep oil pumping through the damaged Line 5 Pipeline for another decade or more."

Wozniak added, "On Nov. 6, the people of Michigan made their position clear by electing candidates who pledged to keep oil pipelines out of our Great Lakes and protect our drinking water. We will continue to advocate, communicate and fight to protect our water and oppose oil pipelines in the Great Lakes as the new administration takes office."

On Dec. 15, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) addressed comments on the Proposed Tunnel Agreement between MSCA and Enbridge Energy to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

"The public notice for the Proposed Agreement was posted at 3:03 p.m. on December 13, 2018, with the public period ending on December 18, 2018, for a period of just over five days, including a weekend," UPEC states. "Such a limited public comment period for a proposal of this magnitude, presented in a legally dense document, with such significant potential impacts to the population of the State and beyond is an egregious abuse of power, and an obvious attempt to limit public review and input. The State should extend the public comment period for 60 days to allow adequate time for public review and comment. The manner in which this Proposed Agreement is being pushed through also ties the hands of the incoming Governor, and is an affront to Michigan voters and the democratic process."

UPEC also points out that a federal permit should be required for a project such as this tunnel under the Great Lakes.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction to require a permit for the proposed tunnel under the Straits, a federally designated navigable water, pursuant to Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899," UPEC says. "The Agreement should explicitly reference that authority and the fact that a federal permit would need to be obtained for the construction and operation of the proposed tunnel. That federal permit review process would involve an opportunity for agency, private group, and public review and comment, as well as analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, to potentially include preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement."

UPEC also challenges Article 11 on Indemnification, which states, "Enbridge will defend, indemnify, protect and hold harmless the Authority and the State of Michigan, and all of its officers, officials, agents, and employees, each in their capacities as such (Indemnitee) from and against (a) any Claim or Liability arising out of or in connection with the work done by Enbridge or its contractors under this Agreement, including without limitation, the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the Tunnel or the Line 5 Straits Replacement Segment, and (b) any Claim or Liability relating to the Tunnel arising out of or in connection  with the condition of state-owned lands beneath the Straits of Mackinac."

UPEC notes that "if the Authority, and by extension, the State is the lease holder and/or permittee or co-permittee of the Tunnel, an indemnity agreement cannot shield the State against an enforcement action of a federal permitting authority due to a catastrophic failure of Line 5, including a major spill of liquid hydrocarbon product into the Straits or other portions of the Great Lakes and its shorelines."

UPEC concludes, "The manner in which this Agreement and accompanying documents is being rushed through at the end of the Snyder Administration gives the undeniable impression that there is not a sincere desire to provide the public with a reasonable opportunity to be informed of the State’s and Enbridge’s intentions with respect to the Tunnel, nor to allow for a deliberative process that considers the potential impacts to the incomparable natural resources of the Straits of Mackinac and the Great Lakes ecosystem. This is especially true in consideration of Enbridge’s dismal track record of major pipeline spills, including in Michigan. This Agreement and the entire subject of the construction of a Tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac should be left to the incoming Whitmer Administration, in accordance with the clear expression of the voters of Michigan."**
 
Another environmental group, which has been calling for decommissioning Line 5 because of the danger of such a major oil spill, is Oil and Water Don't Mix.

Mary Pelton Cooper of Marquette, left, is pictured here with June Thaden of Traverse City at the 2017 Pipe Out Paddle protest against Line 5 in Mackinaw City. Both support the activist organization Oil and Water Don't Mix, which has been calling for the shutdown of Line 5 since 2013. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Oil and Water Don't Mix has asked concerned citizens to sign, on their Web site, a new petition against the construction of this tunnel, saying, "There is no light at the end of Gov. Snyder’s proposed Line 5 oil pipeline tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. Michigan doesn’t need Enbridge’s Line 5 or the oil it sends to southern Ontario. We don’t need to keep the Great Lakes at risk of a catastrophic oil pipeline rupture in the Straits while state officials spend years and taxpayer resources keeping an old oil pipeline running so a Canadian oil transport company can get a new pipeline built in Michigan to transport heavy tar sands oil. What we do need is a clear timetable to close Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac and keep oil pipelines out of the Great Lakes!"

Their petition lists several objections to the tunnel (cited here in part):

-- Exposing Great Lakes to tar sands oil. "Line 5 does not currently transport heavy tar sands oil thanks to the State of Michigan’s 2015 ban. However, a new Canadian tunnel in the Straits is an invitation for Enbridge to seek to lift this ban and transport tar sands in Line 5."
 
-- Continuing to use the 65-year-old Line 5. "Since 1968, Line 5 has ruptured at least 29 times on land, spilling over 1.1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s pristine lands and waters. Line 5 traverses 245 other water crossings, including ones that are tributaries of Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Huron. One Line 5 spill in the Upper Peninsula near Lake Michigan contaminated 825 tons of soil in the Hiawatha National Forest and exposed groundwater to potential contamination."

-- Ignoring the law and alternatives. "A Canadian tunnel under the Straits is not permissible under Michigan’s Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA), common law public trust doctrine, and would risk violating the 1836 Treaty and consent decree with Michigan Tribes protecting the Straits fishing grounds."

-- Opposing the public’s will, Michigan's 2002 directional oil and gas drilling ban. "Strongly supported by the public, the 2002 drilling ban was designed to prevent the very risk a Line 5 tunnel for Canada would present. In addition, May 2018 public polling results found 54 percent of Michigan voters want the Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac to be shut down, and 87 percent of voters said they are concerned that the 65-year-old pipeline could have an oil spill in Northern Michigan, while 64 percent said they are 'very concerned.'"

-- Harming the Michigan economy, from tourism to fishing, during tunnel construction.

-- Promoting climate change by continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.***

Tribal Groups: Tunnel plan ignores treaty fishing rights

According to Nov. 2, 2018, article in Michigan's Bridge magazine, tribal groups complain that the Line 5 Tunnel ignores fishing rights guaranteed to them by an 1836 Treaty.

"While the Snyder administration formally met with tribes three times over the past year under a State-Tribal Accord, tribal leaders say these consultations were little more than an 'airing of grievances' for them," the article notes.

A jiiman (tribal canoe) participates in the Sept. 3, 2016, Pipe Out Paddle protest against Line 5 near the Mackinac Bridge. (Keweenaw Now file photo © and courtesy Miguel Levy)

"The last meeting between tribes and Gov. Rick Snyder was Sept. 27, less than a week before the state announced an agreement with Enbridge to pursue a $500 million tunnel for the company’s Line 5 pipeline. In other meetings, officials have been unwilling to share information from Enbridge or modify any agreements, tribes say."****

Jannan J. Cornstalk, citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands (LTBB) of Odawa Indians and organizer of the September 2016 Pipe Out Paddle Protest against Line 5, commented to Keweenaw Now this week on the importance of protecting the water.

"Our water is in a state of emergency on so many levels," she said. "From PFAs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) to Flint and other areas around the world. We need water to live and I wish people would live their lives as if this knowledge were true. Water is sacred. As Anishinaabek we choose to co-exist with it and hope to have clean healthy water for generations. Shut down Line 5 before it's too late!"

During the 2016 Pipe Out Paddle protest, organizer Jannan Cornstalk, right, is pictured here with her daughter, Jannan Cotto, near the Mackinac Bridge. Both are from Petoskey, Mich., and citizens of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB). Cotto is also LTBB education director. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Professor Martin Reinhardt of the Center for Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University also organized and participated in the protests against Line 5 at the Mackinac Bridge and offered these comments to Keweenaw Now:

"I have serious concerns about how Line 5 has impacted our responsibility, as Anishinaabe people, to protect our Mother earth and our fellow inhabitants. The United States has a legal and political obligation to protect our Aboriginal rights, and to uphold our treaty rights which guarantee our continued ability to hunt, fish, and gather as well as the other usual privileges of occupancy. I am also a citizen of the United States, and a US Army veteran. I believe that the US has great potential to help save our planet from the very serious threat of global warming, if we and other nations work together with traditional Indigenous knowledge holders to begin reversing the damage that we have inflicted through our continued reliance on petroleum products. Lastly, the people of the State of Michigan have a duty to stand up and stop this madness. We literally have a foreign company telling the Governor of our State to leave a dangerous oil pipeline in waters that are in desperate need of protection. So much for Pure Michigan! Shame on Governor Snyder and his cronies for jeopardizing the health of future generations."

Professor Martin Reinhardt of Northern Michigan University, second from right seated and drumming, joins drummers and singers during the 2017 Pipe Out Paddle protest against Line 5 near the Mackinac Bridge. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

The Anishinaabek have set up a camp for all Water  Protectors -- a place to gather in unity and solidarity with all Anishinaabek, to live in balance and harmony, to build a positive place to rest. They are opposed to the Line 5 attack on the Great Lakes and offer cultural classes. The camp is located at 2716 Reed Rd., Levering, MI 49755.****

Michigan Tech and Enbridge

Meanwhile, Michigan Technological University researchers, faculty and students have contributed their technological expertise to assist Enbridge by monitoring the lake environment in the Straits with one of their scientific buoys; directing a team of 41 experts to produce a worst-case-scenario, independent risk analysis on Line 5; and offering to both government and industry a preliminary, student-created design for the tunnel.

In August 2015 Michigan Tech's environmental monitoring buoy for the Straits of Mackinac was successfully deployed west of the Mackinac Bridge. The buoy uses sonar to measure the flow of the water beneath the buoy. It also measures wind direction and speed, wind gust speed, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, solar radiation, water temperature, wave height and direction.*****

Michigan Tech's monitoring buoy near the Mackinac Bridge. (File photo courtesy Guy Meadows, Great Lakes Research Center director)

During the past year, Michigan Tech's Guy Meadows, director of the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) led a team of 41 researchers -- 21 from Michigan Tech and 20 from other organizations and universities -- who conducted an independent risk analysis of the two aging Line 5 pipelines under the Straits in order to determine the potential environmental and economic impacts of a potential oil spill in the Straits. The draft report was submitted last July, and the final report, the "Independent Risk Analysis for the Straits Pipelines," was published on Sept. 15, 2018.

This Figure ES4 from the Executive Summary of the "Independent Risk Analysis for the Straits Pipelines," based on modeling, shows the Maximum Extent of Shoreline Oiling predicted for the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Michigan and Huron Regions as Associated with the Meteorological, Ice Cover and Water Current Conditions Observed for January. Results depicted above represent a total oiled shoreline  distance of 1146 km following an oil release date and time of 01/17/2016 at 1800 hrs from the northern pipeline release point and a total dispersal simulation time of 60 days. The red particles represent dispersed oil.******

On Friday, Dec. 14, the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees heard a presentation on a senior design project for an underwater utility corridor spanning the Straits of Mackinac. Michael Prast, Michigan Tech graduate student in civil engineering, who had presented the project to Michigan legislators and policymakers in Lansing last May, described the project to the Michigan Tech trustees. Here he talks about three of the four teams of students contributing to the projeect:

Michigan Tech graduate student Michael Prast describes, to the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees, several aspects of the senior design project for designing a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. Click on YouTube icon to watch video with larger screen. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

This slide from the student presentation displays the students' design concept of the potential tunnel under the Straits. Click here and then on Mackinac Straits Tunnel Presentation to view the slides of the Power Point presentation. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Here Prast recounts his experiences presenting the project to officials in Lansing:

Prast updates the trustees on recent proposals (for the tunnel plans) by Gov. Snyder and Enbridge and describes reactions to the students' presentations in Lansing. Click on YouTube icon for larger screen.

Prast concludes his presentation and welcomes questions. Click on YouTube icon for larger screen.

Horst Schmidt, UPEC president, who attended the student presentation at the Board of Trustees meeting, said he thought Michael Prast's presentation was well done.

"However, the magnitude of the project is not just one of engineering," Schmidt added. "That he (Prast) admitted there are no recent studies of the geology of the Straits is disturbing. The law itself ignores many state and federal regulations. That Enbridge is given the authority to build the line with its poor record of compliance is unbelievable. Even the outgoing DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) director has commented in the past upon not being able to trust the company. And as has happened in other recent legislation, the governor is hastily approving these laws before he leaves office."

Guy Meadows, GLRC director, who attended the presentation at the Board of Trustees meeting, had a positive reaction to the student project.

"They did a wonderful job," he said. "It's great to see how creative they were in their thinking and to have such a positive response from the State and Enbridge."

Meadows said the tunnel is not covered in his final "worst-case-scenario" risk analysis report (mentioned above).

"We received a positive response to the report from the general public and the State," he noted.

As for the tunnel, he said, "I think it's certainly a step forward."

Now that the risk analysis report is complete, Meadows said Michigan Tech is working on setting up High Frequency Radar (HFR) to monitor surface currents throughout the Straits all year round and 24/7. This will provide more monitoring since the environmental buoys are taken out of the water in the winter.

"This will be the first operational HFR in the State," he noted.

Notes:

* On Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, the new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority will hold its inaugural meeting from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Little Bear Arena, 275 Marquette St., St. Ignace. The three-member authority is charged with overseeing construction and operation of a proposed multi-use utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The tunnel will house a replacement segment for the dual Line 5 petroleum pipeline in the Straits, and reportedly will be built to accommodate other utilities.

** Learn more about UPEC by visiting their Web site.
UPDATE: Click here for their Dec. 15, 2018, proposed letter on the tunnel agreement.

*** Click here to read the entire petition and sign it.

**** See "Michigan tribes say Line 5 pipeline tunnel plan ignores treaty rights." 
UPDATE: See the Dec. 14, 2018, Washington Post article on the Anishinaabek camp for water protectors, "A submerged oil pipeline triggers a winter of frigid protest."

***** See our Sept. 13, 2015, article, "Michigan Tech/Enbridge buoy deployed in Mackinac Straits; Gov. Snyder visits GLRC."

******  Click here for the Executive Summary of the final report, "Independent Risk Analysis for the Straits Pipelines."

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Lame-duck power grabs by Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature undermine voters' will; proposed bills may be unconstitutional

How pure is our State of Michigan when our legislators attempt to undermine the will of the people? (Image courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

By Michele Bourdieu

LANSING -- Millions of Michiganders voted to pass Proposal 2 on the November 2018 ballot by an overwhelming margin, thus amending the Michigan Constitution to move redistricting out of the Legislature and to an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission that will redraw the congressional district lines every 10 years. Proposal 2, started by the group Voters Not Politicians, intends to end gerrymandering in Michigan.

Gerrymandering is dividing a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible. It gives one party an unfair political advantage.

Despite the passing of Proposal 2, the lame duck session of the Michigan legislature has allowed the Republicans to propose bills that would undermine the will of the voters as expressed in the November 2018 election. One of these is Senate Bill 1254, which is described as "a bill to provide for certain duties of the secretary of state relating to the independent citizens redistricting commission; to provide for certain rules and procedures governing the application and selection process for commissioners; to prescribe standards for establishing political party affiliation; to prohibit individuals affiliated with a political party from providing services to the commission; to provide civil sanctions; and to provide for the powers and duties of certain state and local governmental officers and entities."

According to Voters Not Politicians, Senate Bill 1254 is unconstitutional, unnecessary, and unethical. It directly undermines the self-executing redistricting reform amendment (Proposal 2 on the ballot) that was overwhelmingly supported by 61 percent of Michigan voters. Senate Bill 1254 is unnecessary because the constitutional amendment does not need or even allow involvement from the Legislature. Senate Bill 1254 is unethical because it undermines the will of the voters.*

According to Michigan's Bridge magazine SB 1254 is only one of several bills being proposed in this lame duck session that would make major changes affecting Michigan’s government, environment and more.**

On Dec. 11 outgoing Michigan Senator Tom Casperson's bill, SB 1197 for constructing a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to "protect" the aging Line 5 pipeline was passed and on Dec. 12 outgoing Governor Snyder signed it into law as Public Act 359 of 2018, despite the fact that Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel have opposed the tunnel plan and called for decommissioning Line 5.

Another of Sen. Casperson's anti-environment bills, SB 1211, "would carve out a slew of exemptions to state permitting requirements for property owners wanting to fill, dredge or build upon wetlands and lakes," according to the Bridge.**

A Dec. 5, 2018, Bridge article on Sen. Casperson states, "Casperson, who is term-limited, is behind a slew of bills that would loosen state environmental regulations in favor of industry, developers and other private property owners. The efforts include opening more wetlands and lakes to unregulated development, allowing landfills to accept more low-level radioactive waste and preempting local control over tree cutting and removal."***

House Bill 6595, on validity of signatures on initiative petitions, would amend the Michigan Election Law to set new requirements for signatures collected on initiative petitions and state that failure to comply with them would render the signatures invalid and unable to be counted.

Subjects of other lame-duck proposed bills include marijuana (changing elements of the November ballot's Proposal 1 approved by voters), changes in regulations for toxic chemicals, repeal of Michigan's 10-cent bottle deposit law, minimum wage, sick leave and other power grabs by Republicans in both the Michigan House and the Michigan Senate.**

A Dec. 11, 2018, article in The Guardian, "Courts likely to strike down Republican lame-duck power grabs, experts say,"  holds some optimism for Democrats' legal challenges to the Republican power grabs in the Michigan legislature.

"In short, some experts see the moves as a dramatic overreach by one branch of government to grab powers in the domain of others: one probably doomed to fail when it is legally challenged," the article states.

The article notes claims by legal experts that these Republican-controlled legislature efforts to limit executive power are unconstitutional.

* Click here to learn more about SB 1254 and how you can contact your state legislators to ask that they vote "NO" on SB 1254.

** Click here to read the Bridge magazine's "Lame Duck Tracker."

*** See the Bridge magazine's article on outgoing Sen. Tom Casperson, "Michigan Republican Senator: I’m no anti-environmental villain."

Editor's Note:
Michigan residents, you can contact Governor Snyder and express your views on these proposed bills by calling (517) 373-3400, (517) 335-7858 (constituent services) or emailing governorsoffice@michigan.gov.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Rozsa Center to host three holiday concerts -- Dec. 13, 14, 15

Enjoy three different holiday concerts this week at the Rozsa. (Photo courtesy Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts)

HOUGHTON -- Celebrate the holidays with music at the Rozsa! Join the Rozsa Center and the Michigan Tech Department of Visual and Performing Arts for three holiday inspired concerts this week: First, a free Trombone Choir on Thursday, Dec. 13; next, enjoy Gifts of Music, a concert by the Superior Wind Symphony on Friday, Dec. 14; and the Michigan Tech Choirs performing Celebration of Lights on Saturday, Dec. 15. All shows are at 7:30 p.m. at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts.

According to Michael Christianson, director of Bands and conductor of both Trombone Choir and Gifts of Music, "The Trombone Choir concert presents music by the melodious Michigan Tech Trombone Choir in the beautiful Rozsa Lobby and will include a pianist and a vocalist, with other surprises! Then on Friday, The Superior Wind Symphony brings musical gifts that are varied and diverse for you at the end of this year. The Gifts of Music program includes 'The Sussex Mummer’s Christmas Carol' by Percy Grainger and Mike Christianson; 'Three Moods of Hanukkah,' arranged by Lenny Niehaus; two traditional carols, 'Silent Night' and 'O Tannebaum,' co-arranged by Wynton Marsalis; and 'Variations on a Shaker Melody' by  Aaron Copland -- among other holiday-inspired songs."

Jared Anderson, associate professor of Music and director of Choral Activities at Michigan Tech, describes A Celebration of Lights: "The choirs will sing of light from the menorah, the moon, stars, warm homes, a cradle. We hope that people from across the Keweenaw will take some time to join us for this concert. We are especially looking forward to collaborating with the Copper Country Bells, a local group of handbell players who will join the combined choirs for two numbers on the program."*

Trombone Choir is free. Tickets for Gifts of Music and Celebration of Lights are on sale now: $13 for adults, $5 for youth, and no charge for Michigan Tech students with the Experience Tech fee. Tickets are available by phone at (906) 487-2073, online at mtu.edu/rozsa, in person at the Central Ticketing Office in the Student Development Complex, or the night of the show at the Rozsa box office, which opens two hours prior to performances.

(Inset photos courtesy Rozsa Center)

* Click here and on each event to access a program.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Environmental and human health threats from poorly regulated mining in Michigan's UP continue to multiply; DNR to hold meeting on Highland Copper's lease request Dec. 4

Click on map for slightly larger version showing mineral lease requests. (Map courtesy Steve Garske and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition)

[ANNOUNCEMENT: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Minerals Management will hold an informational public meeting on a metallic minerals lease request by UPX Minerals Inc., a division of Highland Copper, from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, Dec. 4, in the Charcoal Room at the University Center on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. DNR officials will give a brief overview of the metallic mineral lease request submitted by UPX Minerals, Inc., and will provide the audience with the opportunity to ask questions. Questions will be answered as time allows. The following article, by Steve Garske, is a slightly updated version of his article that appeared recently in UP Environment, the Fall 2018 newsletter of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC). It is published here with permission.]

By Steve Garske*

On May 30, 2017, Highland Copper Company Inc. acquired approximately 447,842 acres (700 square miles) of mineral properties in the central UP (the "UPX Properties") from the Rio Tinto Group. Then this spring Highland/UPX Minerals requested some 3900 acres (over 6.1 square miles) of mineral leases from the state.

Unlike previous lease requests, which targeted primarily state and commercial forest lands, these potential leases include a state natural area (Rocking Chair Lakes), the Noquemanon Trail Network in the Forestville Trailhead area, and the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy's Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve near Marquette. They also include lakes, wetlands, streams and rivers, camps, homesteads and residential areas. Affected landowners are understandably upset with the possibility of mineral exploration under their lands and even their homes.

Highland's lease request follows on the heels of the Michigan DNR's handing mineral leases for 15,300 acres (23.9 square miles) of mostly public and private forest land in Baraga, Houghton, Iron and Marquette Counties to Eagle Mine/Lundin LLC in 2017. Soon afterwards, Lundin requested a lease for state mineral rights under Haystack Mountain in Houghton County, which the state gladly handed them earlier this year. Haystack Mountain is a unique geologic feature, an ancient 100-foot high "volcanic plug" that straddles Ottawa National Forest and private land.

Except for Highland's lease request, which is still "under consideration," the Michigan DNR has handed over leases to every square inch of mineral rights that mining companies have requested. Why? It certainly can't be the state royalties. As stated by the state's Metallic Minerals Lease Agreement, "Rental for the first (1st) through fifth (5th) year shall be paid at the rate of $3.00 per acre per lease year, and for the sixth (6th) through tenth (10th) year at the rate of $6.00 per acre per lease year." Lease royalties don't kick in until the 11th year, when rates go to $10.00/acre and up. (See https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/PR4340MetallicMineralLease_197342_7.pdf)

Topping off the state's willingness to please the mining industry was the decision by DEQ director Heidi Grether to overrule her professional staff and hand Aquila Resources Inc. a wetland destruction permit for their "Back 40" mine, even though the company's application failed to meet the requirements of state and federal law.

Sixty Islands section of the Menominee River, riparian wetlands located approximately 200 feet from the proposed Project Boundary of the Aquila Back Forty Mine site. (Jan. 9, 2018, photo by Kathleen Heideman, UPEC's Mining Action Group.)

The willingness of the DNR and DEQ to freely hand out exploration and mining permits can be blamed in large part on a phenomenon known as "regulatory capture." Wikipedia (2018) defines regulatory capture as "... a form of government failure which occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating." A University of Chicago School of Business blogger defines it as "...the tendency of regulators, politicians, and bureaucrats to cater to the interests of special interest groups that are highly informed and not to the interests of the general public" (Rolnik 2017). Regulatory capture can also occur when industry is the only source of technical expertise needed to understand production processes and what might go wrong (Cohen 2018).

Cohen goes on to describe a new form of regulatory capture: the willful rejection of science in setting environmental policy. This form of regulatory capture is based on fantasy and a disregard for expertise. In June Governor Snyder institutionalized regulatory capture in Michigan by passing the "Fox in the Henhouse" bills (Senate Bills 662-654), which let the governor appoint a panel of mostly industry representatives with the power to veto regulations written by the DEQ's environmental and health professionals.

The wild U.P. that many of us know and love is under threat like never before. The government agencies that are supposed to protect it are in large part working for the industries they are supposed to be regulating. It's going to be up to the rest of us to save the wild U.P.

Sources:

Wikipedia. 2018. "Regulatory capture." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture.

Rolnik, Guy. April 17, 2017. "When We Are Less Interested in the Truth, Capture Thrives." ProMarket: the blog of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. https://promarket.org/less-interested-truth-capture-thrives/.

Cohen, Steve. April 16, 2018. "Scott Pruitt, Andrew Wheeler, and regulatory capture at the EPA." https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2018/04/16/pruitt-wheeler-regulatory-capture-epa/.

Editor's Notes:

* Guest author Steve Garske is a botanist and a member of UPEC's Mining Action Group.

** Click here to see detailed maps of the mineral lease requests.

*** See our Feb. 2, 2018, article, "DEQ hearing on Back 40 wetlands permit attracts nearly 500; Menominee Tribe lawsuit seeks federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction."