Three Things Thursday: January 26, 2023

Three Things Thursday: January 26, 2023

Dear Michigan LCV Family, 

Welcome to the January 26, 2023 edition of Three Things Thursday! There’s a lot to share this week: a peek at yesterday’s State of the State address, a wonderful new book by one of my heroes, and a prime example of why corporate polluters must be held accountable

1. Michigan LCV in Lansing for State of the State 2023

Last night, Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivered her fifth State of the State address, the first in-person address since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

Inside the rotunda of the Capitol!

Several members of the Michigan LCV team – myself included – braved challenging road conditions to be in Lansing for the address and the many corresponding receptions. The State of the State address, and all that surrounds it, has always been a great opportunity to speak with members of the House and Senate,  their staff, members of the Governor’s cabinet and a myriad of other elected officials, ranging from Michigan Supreme Court to municipal leaders. 

I had the privilege of attending the Governor’s address as a guest of Representative Jennifer Conlin (D – Ann Arbor), which meant I was seated on the floor of the House next to my fabulous host. 

Rep. Conlin and me on the chamber floor.

A selfie with Rep. Conlin!

My floor access credential

Other members of the Michigan LCV team were seated in the gallery (Nick Occhipinti and Bentley Johnson) and still others (Shannon Rochon, Ros Ogburn, Ethan Petzold, Bob Allison and Logan Vorce) watched the address from an office nearby.  

Senator Sarah Anthony (left) with Michigan LCV’s Logan Vorce (right). Senator Anthony is a former Michigan LCV Board member and the new Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

To begin her address, Gov. Whitmer acknowledged that Michigan’s new leadership was making history: 

Good evening, Michigan. It’s great to be back in the Capitol. And it feels even better to be making history. I am honored to stand between Speaker Joe Tate and Majority Leader Winnie Brinks. Both are firsts — the first Black Speaker and the first woman Majority Leader. They will certainly not be the last.”

Amen, Governor!

While the Governor focused a good portion of her speech on the importance of lowering costs for seniors and working families, public education and equal access to free, high-quality pre-school, economic development and good paying jobs, she also spoke about the importance of protecting our democracy, gun violence prevention, creating a state free of bigotry, hate and discrimination, and the critical need to invest in our infrastructure and tackle the climate crisis. 

A photo with Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks!

Home of the automotive industry, Governor Whitmer laid out a vision for our state that includes key investments in clean energy and ensuring our state remains a hub for innovation, inspiring our young talent to stay here at home while taking on some of our state’s largest challenges: the protection of our drinking water and climate change.  

Michigan LCV issued a statement immediately following Gov. Whitmer’s address. Here is an excerpt: 

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to reinvest in our communities and our state, building the clean energy and electric vehicles of the future right here in Michigan,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Governor Whitmer is working hard to put money back into the pockets of families by lowering costs and investing in our communities. Together, we can protect our health now and into the future by ripping out lead pipes, upgrading old sewers, cleaning up contaminated sites, and expanding clean, renewable energy.”

You can read Michigan LCV’s entire statement here.

The energy felt in Lansing last night was truly  “all-electric” and “superpowered”.  You could feel anticipation for what lies ahead and what may be possible with a democratic trifecta, the first of its kind in 40 years. 

In this screenshot of the broadcast, you can see me standing and clapping on the right hand side!

You could also feel the gratitude and grit that the Governor spoke about in her closing remarks: gratitude for an opportunity to make real change for Michiganders, especially those most in need; and the grit it takes to get hard things done.  I loved the hat that the Governor wore as she exited the House gallery: 

Gov. Whitmer wearing a Detroit Lions “GRIT” hat (Credit: @GovWhitmer via Twitter).

Michigan LCV is very proud to have played a key role in making this new majority possible, all built upon our mantra “Our Water, Our Vote.”  Please know our “superpowered” team is ready to support what comes next: strong legislative and executive action to protect our air, land, water and the people of this extraordinary state. 

2. Professor Bunyan Bryant: A True Environmental Justice Hero 

Sometimes in our quest to find heroes we look much further than necessary.   We think that a true hero/heroine can only be found at the national or even international level. We forget to look in our own backyards, and nine times out of ten those we hold on to as heroes may have passed to the other side. 

Last week, I had a chance to visit with one of my heroes, Dr. Bunyan Bryant, Jr., who serves as Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan and who, in 1972, became the first African American member of the School for Environment and Sustainability faculty. 

When I found myself enrolled in one of  Professor Bryant’s classes in 1984 as a second year student at the University of Michigan, I had no idea how fortunate I was nor how much Professor Bryant would change my life. 

You see, Professor Bryant was a trailblazer in the field of environmental justice, establishing the first environmental justice program in the country offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  In 1990, in partnership with other key leaders, Professor Bryan organized the first Michigan Conference on Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards, a convening that led to critical, enhanced advocacy and, ultimately, pushed the EPA to establish the Work Group on Environmental Equity.  And, in 1993, working with UM Professor Paul Mohai, Professor Bryant co-published Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards, which was one of the first scholarly books to examine the intersectionality of race, class and the threats of toxins in our environment. 

The catalyst for my visit with Professor Bryant and his amazing wife Jean Carlberg was Michigan LCV Board member Janis Bobrin.  Janis had recently purchased copies of Professor Bryant’s autobiography – which is entitled Educator and Activist: My Life and Times in the Quest for Environmental Justice and was published in 2022 – both for herself and for me, and was so inspired by what she read (as was I!) that she was overflowing with compliments and questions for the author.  Professor Bryant and Ms. Carlberg graciously welcomed us into their home where we had the opportunity to talk about the book and hear stories about visits to Washington and the struggles to get environmental justice on the radar of people with the power to make real change. 

I learned so much from Professor Bryant’s latest book. I didn’t know about his childhood in the south (Arkansas) and his family’s move to Flint. I didn’t know about Professor Bryant’s work with youth at Michigan’s Fresh Air Camp, Michigan’s Children’s Village and the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court. I didn’t know (enough) about his deep training and commitment to nonviolence (influenced by the work of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.) and how this work showed up in his involvement in the broader SE Michigan community and beyond.  

Educator and Activist is not only an intimate account of Professor Bryant’s personal journey  in a nation infused with and defined by racism, but a snapshot of both the civil rights and environmental justice movement and the challenges and changes in SE Michigan, notably Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti and the University of Michigan community. The leadership that Professor Bryant provided to one of the nation’s most esteemed universities and to the national environmental justice community can not be overstated in its importance. 

Here are two quotes from the back of the book, which I hope will compel you to get a copy:

Bunyan Bryant inspired his students to stand proudly and humbly in the struggle for justice. In his memoir, he tells a deeply personal story that weaves together the history of civil rights and environmental movements–a history that he helped shape.” 

~ Michael Garfield, Executive Director, The Ecology Center

Bunyan Bryant was one of the early mentors. His work taught me that anecdotes alone are not science; that numbers and statistics contain power. And his work taught me that environmental work wasn’t just about science, it was also about action” – From the Foreword by Mona Hanna-Attisha, C.S. Mott Endowed Professor in Public Health at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and author of What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope. 

3. Holding Wolverine Worldwide accountable for PFAS clean up

As you probably know, footwear manufacturer Wolverine Worldwide is responsible for widespread PFAS contamination in Rockford, MI, where the company operated a shoe tannery facility. The years of dumping toxic chemicals have contaminated the drinking water for surrounding communities, leading to some of the highest concentrations of PFAS contamination in Michigan. 

In 2020, a federal judge ordered Wolverine Worldwide to pay more than $55 million to cover the cost of municipal drinking water for impacted residents, as well as remediation costs for its contamination. Wolverine was supposed to begin cleaning up the contamination this fall, but has repeatedly delayed the process.

Now, after months of delays, Wolverine is proposing a plan that not only delays clean up, but fails to stop the flow of PFAS into the Rogue River, a critical water vein that runs into the Grand River, and eventually Lake Michigan. After all of these delays, the release of this weak and  insufficient plan is a true slap in the face to residents impacted by the contamination. 

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) will be making a decision on the plan in the coming months, and is accepting public comments through tomorrow, Friday, January 27, at 5 PM. 

The Michigan LCV team – in partnership with our friends at the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network (GLPAN) have been working to raise awareness about Wolverine’s lackluster “cleanup” plan. We are asking everyone, yourselves included, to consider submitting a comment to EGLE before the end of the day tomorrow. A chorus of voices demanding that EGLE hold Wolverine accountable for cleaning up their mess is the primary means for ensuring that Wolverine’s plan is stronger and much more acceptable to the Rockford community, which  has been severely impacted by toxic PFAS chemicals. 

You can use our one-step advocacy tool to submit a comment directly to EGLE.  Please check it out. I promise it’s very easy to use. 

Thank you so much for all you do. Until next week….



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