Since our last newsletter, much has transpired. We saw the approval and distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19, moving us into a new phase of a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our nation, our work, and our personal lives. A historic election took place and the federal administration changed hands and began the formidable work of rebuilding trust and bridging divides. And here in the Huron we have seen some really positive forward momentum, too. Here are a few highlights from my perspective.
Last summer we reported that the State of Michigan adopted regulations limiting seven PFAS chemicals in municipal drinking water. While a success by itself, we noted it was only the beginning of many actions that must take place to keep Michiganders safe from these chemicals in our waterways. In December, there was another regulatory victory; those same seven PFAS chemicals are now regulated in groundwater cleanup rules that match the drinking water standards. The rules will apply to areas where PFAS has contaminated aquifers.
This winter, the University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality released its recommendations on how the University will become Carbon Neutral. Recommendations include electrification of the University’s fleet, purchasing power from 100% renewable energy sources, and other strategies to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Since many of these carbon neutrality efforts will take time, the University will need to offset much of its GHG footprint in the meantime. Offset recommendations include purchasing natural areas that would otherwise be converted to development, thus preserving the carbon sequestration capacity, and managing existing University-owned natural lands to improve the sequestration capacity. This provides an opportunity for the University to make offset investments locally in a way that achieves multiple additional benefits such as public space and, of course, clean water.
Funding for the Environment
2021 has already brought increases in funding. Congress reauthorized and increased Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, bringing critical dollars to the region for freshwater protection and restoration. In addition, the State announced a new funding source for watershed groups like HRWC. Whitmer’s MI Clean Water program will invest $500 million to rebuild water infrastructure. Finally, the passing of Proposal 1 in November will ensure the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund can grow and support land acquisition and access throughout our state.
There was a collective sigh of relief in the environmental movement when the Biden/Harris administration took office. As I watched the President make appointments, my hope grew. From environmental stalwarts like Gina McCarthy and John Kerry, to exciting new faces to the national stage like former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as Energy Secretary and North Carolina’s Michael Regan for head of the EPA, there is a strong, diverse team that can chart an ambitious course on climate change and protections for our air, land, and water. Within the first week, the President issued an Action Plan for the Climate Crisis charting an ambitious course towards a cleaner energy future. Further, this plan is built on the pillars of environmental justice, job creation, and building environmentally sustainable infrastructure.
We have a lot of recovery to do, as we lost a lot of ground. At final count, the Trump administration rolled back more than 100 environmental rules. But I am thrilled by the team Biden/Harris have assembled and feel, for once in too a long a time, that the future looks bright. Amid the swirl of national, state and local change, HRWC finds the levers available to move our mission forward.
In March, we tried something new. We took our River Givers event virtual. While I am hopeful that we can get back to some in-person meetings and gatherings in the near future, we are not there yet. We have put our energy into coming up with an engaging set of talks on a unique platform. Join us and let’s stay connected until we can meet again.
We hope you will head to River Givers to share some time with us!
This blog post was originally published March 1st in the Huron River Report, Spring 2021.