Planet Detroit's top 5 Michigan environmental stories for 2019

December 30. 2019

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Planet Detroit had such a great response to our top 10 local environmental stories of 2019, we thought we ought to do the same for stories across Michigan .

So, without further ado…

1. The Michigan DNR, lawmakers made up stories about killer wolves (so they could have them shot)

Perhaps the most shocking statewide reporting this year came from an ex-M Live reporter John Barnes for Bridge Magazine. Barnes obtained internal emails that showed how wildlife officials fabricated a story about an Upper Peninsula wolf pack threatening humans in order to justify shooting it. In fact, the only thing the wolves were threatening were high-priced cattle. The investigative piece caught Attorney General Dana Nessel’s attention; we’ll be following what comes of her inquiries.

2. Michigan grapples with PFAS

The story of how PFAS got into Michigan's drinking water exploded this year. In early December, Wolverine Worldwide and the state of Michigan and two west Michigan townships announced a tentative $69.5 million settlement that would require the company to pay for mitigation and municipal water hookups for more than 1.000 homes. Also in late December, the State of Michigan announced draft PFAS standards for drinking water; public hearings are set for January to review the standards.

To better understand the story, check out Bridge Magazine’s multi-part report on the history of contamination policy in Michigan, and watch Great Lakes Now’s show on the issue (above).

3. High water levels eroded Lake Michigan beaches and sand dunes

Michigan’s west coast got a taste of climate change as high Great Lakes water levels, combined with fall storms, eroded beaches and dunes and threatened and destroyed parks and private property. Lawmakers called for Governor Whitmer to issue a state of emergency for the entire Lake Michigan shoreline while the state expedited permits to fight erosion permits for homeowners. Some homeowners even called for reversals of flows into the Great Lakes coming from Canada. The impact of such a measure would likely be too small to be noticed.

4. Enbridge Line 5 remained on track

Enbridge won its case in the Michigan Court of Claims in late October. The court ruled that the legislation created under the Snyder administration to enable the energy company to build a natural gas pipeline tunnel through bedrock beneath the Straits of Mackinac was constitutional. Attorney General Dana Nessel vowed to appeal, and in November pointed to a study by the American Risk Management Resources Network showing that Michigan taxpayers could be on the hook for cleanup costs in the event of a catastrophic spill. Meanwhile, Enbridge left debris on the lakebed floor during bedrock sampling and waited two months to notify the state of its violation. The debris will not be cleaned up until spring.

5. Nestle’s access to groundwater for bottled water sales ruled ‘not essential ’

A Michigan appellate court upheld Osceola Township’s decision to refuse zoning approval for a booster pump that Nestle would use to help transport its Ice Mountain brand of bottled water. The decision reversed a lower court decision that affirmed Nestle’s arguments that it’s bottled water amounted to an essential public service. In December, a package of bills introduced by a group of Democratic state representatives would restrict the shipment of Great Lakes water out of the basin, potentially hampering Nestle’s ability to bottle and sell Michigan groundwater.