Michigan Environmental Report

News from Michigan Environmental Council on public policies affecting the health of Michigan's people and environment

Michigan could become the 50th state to get a septic code

Septic tanks are as ubiquitous to Michigan homes as backyard fire pits. Thirty percent of residents use them to dispose of their waste—higher than the 20% national average. But a quarter of our 1.4 million tanks are likely leaking billions of gallons of human waste onto our properties, into our lakes and streams, and into our drinking water.

This is because Michigan is the only state in the nation that lacks a statewide septic code, which sets minimum standards for construction, operation, and maintenance. Legislation led by Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) in the Michigan House last week would change that. 

Clean Energy Future Plan largely meets the moment

On Wednesday morning, in the midst of a statewide climate conference, two prominent Michigan Senators introduced a plan that positions Michigan well in its climate change fight. 

Majority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) and Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Township) introduced the Clean Energy Future Plan, which moves Michigan's electric and housing sectors away from fossil fuels. 

We're at a critical environmental juncture. Here's how we meet the moment

Remember that string of power outages this winter millions of us endured? We were left in the cold for days. Food and medication withered in the fridge and our anger mounted.

Or perhaps recall the summer before, when heavy rains left basements waterlogged, streets impassible, and repair bills high.

This is the state that Michigan finds itself in. Climate change has arrived, and with it has come extreme weather and temperatures. Our aging infrastructure—from our roads to our sewer systems—cannot handle this new reality. Our government structure is not equipped to effectively protect our water, our nature, and even us.

Celebrating Black environmental advocates, then and now

As we celebrate Black History Month this February, the contributions and leadership of Black activists in Michigan’s environmental movement cannot be understated. Communities of color have disproportionately experienced the worst impacts of fossil fuel pollution, environmental contamination, and climate change.

Budget investments show averting climate, water crises a continued priority

On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out her proposed state budget, with billions of dollars in investments for climate resiliency, clean water, land and wildlife protection, and more.

Among the largest environmental investments are $1.65 billion for climate and clean energy, $1.12 billion for clean water, $340.11 million for health and justice, and $120.63 million for land and wildlife protection.

Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council, issues the following statement in response.

Under the eyes of polluters, a farmer takes her stand

Farm pollution activist Pam Taylor steps out of our car to look at the road ahead in rural Lenawee County. (Credit: Midstory)

This story is part of the Michigan Environmental Council's 2022 member magazine, "ECOsystems: Working Wonders With Water." You can read the magazine in full here.

We took the backroads of dirt and gravel around what seemed like the entirety of Southern Michigan, stopping periodically on the roadside but being careful not to linger too long—Pam Taylor’s black Ford Escape might be recognized by prying eyes.

Taylor’s efficient. As soon as the engine cuts, she’s out of the car, geared up in gloves and wielding a long, homemade grabber pole with a plastic water bottle duct-taped to the end. “You don’t need fancy stuff,” she said.

The Ecology Center turns a local scare into statewide change

Update: This article was originally published in January 2023. It was updated in September.

Children and school staff walk down a path alongside an Ann Arbor elementary. (Credit: Midstory)

This story is part of the Michigan Environmental Council's 2022 member magazine, "ECOsystems: Working Wonders With Water." You can read the magazine in full here.

The Ecology Center
knows lead poisoning well. For 50 years, the Environmental Council member group has connected the dots between our health and our environment by eliminating dangerous substances that infiltrate our daily lives.  

But the work became worryingly personal for Rebecca Meuninck, its former deputy director, when lead was found in the drinking water of Ann Arbor School District. Her son went there.

In a sea of flooding, ever-growing oases rise

This story is part of the Michigan Environmental Council's 2022 member magazine, "ECOsystems: Working Wonders With Water." You can read the magazine in full here.

First came the floods. Sewer water gushed up from drains and onto the streets of Dearborn Heights. The river rose into nearby neighborhoods. Yards became knee-high pools and porches their steps into them.

Then came the stories. Basements flooded and molded. Thousands of dollars and cherished possessions were lost—furniture, heating systems, the keepsakes of lost relatives.

And all the while, often unseen, came the pollution. Overburdened sewer systems pumped contaminated water into the open. Floodwater picked up pesticides, heavy metals, motor oils. All of it traveled through communities, emptying into lakes, streams, drinking water, and the homes of both people and wildlife.

Then, weeks later, as these places were drying out, it all began again.