Environment Picture

From the farm and Capitol: Awardees blaze own paths

Mary C. Brown, Lynn Henning earn top environmental honors
One woman shaped policy from the corridors of power in the State Capitol. The other woman is changing Michigan from, almost literally, the grass roots of her rural farm.
Both women—ex-legislator Mary C. Brown and farmer-turned-environmental leader Lynn Henning—were feted June 5 at the Michigan Environmental Council’s annual awards event in Kalamazoo.

Brown, resplendent in her “recycled” dress, received the state’s highest environmental honor, MEC’s 2007 Helen and William Milliken Distinguished Service Award.
Henning, surrounded by family and friends from the Environmentally Concerned Citizens for South Central Michigan, accepted the Petoskey Prize for Environmental Leadership. That award is bestowed annually on the state’s top grassroots environmental leader.

More than 150 guests and dignitaries jammed the sun-splashed Arcus Depot in Kalamazoo to pay tribute to the winners and the values of environmental stewardship, public health and social equality they uphold.

“These two amazing women are shining examples of how committed, informed citizens can drive positive change in their communities, their state and their nation,” said Lana Pollack, MEC president.

“Sometimes that change begins on the floor of the State House, as it often did for Mary. Other times it starts at the epicenter of an environmental nightmare like it did with Lynn,” said Pollack. “Both are paths to protecting natural resources, along with the health and prosperity we derive from them.”

Brown’s is the political career of a public servant whose depth of knowledge is unparalleled on an array of issues, including social justice, environmental stewardship and gender equity.

Brown “was a key person during her tenure in the legislature in bringing awareness of the importance of the environmental agenda,” Lynn Jondahl, a former state representative told the Kalamazoo Gazette for a story on the award ceremony. “She brought—which is so characteristic of her—profound knowledge about issues. All legislators are generalists because they deal with a variety of issues, but she would really dig into an issue.”

Legislation championed by Brown included many clean air rules and other protections for the health of Michiganders and the preservation of the state’s natural grandeur. As a result, she stamped her mark on dozens of important state laws that still provide a framework for enlightened resource stewardship.

Retirement from the Michigan Legislature in 1994 changed the venue where she practices her particular brand of activism, but not her tenacious approach.

Brown’s lifelong passion for working with the Girl Scouts continues. She is a state Natural Resources Commission member and sits on the boards of the state YMCA, MEC and the American Lung Association of Michigan. She is a founding member of the Kalamazoo Environmental Council and the Coalition for Urban Redevelopment in Kalamazoo.

Henning earned her leadership stripes by becoming one of the leading advocates for human health and water quality near the polluting mega-farms (called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs) that discharge massive quantities of animal waste into open lagoons. The CAFOs turned creeks near her rural family farm near Hudson into open cesspools and turned the air putrid.

She fought back. She learned to track and document pollution. She learned law, chemistry, biology and bureaucracy. She forced regulators and corporate polluters to confront the problem. And she never backed down when intimidated and harassed.

Henning is now vice chair of the Environmentally Concerned Citizens for South Central Michigan and a water sentinel with the Sierra Club. She trains volunteers from across the Midwest to track and monitor CAFO pollution. Her work has led to the discovery of more than 200 Clean Water Act violations by Michigan’s CAFOs in recent years and progress toward changing laws to safeguard public water and air.
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., Michigan Environmental Council
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