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Great Lakes Article:

More money, citizen vigilance will be key to environmental health

By Rita Jack
May 9, 2002

The Sierra Club is pleased to see so many of its issues embraced by state Sen. Ken Sikkema and both sides of the aisle in "A Citizens' Agenda -- An Action Plan to Protect the Great Lakes," the report resulting from public meetings last fall around Michigan.
   The environment should not be a partisan issue, as it has been for the past 12 years, but the responsibility of all Michigan citizens. Of course, it's one thing to make recommendations, and it's another to act on them. Michigan's public health, environment and economy will depend on action.
   Luckily there have been attempts, notably by Congressman Vern Ehlers and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, among others, to bring more money for protection and restoration into the basin. More money will be the key to any restoration and protection program.
   The Citizens' Agenda executive summary states the task force "issued a series of findings and recommendations which will serve as a catalyst for significant policy changes." Significant policy changes, aye, there's the rub.
   Policy changes are easy to make when Michigan citizens make their wishes known. Note the recent ban on Great Lakes directional drilling that Gov. John Engler didn't sign but allowed to take effect. He bowed to citizen pressure.
   But is there enough funding to implement policy changes? Michigan citizens might assume so, but that may not be the case. Michiganians might also assume that the recommendations will be implemented soon.
   Once this year's election cycle is past, however, it will take unrelenting citizen pressure to ensure the recommendations will be implemented within the next five years. Visible and measurable results will take much longer. It will be up to Michigan citizens to make sure our policymakers don't lose sight of the goals of the Citizens' Agenda.
   Several issues in the Citizens' Agenda are related to public health (such as enforcement of environmental protection laws, airborne toxins, land-based issues, fishery health and management). These will bear close watching.
   The Engler administration has fought against fish advisories that are complete, easy to acquire, easy to read, and easy to understand. Hey, are these things available in any language other than English? Well, no, they're not, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
   And this year, officials are telling us the 2002 fish advisories will be available on the Web. That's great, but I have several family members who don't have computers. As far as distributing hard copies, anglers will no longer be able to get them from fishing license dealers. They are available to those in the WIC program or from local health departments.
   Why are they no longer printing as many copies? Lack of funding, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. The woman on the phone was quick to offer to transfer me to their communications office for details.
   Why are the fish advisories so important? Because every inland lake in Michigan has an advisory for mercury, a chemical associated with slowed learning and development in children, an obvious public health concern with important implications for Michigan's future economic health.
   Michigan citizens will need to closely guard against bad choices being made by policymakers. When election time rolls around, we need to remember who supported the wrong decisions.
   The Engler administration just last week decided to allow General Motors in Lansing to spew more pollution, including mercury, into the air, pollution that will rain back down onto lakes and into children's playgrounds. These are the policies that Michigan citizens need to watch closely and remember when those running for office are waving the Citizens' Agenda banner.
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