Michigan’s Republican-led Senate voted last week to overturn Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order overhauling the state environmental department. Rep. Donna Lasinski represents Michigan’s 52nd House District, which encompasses northern and western Washtenaw County, including Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Saline and Whitmore Lake. Here is her take on last Thursday’s political maneuvering.
“As Michiganders, we know we live in a special place with our countless woods, lakes and rivers. We know that our economy is dependent on our freshwater and lakes for maintaining good-paying jobs and attracting thousands of tourists to our state every year. We know that our health is dependent on having access to clean water. And because of all this, we know that as Michiganders, we have been tasked with an incredible responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources.
“As someone living in and representing a community with a contaminated plume of water, here is what I know: Around the time I graduated from college it was discovered that we had a known corporate polluter who, for more than two decades, had been dumping harmful dioxane chemicals into the ground and streams behind their facility.
“We knew who the polluter was. We knew that they were aware that what they were doing was wrong. But it has still taken more than 20 years to begin to contain the pollution. We have negotiated, we have gone to court, and yet the drinking water for one of the city’s wells has been permanently closed. Rural families on individual wells are forced to stop drinking water out of their private wells as the contamination creeps closer to them. And in a cruel surprise, we were told last fall that we could not eat the fish in our lakes and Huron River due to PFAS contamination. This new threat has been central to the fight for clean water, but as we learned with the apathetic dioxane polluters, we have to ask ourselves, who will hold these corporations accountable?
“Our community is not alone in facing these terrifying water issues, but legislative leadership has been ineffective at addressing them even after all these years. Last year, instead of strengthening cleanup standards and protections for drinking water, the Legislature chose to create panels in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that allow industry representatives to advise the permit licensing process for corporations seeking to take advantage of Michigan’s precious natural resources.
“I was opposed to these panels when they were passed last year for the same reason that I do not support a fox guarding the henhouse. After more than 20 years of struggling to clean up dioxane in our water, it is clear to me that corporations cannot be their own regulators. This is why I was grateful to learn Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed executive orders and directives that, along with restructuring and strengthening the DEQ, reconstituted the PFAS Action Response Team and eliminated these review boards, as they erode the state’s ability to fight and prevent pollution.
“Access to clean drinking water should be a fundamental freedom that both parties can agree on. Yet this month, the House and Senate majority voted to reject Gov. Whitmer’s orders, making it harder to clean up our water and protect public health. Instead, these votes opposing the executive orders protect the interests of industry executives. I have to wonder; do the representatives who voted to reject the governor’s order know what it is like to be unable to trust the water in their taps? Have they experienced a do-not-eat-fish advisory in their lakes and rivers, making them wonder if their food was safe? Have they had their private wells cut off because corporations infringed on their personal property by polluting their wells with toxic contaminants? If they have, then I am at a loss as to how they can oppose the common-sense moves Gov. Whitmer is taking to protect the public health and preserve our environment.
“At the beginning of this session, my colleagues and myself committed to the need for bipartisanship and cooperation. Yet 46 days into the year, these values have already been aside in an effort to gain political points.
“This is not how government is supposed to work.
“Washtenaw County families sent me to Lansing because they knew I would be a fierce advocate for the values we share, which include clean, safe drinking water — and that is what I intend to do.”