Tag Archives: clean water

Position cuts, mission shift lead to scaled-back DNR under Walker

Gov. Scott Walker promised to transform the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And he has — cutting scientists, shrinking its budget and pushing the agency to be more receptive to industry.

And even more changes could be in store. Walker and Republican lawmakers, who hold their largest majorities in decades, are pondering whether to eliminate the agency and spread its duties across state government as well as charge people more to get into state parks and to hunt. It all adds up to a picture of a struggling agency no one recognizes any more, critics say.

“They want this chamber of commerce mentality,” said Scott Hassett, who served as DNR secretary under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. “That’s a different image than protector of natural resources. It’s sad.”

Agency officials and the Walker administration counter that the DNR is doing fine, carrying out its mission to protect the environment and enhance resources while becoming more customer-friendly.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the DNR has become “more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable” since Walker took office.

Republicans have long criticized the DNR, saying its pollution and hunting regulations are too strict, making it difficult for businesses to expand and draining the fun from outdoor sports.

Walker’s three state budgets cut $59 million from the DNR and eliminated nearly 200 positions, including half of its science researchers.

Last month DNR officials announced a major reorganization to deal with staffing cuts, including allowing large livestock farm operators to use consultants to help write permit applications so DNR staff won’t have to spend so much time on them.

The budgets also have scaled back the stewardship program and removed support for state parks, leaving them to survive on fees.

That’s created a $1.4 million deficit in the parks account, and Walker’s now mulling raising access fees.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited 75 deficiencies in how the DNR handles water regulation. Two environmental groups sued the DNR in 2014 to force the agency to adopt federal air pollution standards that were published a year earlier. The agency finally adopted them late last year.

This past June, state auditors found the agency wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large livestock farms and wastewater treatment plants.

The audit also found a permit backlog for large farms, with DNR employees not having enough time to closely monitor the farms’ operations.

Last fall federal regulators visited the DNR to investigate claims that the agency is failing to enforce water pollution laws and regulations. The EPA hasn’t released any findings yet. And last month the agency removed language from its website that stated human activities are causing climate change, saying instead that the cause is debatable even though most scientists agree burning fossil fuels causes global warming.

What’s more, waning interest in hunting has resulted in fewer license purchases, creating a $4 million gap between revenue and spending authority for habitat management projects. The DNR has suggested Walker make up the difference by raising hunting and fishing license fees.

“So many changes and roadblocks have tied DNR’s hands so dramatically that they’re really not able to do the job the public expects them to be doing,” said Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, a plaintiff in the air lawsuit.

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a key Republican constituency, said the DNR has become friendlier to businesses and is still doing its job despite the staffing cuts.

DNR spokesman James Dick cited a list of accomplishments. They included improved air quality — a DNR report released in September found air pollution has dropped statewide over the last decade — efforts to recruit hunters and the purchase of a conservation easement on 67,000 acres in northern Wisconsin, the largest conservation purchase in state history.

He also pointed out the agency is working to correct the EPA-identified deficiencies, walleye stocking has expanded and the agency has made strides in building a customer service image.

“There will always be critics who vocally disagree with what we’re doing but we prefer to note the accomplishments we’ve made over the last five years,” Dick said. “Since the start of this DNR administration, we have always believed it is possible to protect the environment, wildlife habitat and other natural resources without impeding the economic growth and development of our state.”

The agency still isn’t getting any love from GOP lawmakers. Rep. Adam Jarchow has resurrected a proposal to split the DNR into two new departments that would handle wildlife and pollution and spread the rest of the agency’s duties across three existing agencies. He has said the DNR doesn’t function in its current form.

Republicans have tried to break up the agency before but have failed in the face of opposition from outdoor clubs and environmental groups. Still, Walker has said the plan is worth pursuing. Five former DNR secretaries who served under both Democrats and Republicans, including Hassett and George Meyer, now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, sent Walker a letter last week urging him to keep the agency intact.

Meyer, who served under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, said in a telephone interview that Walker is building a “negative” environmental legacy.

“His idea of customer service,” Meyer said, “is really just a business customer service.”

Environmentalists sue De Beers over mercury at Canadian diamond mine

Wildlands League has gone to court against De Beers Canada Inc. for allegedly failing to report levels of mercury and methylmercury at its Victor Diamond Mine site in northern Ontario.

Methylmercury, a neurotoxin, can threaten the health of human and aquatic life.

Wildlands League alleges De Beers failed to report properly on mercury levels from five out of nine surface water monitoring stations for the creeks next to its open pit mine between 2009 and 2016, violating a condition of its Certificate of Approval. These are offenses under the Ontario Water Resources Act. 

“Private prosecutions are an important tool that allows private citizens to hold industry to account,” said Julia Croome, a lawyer with Ecojustice, which is representing the Wildlands League.

“When governments don’t enforce their own laws, this course of action is in the public interest,” Croome said.

The reporting failures undermined the effectiveness of the mine’s early warning system for mercury pollution, Ecojustice lawyers assisting the group say.

De Beers’ plans include extending the life of the Victor mine by digging the existing pit deeper and by digging another pit to bring the ore back to the Victor site for processing.

The Victor Diamond Mine is the first of 16 potential open pit mines that De Beers could build in the Attawapiskat River watershed. Further, a number of major mines have also been proposed for the Ring of Fire region, further upstream.

Wildlands League alerted the province and De Beers to the failures more than 18 months ago.

The group then outlined these concerns and others last December, in a special public report, “Nothing to See Here: failures of self-monitoring and reporting at the De Beers Victor Diamond Mine in Canada.”

“After months and months of silence from Ontario, we felt we had no choice but to file charges,” said Trevor Hesselink, citizen informant in this case, and Wildlands League director of policy and research.

“We expected Ontario to enforce its own laws. If we can’t rely on Ontario to oversee a single diamond mine, how can we trust it to oversee the many northern infrastructure and mining developments that are on the horizon?” Hesselink added.

The mine does not directly deposit methylmercury into nearby creeks.

Instead, its activities trigger impacts on the environment by stimulating the conversion of mercury already present in the ecosystem into methylmercury.

Methylmercury enters the food chain when fish absorb it directly through their gills or when they consume small organisms, like plankton, that are contaminated. The neurotoxin quickly concentrates at harmful levels in top predator fish and game, posing risks to indigenous people and recreational fishers that eat fish or game caught in the region.

The highest risks are borne by women of childbearing age and children under 15, as methylmercury affects brain and nervous system development.

The maximum fine under the Ontario Water Resources Act for a first time corporate offender is $250,000 per day.

De Beers has been ordered to make a first appearance in the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto on Jan. 12, 2017.

Study finds contaminants, elevated fish tumors in 3 Wisconsin rivers

Researchers have found elevated numbers of tumors in fish in the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers, suggesting that efforts to remove carcinogenic contaminants from the three waterways have been unsuccessful.

The study, which was led by the U.S. Geological Survey, found elevated skin and liver tumors in white suckers. It also found that some male white suckers sampled for the study had testicular tumors.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the finding surprised researchers, because those tumors had not often been found in other cleanup projects of polluted rivers.

The study, published in the Journal of Fish Diseases, said the exact cause of the tumors isn’t known. But previous research has suggested that exposure to contaminants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can cause liver tumors in fish.

PAH pollution in the water can come from contaminant runoff from a number of sources, including power plants, industrial processes and vehicles. In humans, exposure to PAHs has been linked to cardiovascular disease and poor fetal development.

The study comes at a time when the state’s Republican leaders have rolled back clean-water regulations. They’ve also joined dozens of other GOP-controlled states in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to block federal laws aimed to prevent further degradation of water quality.

Gov. Scott Walker has politicized the Department of Natural Resources, firing many of its scientists and making it clear that business interests must be prioritized over maintaining clean water standards. In mid-May, Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel ruled that environmental officials at the DNR cannot make decisions about high-capacity wells in order to prevent contaminants from spreading to local water supplies — not if large factory farms disagree with those decisions.

Aversion to conservation laws has led to a drastic reduction in the enforcement of the state’s increasingly lax water pollution standards.

Wisconsin voters, however, are concerned about pollution in lakes and streams, contamination of drinking water supplies and depleted aquifers. The fight to preserve clean water in the state is becoming a major issue in this year’s elections, including in the race between Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

See also:

Failure at the faucet

DNR concedes it can’t monitor wells to protect state’s water

 

Aug. 14 event promotes clean water and safe communities

Citizens Acting for Rail Safety and the Milwaukee Riverkeeper present the “Converge at the Confluence” parade and paddle event, showing support for clean water and safe communities. The event takes place Aug. 14 at 3 p.m.

The event begins with a parade on the Milwaukee RiverWalk starting at E. Chicago St. in the Third Ward. “Converge at the Confluence” also includes a guided river paddle and a program and celebration of clean water advocates.

Citizens Acting for Rail Safety is a grassroots citizens’ organization working for the health, safety, and quality of life of communities threatened by rail. Milwaukee Riverkeeper is a science-based advocacy organization working for swimmable, fishable rivers.

 “After decades of clean water efforts, crude oil train traffic — an ill-advised pipeline on rails snaking through Milwaukee — threatens our water, our health and our safety,” Citizens Acting for Rail Safety said in a prepared statement. “Highly volatile oil + unsafe tank cars + lack of transparency + inadequate government regulations = danger for our communities.”

For more information, including registration, visit 2016converge.eventbrite.com.

Powerful dairy lobbyists are behind fouling of state’s water supply

The Dairy Business Association, which was created in 1999 and is based in Green Bay, is run by agri-business and large dairy interests that support looser agriculture and environmental regulations and enforcement. The group is backed by dozens of wealthy special interest sponsors that have contributed more than $2.1 million to statewide and legislative candidates, including more than $710,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker in recent years.

Those sponsors include big-name law firms, banking, energy, and large agri-business interests, like Foley and Lardner, Alliant Energy, American Foods Group, BMO Harris Bank, Cargill, Merck, and Monsanto.

The DBA’s backers give it considerable political clout that helps it move a lobbying agenda to deregulate agri-business. The DBA’s achievements include legislative bills and state rules to loosen land use, high-capacity well, wetland, groundwater protection, and factory farm regulations and enforcement. Factory farms are formally called concentrated animal feeding operations — informally known as CAFOs — and house several hundred or thousands of cows, hogs, chickens and turkeys.

In a February 2016 opinion piece about controversial legislation to ease state oversight of high-capacity wells, which did not pass, DBA lobbyist John Holevoet wrote: “Our ready access to fresh water gives Wisconsin a competitive advantage in attracting new farms and other businesses that rely on water. We should be promoting this advantage, not regulating it out of existence.”

The DBA, which spent $179,045 on lobbying in 2015, employs five lobbyists, including Bill McCoshen, a prominent State Capitol lobbyist who was chief of staff to former longtime GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson. In the last full 2013-14 legislative session, the DBA spent nearly $304,000 on lobbying state policymakers.

In addition to lobbying on proposed state policy and spending, media reports as far back as 2010 show the DBA has met directly with the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to change the way the agencies site, permit and regulate factory farms. Such ready access by a large corporate interest has raised questions about the DNR’s independence from both inside and outside the agency. “This particular lobbying group has been able to elbow its way into the higher levels of the regulatory agency. That kind of access is unprecedented,” Jamie Saul, a former Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney, said in a March 2010 media report.

Earlier this summer, the DBA met with the DNR after Walker’s office gave the DBA and other farm industry groups proposed rules drawn up by the agency to restrict manure spreading by factory farms. Shortly after its meeting with the DBA, the DNR reduced the scope of the proposed rules, which govern how and where manure could be spread. Walker then approved the looser rules, which are scheduled for consideration by the DNR Board at its Aug. 3 meeting.

The families of seven of the DBA’s 10-member board of directors own factory farms, including the group’s president, Gordon Speirs, owner of Shiloh Dairy in Brillion. Early last month, heavy rains washed thousands of gallons of manure from Shiloh Dairy into Plum Creek. The creek runs into the Fox River in northern Calumet County. The DNR said Shiloh Dairy may face enforcement action from the manure runoff. Both Calumet and Kewaunee counties have a large number of factory farms. Nearly a third of wells tested in Kewaunee County last year were so contaminated that the water isn’t safe to drink.

The DBA’s lobbying activities for agri-business are just one part of its political arsenal. The group operates a conduit, which delivered $63,340 in large individual contributions to legislative and statewide candidates between January 2005 and December 2015. Some of the campaign cash came from the group’s sponsors as well as other factory farm owners, and agri-business and construction interests. Conduits are legal check-bundling operations often run by lobbyists and special interest groups that collect contributions from individuals, bundle them together and deliver one large check to a candidate.

The DBA’s conduit contributions supported Democratic and GOP legislative and statewide candidates, but substantially more went to Republicans – about $48,300 versus about $15,000. The top recipients of DBA conduit contributions were Republican Gov. Scott Walker, $8,740; former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, $3,450; and former GOP state representative and lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis, $3,300.

The top individual contributors through the DBA conduit were Dean Doornink, of Baldwin, owner of Jon-De-Farm, $4,000; John Vrieze, of the Town of Emerald, owner of Emerald Dairy, $3,800; and Mark Mashlan, of Kaukauna, an executive with Fox Structures, $2,875.

The group’s annual conventions have drawn heavy hitters from both parties. Walker and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos addressed the DBA’s most recent 2016 annual convention, and Doyle spoke at its 2008 state meeting.

In addition to the individual contributions through the group’s conduit, the DBA also contributed $35,900 in three contributions in 2014 to the Republican Governors Association’s (RGA) 527 group. The RGA spends several millions of dollars each year to support GOP candidates for governor across the country. In 2014, the RGA’s state political action committee spent nearly $4 million on mostly negative broadcast ads to support Walker’s successful reelection. 527 groups are tax-exempt political nonprofit groups that are named after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service code that governs them. These organizations, which are run by powerful business and other special interests, can accept and spend unlimited amounts of unregulated contributions on electioneering activities.

Audit: Wisconsin failing to monitor wastewater

A state audit found Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources lax in monitoring large livestock farms, as well as municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants.

The DNR permits about 1,250 municipal wastewater treatment plants, industrial wastewater treatment facilities and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It’s required to make sure those entities comply with permit terms, but the audit found the DNR didn’t consistently follow its own rules and at times violated statutory requirements.

The Legislative Audit Bureau report released June 3 found the DNR only issued notices of violation for 33 out of the 558 instances they should have over the past decade.

“This really basic and fundamental function of the DNR, it’s not working right now,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, a senior staff attorney at the environmental group Clean Wisconsin.

The audit also found staff hasn’t been electronically recording submissions of annual reports required of CAFOs.

Staff indicated they also don’t have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be slipping through the cracks.

“I’m troubled and I’m concerned,” said Legislative Audit Committee Co-Chair Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay. “As somebody that’s a strong advocate of clean water, I want to see a comprehensive program and not have a bunch of holes in it.”

DNR spokesman James Dick said the agency often uses methods other than violation notices to obtain compliance, such as discussing violations, even though DNR policy called for violation notices in all 558 cases in the audit.

Wheeler said if permit holders see there are no real teeth to enforcement, they have little incentive to comply, leading to further water pollution across the state.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp wrote in her response to the audit that the department has recognized many of the issues identified and has already established systems to address them — or is in the process of doing so.

Stepp, a former Republican state senator and close ally of Gov. Scott Walker, was an outspoken critic of the DNR before he put her in charge of it.

Cowles said the audit verifies there’s a staffing problem for permits and inspections, but he said it’s unclear whether that stems from cuts to the DNR that Walker included in the 2015–17 budget. A spokesman for Walker declined to comment.

Cowles said he’s asking the audit bureau to determine what funding would be necessary to supplement the DNR’s wastewater permitting staff and program operations. The committee is also asking the DNR for follow-up reports on many of the issues by Nov. 1.

“This is going to be one of those things that’s going to take a while,” Cowles said.

MISSING VIOLATIONS?

Of the 260 CAFOs for which permits were reissued from 2006 to 2014, 17 were inspected after the permit was reissued instead of before, violating statutory requirements.

Another 51 were inspected more than 12 months before their permit expired, which is too far ahead because conditions on the farm can change. Dick said of the 17 permitted before inspection, the DNR has found records documenting substantial compliance before the reissuance for 15 of the 17 and believes the remaining two were in substantial compliance as well.

The audit also found staff only electronically recorded 36 of 1,900 annual reports required of CAFOs from 2005 through 2014. Staff said they didn’t record submissions because of a lack of time. They also said they don’t have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be overlooked.

Wisconsin Dairy Business Association government affairs director John Holevoet said just because staffing is an issue doesn’t mean DNR is missing violations. He pointed to the audit’s finding that the percentage of CAFOs being inspected twice every five years has increased from 20 percent in 2005 to 2009 to 48 percent in 2010 to 2014.

“I think there are some signs again that they’re doing a better job than in the past,” Holevoet said.

The recent audit is not the only documentation of the DNR’s problems.

In July 2011, the department received a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifying 75 issues with state law and administrative rules. Stepp wrote the department has resolved 38 issues and efforts are underway to address 31 others.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the organization wants the DNR to be successful with its program because it would much rather have the state agency issue permits than have the EPA step in.

 

Wis. Republicans hand over local control to corporate America

There’s a theory in politics — subsidiarity — that maintains higher levels of government should handle only tasks that cannot be accomplished at lower levels. National defense is a good example of how that theory works; it’s not left to each state or city to defend itself.

In that spirit, the Republican Party’s stated goal is to reduce the power and scope of the federal government. State government, their argument goes, is more democratic and accountable than Washington. State officials have a deeper understanding of the unique challenges, values and goals of their constituents. And in turn, local office-holders have a deeper understanding of their own constituents than does the state.

It’s not an unreasonable position, until you start to distort it beyond recognition. And that’s exactly what Wisconsin Republicans have done.

First, to show their disdain for the feds, Wisconsin Republicans made a great show of turning down federal funds after capturing control of state government in 2011. Showily flexing his ideological bicep, Gov. Scott Walker turned down about $2 billion for Medicare expansion, high-speed rail development, and high-speed internet expansion in the state. It didn’t seem to bother him or his GOP colleagues that a portion of that money would originally came from Wisconsin taxpayers. Nor did it seem to concern them that the move cost the state thousands of jobs, as well as expanded health care and an improved business environment. Wisconsin now has the second-highest insurance rates in the nation.

In short, your representatives at the state level cut off your nose to spite Washington’s face — all in the name of local empowerment.

Yet, in a glaring philosophical disconnect, Wisconsin’s Republican leaders also believe — in the strongest way possible — that the virtues of local control come to a screeching halt at the doors of the state Capitol. Ever since they’ve commanded the state, Republicans have engaged in an unprecedented usurpation of municipal, village and other local government bodies’ powers in order to stop them from interfering with the moneyed interests that feather their nests.

A memo issued earlier this year by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau detailed more than 100 ways in which the Republican Legislature and the governor have eliminated local control while also increasing the number of unfunded mandates — i.e., costs — passed on to local communities. The Republicans’ actions have made it impossible for many local elected officials to balance their budgets while providing services for their constituents. That’s one of the reasons your potholes don’t get filled.

Just a few weeks ago, in his latest assault at local control, Walker signed a law taking away the power of local jurisdictions to protect their water. The Republican-backed law forbids municipalities from stopping property owners who want to develop land or transfer properties to erect projects that could harm local water supplies. According to the new law, in legal cases where property owners are at odds with local ordinances protecting natural resources, presiding judges must rule in favor of the property owners over the good of nearly everyone else.

That law was part of what the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters calls a “developers’ grab bag,” which along with a comparable “polluters’ grab bag,” has given polluting industries and land developers free rein over the state’s natural resources by granting them authority over local governments.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel has done his part to support this campaign, which makes corporations not just people but Super People. In mid-May, he ruled that environmental officials at the Department of Natural Resources cannot make decisions about high-capacity wells in order to prevent damage to local water supplies — not if Big Ag disagrees with those decisions. Schimel’s ruling puts the state’s groundwater, lakes and streams in jeopardy.

It’s not only environmental authority that the state’s GOP leaders have usurped. In the past legislative session, Republican changes included disrupting Wisconsin’s popular and cost-effective system of delivering services to seniors and those with disabilities. The party opted instead to turn those services over to for-profit companies. Republicans are also interfering with local school board elections.

By electing a solid Republican majority, voters in the state have empowered their own disempowerment while making very rich strangers even richer.

How’s that for subsidiarity?

Michael Moore: 10 things they won’t tell you about the Flint water tragedy. But I will.

News of the poisoned water crisis in Flint has reached a wide audience around the world. The basics are now known: the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their fresh water drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River. When the governor’s office discovered just how toxic the water was, they decided to keep quiet about it and covered up the extent of the damage being done to Flint’s residents, most notably the lead affecting the children, causing irreversible and permanent brain damage. Citizen activists uncovered these actions, and the governor now faces growing cries to resign or be arrested.

Here are ten things that you probably don’t know about this crisis because the media, having come to the story so late, can only process so much. But if you live in Flint or the State of Michigan as I do, you know all to well that what the greater public has been told only scratches the surface.

1. While the Children in Flint Were Given Poisoned Water to Drink, General Motors Was Given a Special Hookup to the Clean Water. A few months after Governor Snyder removed Flint from the clean fresh water we had been drinking for decades, the brass from General Motors went to him and complained that the Flint River water was causing their car parts to corrode when being washed on the assembly line. The Governor was appalled to hear that GM property was being damaged, so he jumped through a number of hoops and quietly spent $440,000 to hook GM back up to the Lake Huron water, while keeping the rest of Flint on the Flint River water. Which means that while the children in Flint were drinking lead-filled water, there was one — and only one — address in Flint that got clean water: the GM factory.

2. For Just $100 a Day, This Crisis Could’ve Been Prevented. Federal law requires that water systems which are sent through lead pipes must contain an additive that seals the lead into the pipe and prevents it from leaching into the water. Someone at the beginning suggested to the Governor that they add this anti-corrosive element to the water coming out of the Flint River. “How much would that cost?” came the question. “$100 a day for three months,” was the answer. I guess that was too much, so, in order to save $9,000, the state government said f*** it — and as a result the State may now end up having to pay upwards of $1.5 billion to fix the mess.

3. There’s More Than the Lead in Flint’s Water. In addition to exposing every child in the city of Flint to lead poisoning on a daily basis, there appears to be a number of other diseases we may be hearing about in the months ahead. The number of cases in Flint of Legionnaires Disease has increased tenfold since the switch to the river water. Eighty-seven people have come down with it, and at least ten have died. In the five years before the river water, not a single person in Flint had died of Legionnaires Disease. Doctors are now discovering that another half-dozen toxins are being found in the blood of Flint’s citizens, causing concern that there are other health catastrophes which may soon come to light.

4. People’s Homes in Flint Are Now Worth Nothing Because They Cant Be Sold. Would you buy a house in Flint right now? Who would? So every homeowner in Flint is stuck with a house that’s now worth nothing. That’s a total home value of $2.4 billion down the economic drain. People in Flint, one of the poorest cities in the U.S., don’t have much to their name, and for many their only asset is their home. So, in addition to being poisoned, they have now a net worth of zero. (And as for employment, who is going to move jobs or start a company in Flint under these conditions? No one.) Has Flint’s future just been flushed down that river?

5. While They Were Being Poisoned, They Were Also Being Bombed. Here’s a story which has received little or no coverage outside of Flint. During these two years of water contamination, residents in Flint have had to contend with a decision made by the Pentagon to use Flint for target practice. Literally. Actual unannounced military exercises – complete with live ammo and explosives – were conducted last year inside the city of Flint. The army decided to practice urban warfare on Flint, making use of the thousands of abandoned homes which they could drop bombs on. Streets with dilapidated homes had rocket-propelled grenades fired upon them. For weeks, an undisclosed number of army troops pretended Flint was Baghdad or Damascus and basically had at it. It sounded as if the city was under attack from an invading army or from terrorists. People were shocked this could be going on in their neighborhoods. Wait – did I say “people?” I meant, Flint people. As with the Governor, it was OK to abuse a community that held no political power or money to fight back. BOOM!

6. The Wife of the Governor’s Chief of Staff Is a Spokeswoman for Nestle, Michigan’s Largest Owner of Private Water Reserves. As Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein: “Follow the money.” Snyder’s chief of staff throughout the two years of Flint’s poisoning, Dennis Muchmore, was intimately involved in all the decisions regarding Flint. His wife is Deb Muchmore, who just happens to be the spokesperson in Michigan for the Nestle Company – the largest owner of private water sources in the State of Michigan. Nestle has been repeatedly sued in northern Michigan for the 200 gallons of fresh water per minute it sucks from out of the ground and bottles for sale as their Ice Mountain brand of bottled spring water. The Muchmores have a personal interest in seeing to it that Nestles grabs as much of Michigan’s clean water was possible – especially when cities like Flint in the future are going to need that Ice Mountain.

7. In Michigan, from Flint water, to Crime and Murder, to GM Ignition Switches, It’s a Culture of Death. It’s not just the water that was recklessly used to put people’s lives in jeopardy. There are many things that happen in Flint that would give one the impression that there is a low value placed on human life. Flint has one of the worst murder and crime rates in the country. Just for context, if New York City had the same murder rate as Flint, Michigan, the number of people murdered last year in New York would have been almost 4,000 people – instead of the actual 340 who were killed in NYC in 2015. But it’s not just street crime that makes one wonder about what is going on in Michigan. Last year, it was revealed that, once again, one of Detroit’s automakers had put profit ahead of people’s lives. General Motors learned that it had installed faulty ignition switches in many of its cars. Instead of simply fixing the problem, mid-management staff covered it up from the public. The auto industry has a history of weighing the costs of whether it’s cheaper to spend the money to fix the defect in millions of cars or to simply pay off a bunch of lawsuits filed by the victims surviving family members. Does a cynical, arrogant culture like this make it easy for a former corporate CEO, now Governor, turn a blind eye to the lead that is discovered in a municipality’s drinking water?

8. Don’t Call It “Detroit Water” — It’s the Largest Source of Fresh Drinking Water in the World. The media keeps saying Flint was using “Detroit’s water.” It is only filtered and treated at the Detroit Water Plant. The water itself comes from Lake Huron, the third largest body of fresh water in the world. It is a glacial lake formed over 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age and it is still fed by pure underground springs. Flint is geographically the last place on Earth where one should be drinking poisoned water.

9. ALL the Children Have Been Exposed, As Have All the Adults, Including Me. That’s just a fact. If you have been in Flint anytime from April 2014 to today, and you’ve drank the water, eaten food cooked with it, washed your clothes in it, taken a shower, brushed your teeth or eaten vegetables from someone’s garden, you’ve been exposed to and ingested its toxins. When the media says “9,000 children under 6 have been exposed,” that means ALL the children have been exposed because the total number of people under the age of 6 in Flint is… 9,000! The media should just say, “all.” When they say “47 children have tested positive”, that’s just those who’ve drank the water in the last week or so. Lead enters the body and does it’s damage to the brain immediately. It doesn’t stay in the blood stream for longer than a few days and you can’t detect it after a month. So when you hear “47 children”, that’s just those with an exposure in the last 48 hours. It’s really everyone.

10. This Was Done, Like So Many Things These Days, So the Rich Could Get a Big Tax Break. When Governor Snyder took office in 2011, one of the first things he did was to get a multi-billion dollar tax break passed by the Republican legislature for the wealthy and for corporations. But with less tax revenues, that meant he had to start cutting costs. So, many things – schools, pensions, welfare, safe drinking water – were slashed. Then he invoked an executive privilege to take over cities (all of them majority black) by firing the mayors and city councils whom the local people had elected, and installing his cronies to act as “dictators” over these cities. Their mission? Cut services to save money so he could give the rich even more breaks. That’s where the idea of switching Flint to river water came from. To save $15 million! It was easy. Suspend democracy. Cut taxes for the rich. Make the poor drink toxic river water. And everybody’s happy.

Except those who were poisoned in the process. All 102,000 of them. In the richest country in the world.

This editorial originally appeared on michaelmoore.com. Sign Michael Moore’s petition

We have hope | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear Earth,

We do not know how you will look in the next 50 or 100 years … but our world leaders will have a hand in determining that in Paris next month.

But we do know how you have changed. … The burning of fossil fuels has changed your landscape. It’s made your air more difficult to breathe, impacted your waters and endangered plants and wildlife. It has affected people of all ages, families and homes, cities and states. It has affected economies, whole industries.

Despite this, we have hope for you. … At Clean Wisconsin, we know the Clean Power Plan can be a win for Wisconsin, reducing health costs and slashing dangerous emissions. The plan presents a tremendous opportunity to lower electricity bills while creating good-paying jobs, developing clean sources of energy such as solar and wind power and making our homes and businesses more energy efficient.

For your future, Earth, we need to stop sending $12 billion out of Wisconsin to import dirty coal and other fossil fuels each year. Instead, we must seize the opportunity to lead the nation in innovation, job creation and health protections by developing a strong implementation plan immediately.

We want to remember 2015 as the year our world leaders — and state leaders — listened.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.

Resilient, timeless and tireless | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear future friends of the rivers, 

… Our rivers will survive — they are resilient, timeless and tireless. When imagining those rivers in the future, several possible scenarios come to mind. One features clean and cool rivers and lakes, which are being enjoyed by people fishing, swimming and paddling. Another, darker scenario features rivers and lakes with warm water, low oxygen levels and few fish — rivers and lakes with low water levels caused by evaporation, over-use and extraction for industry. Waters covered in blue-green algae caused by excess pollution. And cities regularly damaged by floods and rivers full of untreated sewage, from more intense and frequent storms that overwhelm our sewers.

The dark scenario may sound extreme, far-fetched and even a little like science fiction, but it’s the path we are headed down.

We hope that the 2015 Paris Climate Talks is when everything changed. When we saw leaders from across the globe not only recognize the importance of our waterways, but take bold action to protect them. When Waterkeepers from around the globe converged in Paris and convinced global leaders to help protect our waterways and ultimately the communities that depend on them. …

We hope that you are looking out your window at a beautiful, clean, flowing river or lake and that our vision of fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters for everyone has come true.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.