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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, environmental department director Liesl Clark and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. Photo: Jonathan Oosting
Yesterday we wrote about how the people responsible for the Flint water crisis have not yet been held accountable. Partially because justice has not been brought to the city, a new Democratic governor (Gretchen Whitmer) was elected last fall and just last week announced a broad commitment to environmental issues including environmental justice. The Detroit News reported that Whitmer announced plans to overhaul the Michigan environmental department to more closely focus on protecting the Great Lakes, ensuring clean drinking water and combating climate change. Using a series of executive orders to make her first major shakeup of state government, the East Lansing Democrat said she was fulfilling a campaign pledge to be “more responsive to the people of Michigan” amid ongoing fears over the Flint water contamination crisis and emerging PFAS “forever chemicals” in groundwater.
She explained that “Right now communities across our state don’t trust the water coming out of their taps, and there is a real lack of trust in state government. It is time for that to change.” Whitmer’s first non-emergency executive order creates the new Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The revamped department will also house new public advocates for clean water and environmental justice that will accept and investigate complaints from residents, along with a new Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team.
Why This Matters: Serious commitment from Michigan’s governor to help Flint and ensure that low-income communities in Michigan are protected against this sort of environmental injustice is critical but ultimately Gov. Whitmer needs federal support. As a nation, we must ensure that other cities like Flint aren’t betrayed in this way. We must make environmental justice a federal priority and our President and Congress must begin addressing the issue and using their powers to provide clean drinking water and a safe environment for all Americans. The 2020 election cycle is beginning to heat up and every candidate must be pressed on what he or she is going to do to ensure vulnerable communities are made a priority by our government.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday issued another rule dealing a blow to 40 years of settled law on the authority of states and tribes under the Clean Water Act to block fossil fuel projects such as natural gas pipelines and coal terminals that could pollute state waterways.
Why This Matters: The EPA is turning the Clean Water Act on its head and undercutting states and tribes that are protecting the clean water and the health of their citizens.
Why This Matters: This is how the stimulus funding from the federal government should work — it must be used to build cleaner and more efficient new infrastructure that decreases our dependence on fossil fuels.
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