News & Views » Politics & Prejudices

Cheerfully destroying the Great Lakes

by

Here's a name you probably never heard of, but ought to remember: Dan Lauwers, who is one of many not very remarkable or interesting Michigan Republican legislators.

That is, except for one thing: He is perfectly willing to endanger, if not destroy the ecology of the Great Lakes so that rich people can save a few bucks on treating their ballast water.

What's more, Lauwers, who owns a grain elevator in rural St. Clair County, was the chief sponsor of a bill to do just that.

Now in his last term, not seen as star material by his party and freed from the need to worry about any more elections, he managed to get a bill through the house to get rid of Michigan's requirement that ships that come from the world's oceans properly treat their ballast water before dumping it.

The even more radically anti-environment state senate swiftly passed it as well, and sent it to the governor's desk.

Anyone who has any understanding of the fragile ecology of the lakes was beyond horrified. Unfortunately, that doesn't include the semi-educated ideologues and sellouts that control the Michigan legislature.

Even the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which didn't exactly distinguish itself protecting the people of Flint, is strongly opposed to this bill. "The Great Lakes are too important to risk," said Marc Smith, the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Conservation Director.

Republicans once knew this. A generation ago, they were often better stewards of the environment than Democrats. But now, they care only about money and the ultra-rich.

Phil Power, an environmentalist and the founder of the nonpartisan Center for Michigan, told me he understands that Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof wrote Gov. Rick Snyder a letter saying the MDEQ was "out of control."

As in, being too radical in their support for our battered ecology. That's almost funny, when you think how long it took the MDEQ to do something about lead poisoning in Flint.

If the governor signs this — as he may have by the time you read this — that would mean it is all but certain that the lakes will be further ruined by new crops of invasive species, such as zebra mussels, round gobies, and VHS, or Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, the fish-killing disease.

The bottom line is this: There is perhaps no more important asset in the nation, maybe the world, than the five Great Lakes. They are the largest collection of surface fresh water not only in this nation, but on the planet. They contain one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water. Screw them up beyond repair, and we are doomed. But risking destroying them is exactly what reckless radicals like Lauwers are willing to do, just for a few bucks.

We simply can't let this happen.

Hard to believe, but back when I was a small boy in the late 1950s, most of the lakes were largely clean and had few invasive species, such as sea lampreys. But then, developers dug the St. Lawrence Seaway, which opened the lakes to the oceans in 1959.

This was heralded as a great thing for commerce, which it was. For the environment, not so much. Within a few short years, the lakes became as contaminated as a hospital operating room that opened its doors to a garbage dump.

Ocean-going ships carry huge tanks of ballast water to stabilize themselves during long voyages. When they got across the Atlantic, they discharged them right into the lakes, and swept into our waters whatever hardy creatures survived the voyage.

Soon, zebra mussels were clogging our drains. Gobies, a worthless, inedible, ugly little fish from the Caspian and Black Seas, were sucking up the food native fish need, and eating their eggs and fry in the bargain. Other parasites came too.

Finally, our lawmakers from both parties knew something had to be done about this. Former state Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, a principled conservative from near Grand Rapids, told me he thought ships should be required to add chlorine to their ballast water, killing everything in them.

The legislature didn't do that — but in June 2005 they did pass tough laws requiring oceangoing vessels to treat the ballast water to kill the creatures in it, and to dump the treated water before they entered the Great Lakes.

Since then, the ravaging of the lakes has slowed. Experts on the environment agree unanimously that the Great Lakes are by far the most important thing we've got going for us.

The vote to approve this was overwhelming and bipartisan. Everybody in 2005 got how important this was.

But not anymore — or most likely, the servants of the merchants of greed just don't care.

Both houses voted to weaken Michigan's tougher Great Lakes standards and to default to the much weaker federal ones, which didn't keep invasive species out in the first place.

Why?

Republican Senator Dave Robertson of Grand Blanc, a politician who has distinguished himself mainly by fighting to make it hard for people to vote, was candid:

"We shouldn't be standing alone," with tougher environmental standards, he told the Gongwer News Agency. Risking ruining the lakes is just fine with him, as long as it is a step toward "making Michigan's ports more competitive."

The only hope we have to save our future from these greedy idiots lies with Rick Snyder, who sometimes makes noises that indicate he cares about the environment.

The governor is on the record as saying he was opposed to the legislation to weaken the ballast water protection. That might lead you to think he would veto these bills.

However, in the past, his statements before a bill hit his desk haven't necessarily predicted what he would do. You may remember that he signed the right-to-work legislation that he said "wasn't on my agenda."

Let's hope he cares enough about his kids' long-term futures to veto this idiocy as well.

Too stupid to serve with Betsy

You've got to be impressed in one way by state Rep. Tim Kelly, a Saginaw Republican. He managed to be too obnoxious and bigoted for Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education whose goal seems to be, well, to destroy public education.

Kelly was champing at the bit to quit his term-limited legislative job and go to work in Washington for DeVos as an assistant secretary of education. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Beltway — Kelly did himself in, thanks to bigoted posts on social media. He sneered at government programs designed to get more women into science and technology.

When the miserable and incompetent "underwear bomber" was apprehended in 2009, Kelly posted that "he should have been on anyone's no-fly list ... instead of assuming that all people are interested in, let alone capable of, blowing up Western, Christian Jewish things, let's assume all Muslims are."

Finally, he went for the trifecta by smearing African-Americans, and attacking Head Start, an extremely successful program for disadvantaged kids, as a failure. "Teach their own not to emulate the destructive and debilitating behavior and practices they witness every day in their own homes and neighborhoods. Yeah, that's gonna work," he wrote.

What's especially amusing is that Kelly has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. Oh well. His career in Washington may have ended before it began, but he did have a pre-politics career path; he was a production assistant for an emulsified asphalt materials company.

However, he might have a better chance at getting that job back if he and his colleagues had voted the money that is truly needed to correctly fix our roads.

comment