Remember last week, when we had all those lovely pictures of the Great Lakes? And were happy? Well, that’s done with. There’s no more time for lazy beer-drinking bocce along a sun-kissed Lake Michigan shoreline*. The war against the lakes and against the common good as a whole continues apace.
A sort-of-adorable reminder that enormous lakes can disappear.
(*There’s always time for that. Holy moly, I can’t wait for the summer.)
A bill has been working its way through the Michigan legislature the last couple of weeks, and is pending a vote. This is the sort of bill that pundits call “business friendly”, but the rest of us might call “an abdication of our natural rights to corporate overlords.” Let’s let the Petoeksy News explain:
House Bill 5638, introduced by state Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, would eliminate current Department of Environmental Quality requirements for some large water withdrawals proposed by businesses and farms to be screened through an online assessment tool at the agency’s website. This tool is intended to be used prior to large-quantity withdrawals — those of 100,000 gallons or more per day — to determine the impact on local water resources.
Rather than using the current review process, the legislation would allow some applicants instead to seek approval based on hydrological analyses they submit, completed by a hydrologist of their choosing.
Now, reader, I confess I don’t know exactly how onerous the Michigan DEQ is when approving withdrawals. It might be very costly and time-consuming, and may have an overall negative economic impact that (somehow) outweighs the good it does.
It’s a pretty simple public interface in which the farmer plugs in their needs, and an algorithm determines if it is approved or there needs to be more investigation. Apparently, some farmers can wait months for an approval
. It was meant to be unbiased, but can obviusly be slow and unwieldly. Maybe it needs reform and streamlining.
This isn’t it.
This is an attempt to reform environmental oversight out of existence. And the bill’s other sponsors aren’t even really trying.
“One of the biggest things I’ve been intent on in my time in the legislature, is to help speed up the process for business and individuals,” said state Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who is among the bill’s sponsors. “This helps folks that use water wells as part of their business models so this can help speed up the authorization of wells, and utilizing the private sector of a hydrologist to submit information.”
Triston, while getting a few key components of the language mangled, still manages to give away the game here. He invokes the key phrase “utilizing the private sector” as a sort of talisman, a symbol of everything pure and streamlined in our world. It’s a nice way of saying that businesses can essentially buy their own environmental assessment.
And who knows? Maybe there is an incredibly strict code of ethics among Michigan hydrologists, and even if they are getting paid by a company, will deliver nothing but the unvarnished truth. I am sure that, as a field, hydrologists tend to be pretty ethical. You don’t get into the business for the fame and fortune.
But there are shades of doubt in this fallen world, are there not? And are there not several ways to interpret data? And might, human nature being what it is, fallen world etc, might someone being even unconsciously influenced by the desire to please the source of their income?
Because while usage may vary, a 100,000 gallons-per-day farm is rarely a mom-and-pop operation. There will be exceptions, of course, and the line between family-owned and corporate farming is getting thinner and weirder by the day, as large ag interests essentially buy the rights to farmer’s crops and livestock (both a blessing and a curse).
This bill doesn’t just make things easier. As bridgemi.com reports,
it is also about making environmental information less public. And the reasoning is…specious at best.
The public could not scrutinize data submitted by agricultural water users. The bill would exempt that information from the state’s Freedom of Information Act, a right-to-know law notoriously ridden with loopholes. Farm Bureau staffers said secrecy was needed to prevent terrorist activity.
I mean…you know that they are giggling into their Heritage Foundation tumblers when they self-righteously invoke terrorism to protect the public from seeing the business of private corporations. Sure, you may not trust Nestle, which has degraded water around the world, and which has earned sweetheart deals to suck away the Lakes while cities around the state beg for clean water, but are you on the side of terrorists? Huh, comrade?
He’s also happy to give Foxconn pretty unlimited access to Lake Michigan, which we all knew would happen when they dipped their straw on cheesehead soil. Remember how hard it was for Waukesha, a whole city with humans in it, to win a Great Lakes withdrawal? Well…
Less than a year after Waukesha secured permission
to withdraw more than 7 million gallons a day from the lake, Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group could end up winning access to a similar amount of fresh water for its new Wisconsin factory with merely a stroke of a pen from Gov. Scott Walker, the company’s chief political sponsor.
Now, this isn’t a huge diversion, honestly. It’s pretty minor, and hydrologically, you could make the case that the Foxconn plant is in the basin. But this is just the start. It’s an exemption, and a precedent, and if people who care entirely about the needs of huge corporations over our shared right as human beings to clean water, this will keep happening.
It becomes harder and harder to maintain citizen control over our lakes and rivers, our headwaters and wetlands. The privatization of drinking water is a moral obscenity, and should be fought against. If you’re in Michigan, the good folks at Trout Unlimited have ways to influence the bill.
The most important thing you can do is vote. As water dries up everywhere, from the Horn of Africa to the Amerian west, the right to drinking water becomes a key issue. It should be asked of every political hopeful, from the President of the United States down to the dogcatcher of Charlevoix: do you believe the people own their drinking water, or do you believe it should be sold on the cheap? There’s only one acceptable answer.