Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition

Unifying the voice of a generation in environmental solidarity

Intersectionality and Movement Building at the MI PowerShift Convergence

By Marion Berger, University of Michigan

Yesterday about 25 students gathered from across the state of Michigan at the Michigan Pre-Powershift Convergence in Highland Park.  We spent 8 hours discussing recruitment strategies, including everything from tabling to fundraising.  Somewhere in those 8 hours, we spent an hour helping to harvest veggies and sift compost with a local group working on green economy development.  Groups from each college or university represented had bountiful opportunities to plan their campaigns together.  By the end of the day, participants were ramped up and ready to commit to getting 500+ Michiganders to Power Shift in October.

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Amidst all of this, what was most wonderful to me was the lens with which most participants were viewing Power Shift.  Though we all have our own reasons for working on environmental issues and recruiting for Power Shift, it seems to me that more and more of my peers are approaching environmental issues with a greater understanding of environmental justice and how our movement is tied to all other social justice movements.  The systems of oppression that lead to the destruction of the environment and environmental injustices across the world are the same ones that are responsible for the racism reflected in the United States prison system, the oppression of women, queer and *trans populations, and People of Color across the world.  That said, there’s something I need to come clean about in terms of my environmental activism: I’m not an organizer because of climate change. Or coal plants, GMOs, or personal sustainability choices. I organize within the environmental field because I have seen directly how environmental injustices can impact a community, and I work to combat those injustices in solidarity with other social movements across the country and world.

I’m really excited to see that though we all come to environmentalism from different angles, youth within the environmental movement are ready to build a more inclusive movement that stands for Collective Liberation of all peoples facing injustice.  I believe Power Shift this fall could mark a huge turning point for the environmental movement–I saw glimmers of the incredible conversations we need to be having about race and the environmental movement yesterday, and I’m excited to continue them with 500 of Michigan peers and 10,000 of my national peers in 6 weeks. In solidarity.

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Power to the People: Petcoke Resistance in Detroit

When the news of the petroleum coke piles dumped along the Detroit River broke last month, I’m sad to say that my immediate reaction was not surprise. The petcoke piles are just another notch on the continuum of pollution and environmental injustice in Southwest Detroit.  Ever since my mom chose to move back to the city of Detroit two years ago, I’ve become used to the mysterious soot that seems to coat every outdoor surface and to the pungent smells that radiate down the block of my family’s home in Southwest Detroit.

As a brief reminder, the piles of petroleum coke (“petcoke”) have been deposited along the Detroit River, just east of the Ambassador Bridge to Canada, since the fall of 2012. Petcoke is a byproduct of burning crude tar sands, and it is estimated that every barrel of crude imported from Alberta results in an output of 60-130 pounds of petcoke. The petcoke being deposited along the Detroit River is only the beginning. The Marathon Oil Refinery in the 48217 zip code that produces this substance recently went through a $2 billion expansion in order to be able to process more of the tar sands, and thereby produce more of the petcoke.

It pains me to know that my family is suffering the side-effects of such environmental injustice while I live, work, and go to school in Ann Arbor, enjoying the privilege of clean air that is so often taken for granted.  So when I learned that the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCATS)-a division of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI CATS)– had been formed and was working on action around the petcoke piles, I was thrilled that people were taking action to combat the injustices my home community have been facing.  On Sunday, June 23, DCATS organized a march, rally, and action called “People Against Petcoke.”  At 3pm, we all met in Clark Park–a hub for community events in Southwest Detroit–where we heard several amazing speakers, from DCATS organizer Jarret Schlaff to the inspiring Charity Hicks.  From Clark Park, we marched the 1.8 miles to the site of the largest of the petcoke piles at the intersection of Rosa Parks and Jefferson Avenue.  Once there, we heard from more speakers, were fed exorbitant amounts of pie and pizza, and got direct action training, in which we practiced making consensus decisions and dealing with police, workers, and our fellow activists.  After the training, we walked down to the riverfront to join in a candlelit vigil at dusk with fellow activists across the river in Windsor, Canada.  It was windy and the candles flickered in and out, but the sense of solidarity was emanated from one side of the river to the other nonetheless.

A group of people kept a presence at the site of the action overnight, and at around 8:30 the next morning (July 24), they began a blockade to stop a truck carrying petcoke into the site.  I arrived around 9:15 and linked arms with the brave people who had stood in front of the truck to stop it.  There was a large cardboard padlock tied with string across the drive into the dumping site, behind which stood several police officers and border patrol, the numbers of which increased throughout the day.  In front of the padlock stood about 25-30 activists, about 7 of whom had arms linked directly in front of the truck, and the rest of whom stood in successive rows behind those who were willing to risk arrest for the action.  We held a press conference in which we read a “People’s Eviction Notice,” which ordered Marathon, the Koch Brothers, and Matty Maroun (the property owner) to shut down the docks and the discontinue the illegal dumping of petcoke.  We had incredible press coverage, and our police liaison did a spectacular job of communicating to the police that this blockade wasn’t about just “making a point.” It was about turning the trucks around and not letting anyone dump petcoke in this space anymore.  Therefore, when the police asked us several times to pack up and go, our response was that we wouldn’t leave until the petcoke was moved.

The morning continued on, and the amount of trucks waiting to enter the facility/dumping ground increased.  Several of them turned around, but when the action came to a head, there were 5 trucks piled up waiting to get in.  One of them–the one we stood directly in front of–held petcoke.  We held signs with the Marathon logo that read “Murder” and signs that informed that Koch brothers that Detroit is NOT their dump.  Once in awhile the wind would pick up and we would all be coated in a layer of petcoke. When I returned home I discovered the cap of my water bottle was filled with the substance and the sign I was carrying had a thin layer the black, oily grime on it.  The police were incredibly cooperative, and kept underlining that they didn’t wish to make any arrests that day.  However, as the hours came and went, they began to give us warnings that if we didn’t move, they would be bringing a paddy wagon to arrest us all.

The 7 people standing directly in front of the truck were prepared to be arrested; they had come to a consensus that they were willing to do so, and we had written the phone number of the legal aid on all of their arms and were beginning to prepare for the process of getting them out of jail.  Just before the paddy wagon had appeared, however, a worker from the facility we were blockading the entrance to appeared to negotiate with us.  He explained that it was really important to get the trucks that weren’t carrying petcoke into the facility, and that if we backed up the blockade, he would make the truck carrying petcoke turn around and wouldn’t let any other petcoke trucks return for the day.  When we asked how we could trust him on this promise, he pulled out his wallet and handed it to one of the protesters.  We confirmed that his I.D. and other important information were in the wallet.  The decision was made to back up the blockade to allow the petcoke truck to turn around and let the other trucks through.  As we backed up, the police line backed up, and several people were in tears as the petcoke truck turned around.  It was truly one of the most beautiful and cooperative outcomes I’ve seen at a direct action.  DCATS–theorganization responsible for coordinating the action–has vowed to continue its resistance until the petcoke piles are gone.

The illegal dumping of petcoke in the city of Detroit is just a small piece of the destruction created in every step of fossil fuel production and consumption.  I stand with DCATS, MI CATS, the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, and everyone else across the country and the world standing up against the fossil fuel industry.  Together, we will be victorious.  All power to the people!IMG_20130624_100315_451

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Biannual Atrocity: Mineral Right Lease Auction. Brought to you by the MI Department of Natural Resources.



Tis’ the season for the biannual atrocity; 38,000 acres of our treaty/public/state land was auctioned off from our MDNR to oil and gas monetary puppeteers. Last Thursday, May 9, approximately 40 people from every corner of Michigan gathered together in opposition of the selling of this land for pennies.


To no one’s surprise, MDNR mineral rights lease auctions are always depressing, and leave us feeling disempowered. Since this was the third time that our voices have been silenced, we decided to switch it up this year.


In the morning, we planned a non-arrest-able action. Then, we had a press conference of fours speakers, followed by different trainings that people could attend and learn new ways to fight fracking in MI this Summer! Nobody was arrested. There was a superfluous police presence, including a police dog named Diesel (go figure).

9am– A group of demonstrators coordinated outside of the Lansing center and exchanged phone numbers. Together, they walked inside of the auction room and took a seat, with duct tape placed over all of their mouths. As we were being read our “rights” and the rules of the auction, cell phones started ringing loud and obnoxious ring tones. A few were escorted out right away, but other ring tones were hard to pin point. Then, people spontaneously and simultaneously started coughing and hacking to cause even more disorder! You could say that it disrupted the first bit of the auction.  But aside from this, there was no other action. This can be looked at as good or bad. In a way it was humorous, because the police were very paranoid and expecting more!

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11am– The press conference was held and we had four speakers from across the state:

  • Jim Nash, Oakland County Water Resource Commissioner

Jim talked about the importance of our water and Great Lakes here in MI!

  • Steve Losher, MLAWD

Steve discussed how MLAWD is suing the MDNR for violating the public trust!

  • Phil Bellfy, Article32.org

Phil discussed how First Nations communities are being impacted, and made the clarification of “Treaty” land, opposed to “State” or “Public”.

  • Mariah Urueta, Citizens Against Drilling on Public Land

I spoke about the love driving this movement and how we are growing more organized by the minute!

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Check out some of the coverage we received:






For footage of some protestors getting kicked out of the auction room, click here.


1pm– Trainings where we learned new strategies, tactics, and ways to fight fracking in MI this Summer!

  • Direct Action led by Deep Water, Earth First!
  • Local Ordinances & Working with Local Elected Officials led by Brian and Stephanie of Kent County Water Conservation
  • Messaging, Led by members of the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition

As much as this movement is connecting here in MI, the industry is moving faster. It is time for us to make our way from defense to offense. Please keep a lookout for opportunities this Summer you can directly fight fracking. As of now, there is the ballot initiative being led by the Committee to Ban Fracking, a lawsuit being filed by MLAWD, ban resolutions being presented with the help of Food and Water Watch, and efforts to work on local ordinances and a creation of a local ordinance guide by Kent County Water Conservation and Food and Water Watch!

Even more exciting, there will be a group forming a Statewide Strategic Action Plan (SSAP) for MI at the end of this month. I will keep you all posted! In the meantime, get connected with one or more of these groups, and keep being awesome students fighting the good fight!

If you’re interested in planning the next auction action and protest, contact me at mariahamberurueta@gmail.com

Mariah Urueta

MSSC Steering Committee

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MI Student Earth Day Photos

Here are a few photos from some cool Earth Day or Earth Week events that students hosted on campuses this past week!

Central Michigan University students ended their Earth Week with a block party hosted by Take Back the Tap and Campus Grow. Students spent the day outside volunteering at the campus garden and listening to some local artists.

Photo from Krista Testolin, CMU student

Photo from Krista Testolin, CMU student


Photo from Krista Testolin, CMU student

Michigan State University students held a similar event on Monday, one put together by a broad coalition of campus environmental groups. Together they painted the rock, talked about their orgs with fellow students, and enjoyed some music from Fertile Brainsoil, an East Lansing band.

Photo from Connor Meston, MSU student (on the left)

Photo from Connor Meston, MSU student (on the left)

Photo from Connor Meston, MSU student

Photo from Connor Meston, MSU student

University of Michigan students also celebrated an Earth Week on campus, offering a wide array of events hosted by many different student orgs. The Environmental Issues Commission hosted a mock oil spill in the diag, as well as another event to talk about food issues (co-hosted with the Sustainable Food Program).

Photo from Marissa Solomon, UM Student

Photo from Marissa Solomon, UM Student

Photo from Marissa Solomon, UM Student

Photo from Marissa Solomon, UM Student

A new group from Ferris State University took this Earth Day opportunity to host their first events on Monday!  Well on their way to becoming an official registered student organization, the new Ferris Students for Sustainability represented the MSSC and their vision for a more sustainable campus by tabling and handing out free succulents during the day and hosting a documentary screening in the evening.

Photo from Myc Williams, FSU student

Photo from Myc Williams, FSU student


Thanks to all the students who worked to host these events! But more importantly, lets thank them for doing this work every day. While Earth Day is a great excuse to get others to take a minute to think about the environment,  for these students its just another day in the fight for our planet, our health, and our futures.

And sometimes that fight can feel really big and really overwhelming, so give your favorite student activists some love and encouragement today! Solidarity and love are some of the best accountability structures out there 🙂


Wolves and Democracy Threatened in Michigan

Earlier this year some Michigan politicians announced plans to open a sport hunting season for wolves in the state, just after wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2012.

Since then, a group called “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected” launched a grassroots campaign to gather enough signatures to place this issue on the 2014 ballot for voters to decide. In March they submitted 253,705 signatures to get a wolf hunting referendum on the ballot, far surpassing the 160,000 signatures needed! This truly seemed to be a victory for the grassroots, and a much needed delay to the legislative process the would open season on these animals.

Yesterday a bill sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson (Escanaba) was passed through the Natural Resources Commission and is now making its way to the senate floor for a vote. Similar to many other bills Casperson has sponsored, this is an effort to remove conservation protections and endanger wildlife in order to turn a profit. If passed, this bill will strip the voters of their rights to vote on this issue by specifying that only the Michigan legislature has the power to name a potential game species. In other words, the 253,705 voter signatures and countless volunteer hours to collect them will go ignored and a referendum will not be allowed to take place on this issue.

From Michigan Radio, here’s the language from the bill (SB 288)- the proposed new language is in bold:

“Sec. 40110. (1) Only the legislature or the commission may designate a species as game. If an animal is designated under this section by the legislature or commission as game, then only the legislature or commission may authorize the establishment of the first open season for that animal. Only the legislature may remove a species from the list of game. The commission shall exercise its authority under this subsection by issuing orders.”

So now we have to wonder…


If you’re as outraged about this as I am, please take some time to call and email your state senators and URGE THEM TO VOTE NO ON SB 288. I’ve heard that this could go up for vote in the senate next week, so let’s flood their inboxes with messages to let them know that it is not acceptable to shut out voters from this process, and hunting wolves is not something that our state needs or wants.

[if you’re concerned about wolves eating your livestock, don’t worry because our state already has a management plan in effect that can allow for “removal” of wolves if they become a nuisance]

Here’s some text from Stephanie at GVSU that you can use to craft your message:

“Greetings, Senator ____,  I am writing with a deep sense of urgency as I implore you to vote NO on SB 288. Those who most want wolf hunting in Michigan asserted SB 288 on Tuesday (April 9). Its passing would effectively dismiss the referendum efforts of thousands of concerned Michigan citizens like me by decreeing that only the state legislature has the right to decide which animals are hunted. Worse, it would undermine citizens’ longstanding agency in what happens to our state’s wildlife! Last month your constituents submitted their support for Michigan’s wolf population in the form of a petition bearing over 250,000 signatures. I urge you to honor the will of the people behind those signatures by voting “NO” on SB 288. I appreciate your attention to my message and this urgent matter.”


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Divestment in Michigan!

In case you were wondering, MI students are among the thousands nationwide that  want to contribute to a moral shift that must take place in order to end the power that fossil fuel companies have to bend policy and politicians to their will. Many MI students have joined up with 350.org’s national campaign to get our local institutions (like campuses) to stop investing their money in fossil fuel companies. By getting university endowments to take their money out of fossil fuels, students hope that this will send a message that the people no longer find it acceptable to fund, or be funded by, corporations that are destroying our climate and planet with little regard for human rights. So far we have campaigns launched at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, with campaigns at several other schools in the works.

Students from both schools have been working hard to find information about their university’s endowments and investments, and build a grassroots base of students, professors, alumni, and community members that stand with them to call on the universities to divest from the fossil fuel companies.

Below is a little bit more about the campaigns at each school!

Michigan State University Fossil Free Campaign

This is a paragraph from Connor Meston, one of the student leaders with MSU’s Fossil Free Campaign!

Hello everyone! As you may know, Michigan State University students have made recent headway in their campaign for fossil fuel divestment.  In addition to educating students about this issue and campaign, we’ve discovered that MSU has at least 14 million dollars invested in fossil fuels. So, we decided to schedule a Fossil Free Forum for April 4th. Turns out, it was a great success. With over 30 attendees and a great panel of speakers, it was inspirational for all members of Fossil Free and surely a number of the people who attended. In addition, Fossil Free spread the word about divestment to the media, including WKAR Radio, NBC’s WILX TV, Lansing’s City Pulse, and MSU’s State News. And, in line with local tradition, Fossil Free painted The Rock with information about the day’s event. However, this is only half of the story.

About 3 weeks ago, a few members from Fossil Free decided it wasn’t enough to just have a forum on our campaign. We were going to pull the student government in for support. So, Fossil Free wrote up a divestment resolution that was passed in committee only 6 days after it was conceived. A week later, the resolution unanimously passed ASMSU’s general assembly. With this resolution and press coverage, Fossil Free will finally be bringing divestment to the table of MSU’s Board of Trustees. On April 12th, we will know how much the administration is with or against us. Band together my friends! This may be the beginning, but Earth Day will give us an opportunity to make our voices heard. Stay committed and Go Green!

MSU Resolution

The University of Michigan Divest and Invest Campaign

Students with DivestUM have been working since this past fall to learn more information about the university’s investments, which came to light after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the university. Despite the difficulty for students to access the endowment information, they now know that the university has almost 1 billion dollars invested in fossil fuels out of its total 8 billion dollar endowment (one of the largest endowments in the country). This 1 billion dollars from UM accounts for 5% of the total amount of fossil fuel investments from US universities. Despite UM’s large amount of funding for faculty and research dedicated to sustainability and climate change, they still support the fossil fuel industry with this significant chunk of change from their endowment.

However, students with this campaign have worked tirelessly to unite many student orgs behind this cause (at least 30!) and spread the word to the student body, alumni, and community partners. They’ve already held a successful kick-off event that featured panelists like Bill McKibben and Maria Gunnoe, circulated a petition asking the University to divest, and held a large  awareness event on campus.

Although the school year is rapidly coming to a close, they hope to submit a resolution to the Central Student Government sometime very soon, which would solidify the student body’s support of asking the administration to divest. Due to some hard work supporting pro-divestment candidates in student elections, this resolution should pass easily!

Here’s a picture from their recent event outside on UM’s famous diag- each flag represents one million dollars invested in harmful fossil fuels! 

UM Flags

Thanks to all of the students who are putting in so much hard work on these campaigns! If we want to see our country, states, and communities take positive steps towards dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we need to stop fossil fuel industries from using their seemingly limitless $$$ to influence our politics!

You can help by supporting these campaigns- check out MSU Fossil Free on Facebook, and sign UM Divest and Invest’s petition to the administration! (anyone can sign, if you aren’t a student just click the “concerned community member” link)

Divestment doesn’t start and stop on campus, either, click here to learn more about how you can get other institutions like churches and towns to divest as well! 

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MSSC Signs on to Rulemaking Petition for Tar Sands

It seems like more and more we’ve been getting distinct, and terrifying, signs that the production and export of diluted bitumen (tar sands, dilbit) is NOT a good idea, but also comes at the expense of human and ecological health. Lets take a look back at tarsands in the news the past few weeks…

– Earlier in March piles of petcoke were found growing rapidly along the banks of the Detroit river. Petcoke is a byproduct of processing very dense crude oil, or tar sands, which the Detroit refinery does on a daily basis. Although the health/environmental affects of this substance are debated, they can undoubtedly leach heavy metals and/or sulphur into the Detroit River if it rains, which never happens in the spring….

– On March 28th a train carrying Canadian oil spilled 15,000-30,000 gallons of crude oil in Western Minnesota

– On March 29th a tar sands pipeline in Arkansas ruptured, spilling at least 80,000 gallons of diluted bitumen, which proceeded to make a river/flood of tar sands and water that caused 22 homes to be evacuated. Not only is this tar sands oil incredibly difficult to clean up, it also needs to be treated with Benzene (a known carcinogen) to make it flow through the pipeline)

– MEANWHILE, the EPA has ordered Enbridge to do additional dredging in the Kalamazoo River, where they’ve already recovered over one million gallons of the tar sands oil they spilled in to the river in 2010. Yes, even though they’ve already cleaned up one million gallons of this, TAR SANDS OIL IS STILL SUBMERGED IN THE RIVER AND WILL REMAIN THERE BECAUSE IT SINKS AND GETS EMBEDDED IN THE SEDIMENT AND IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO CLEAN UP. (But don’t worry, according to an industry study, this oil floats, it doesn’t sink, so can be dealt with like regular oil)

The good news at the end of this rage fueled rant?

The Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition recently signed on to an effort to get our government to do something about it! In Michigan Enbridge has already showed us that it is extremely unprepared to deal with a tar sands spill, but they still don’t have to follow any regulations or processes that acknowledge the unique properties of this oil, nor does any company. In order to address this large oversight that inevitably will cause major environmental destruction and threats to human health, the National Wildlife Federation is leading an effort to regulate this substance and halt any construction on pipelines  until further research has been done on tar sands that can inform better and more appropriate safety regulations and emergency response plans.

The MSSC has signed on to this rulemaking petition in partnership with 29 national, state and local organizations as well as 36 landowners from states across the country impacted by existing and proposed tar sands pipelines. We have filed our petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the  Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to ask for stronger safety standards for tar sands pipelines.

You can read the full petition, and get more context for it, at NWF’s post here. However, if these are accepted, the next step will be lots of public comment in support of the petition! Stay tuned for next steps on how you can do that.

Overall, the outcome of this position does not attack the root cause of this problem– the Canadian government allowing corporations to produce this oil at the expense of ecosystem health and First Nation lands and health. However, this is a politically feasible solution to some of the disastrous effects that tar sands can induce when spilled into the environment. If we can prevent any person from having to see their land, drinking water sources, livelihoods, favorite natural areas, etc be destroyed by this substance that will be a good first step.

And don’t think that we’re not going to keep fighting for tar sands to stop being produced and transported completely. What has happened in Michigan, and in many other places across the country, is 100% unacceptable.  I can say that we’ve got some exciting plans in the works to help unite many voices in MI who are ready to take more serious action around our pipeline issues and make sure that the nation recognizes the threats that Enbridge, and all those who seek to profit from tar sands oil, pose to ourselves and our planet.

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Plans for Action Around Fracking Developing in MI

From Mariah Urueta, CMU Student and MSSC Steering Commitee Member
Interested in joining a MSSC working group? Check out the anti-fracking one!
We’ll be having our first call very soon!
This past weekend, about 45 people representing different environmental organizations from across the state gathered in Delton, MI. The goal was to get the next steps moving to stop fracking in Michigan. This event was a unique and really great builder for Michigan fracktivists. There were many different tactics presented throughout the weekend. Every strategy from legalities, ordinances, deepwater testing/watchdog, organizing, and direct action were all discussed! While skeptical at first if any real steps would be taken (because there was so much information presented), I was pleasantly surprised when I left the weekend with many options of steps I could take against this destruction of land, air, and rights. There has been ideas floating around about a statewide coalition being formed and upcoming fracktivist convergences which I plan to keep everyone posted about! Personally, I will be working on the Mineral Right Lease Auction protest for May! I feel that this event was a great step for Michigan in trying to fight fracking. I am excited to bridge the MSSC and this event to gain more momentum for action! That is what I am hoping this working group can bring to the MSSC! Options for students to pursue other avenues of action, but ultimately a collective effort!
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More Success for CMU Take Back the Tap!

From Mariah Urueta, Vice-President of CMU Take Back the Tap

Take Back the Tap at Central Michigan University is seeing some great feedback from their campaign that has been ongoing for 2.5 years. Presented legislation for a gradual phase out of bottled water on CMU’s campus passing through the Student Government has been TBTT’s main goal. As of last semester, the legislation passed through both the House and Senate of the Student Government after being OK-ed many times in the house, but passed for the first time in the Senate! So after a successful first semester the students planned a meeting with the Director of Purchase and Contracting. The students compiled all of the work from over the years; approximately 2,000 petition signatures, student government support, efforts to get retro-fit kits installed on campus, collaborative efforts with the university to get free reusable water bottles to all on campus students, and more! Unsure how he would take the presented information, it went better than they ever could have expected. Take Back the Tap at CMU still needs to gain additional faculty support, but the Monday following that meeting, the Director or Purchase and Contracting called CMU’s Pepsi and Coca-Cola representatives and told them not to plan on CMU buying bottled water in 2015! If that wasn’t enough, the week after, Take Back the Tap was able to complete their visual with the help of the awesome MSSC students at the statewide summit!
If anyone from their university is interested in starting a Take Back the Tap on our campus, we’re here for any advice and help we can give. We know that one for GVSU is in the works!


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Protect MI Biodiversity

Unsurprisingly, Michigan’s legislation is about to make yet another decision that will march our state backwards in terms of the environment and the economy. Tom Casperson, a republican member of Michigan’s State Senate from the Northern part of the state (district 38), has recently introduced and passed a bill through committee that will remove the DNR’s responsibility to protect biodiversity and redefine our concept of conservation. Presumably, Casperson’s intent is to limit the power of Michigan’s central government and open up more land to economic development. Not only will this threaten many of the things we love about our state, but it could lead to more oil and gas development.

This blog hopes to give you the tools to take action on this issue with many other MI students to let Governor Snyder know that SB 78, the “anti-biodiversity bill” is not something that we stand behind, but is something that will directly impact and harm our futures.

Some of you may remember writing letters to Snyder or Casperson about this bill at the summit. Unfortunately, since then the bill is no longer something that has just been proposed, but is something that will be voted on in our Senate soon. Stephanie, a GVSU student, attended the recent committee hearing and this is what she had to say on the MSSC’s Facebook page:

“So yesterday was my first time speaking in front of the Michigan Senate; The Natural Resources Committee… 19 people (including myself) spoke out against senate bill 78, and one person was for the bill from the UP. After four hours of testimony from students, scientist, different organization, and concerned citizens the senate approved the bill so it will now go the senate floor.

The link below is a government summery of the bill; This would move Michigan backwards when Climate change is upon us and action needs to be taken now. It would also open the doors to industry (fracking; logging) because the DNR would now have to “balance its forest management activities with economic values.”

We need this bill to fail; So I am proposing that we bombard governor Snyder with emails, phone calls, and letters asking him to not pass the bill. He has responded to public input in the past and we need biodiversity protections now more than ever. I am asking students from different Universities around Michigan to join GVSU in raising awareness; set up letter writing tables, contact your biology department and profs. A healthy ecosystem depends upon biodiversity… this bill is a travesty.

I would also like to let everyone know that Senator Hood was the only person to vote against this bill and he deserves some thank yous. I thanked him for actually listening to the people. ”

Thanks to Stephanie for attending and representing the student voice, and also for calling us to action! We have a lot of momentum after the summit and our trip to DC, so let’s use it and exercise our network to come together around this one, straight-forward task.

Step 1: Get in touch with Governor Snyder and tell him that you, as the future generation of this state, do not support Senate Bill 78 for all of the various reasons why it is so horrible. Click here to get his contact information and click here to send him an email. 

  1. Tom Casperson is clearly just a big government fearing conservative who believes that lowering our standards to help rich corporations get richer is the way to run our society. Check out the League of Conservation Voter’s legislative score card and take a look at the recent bills Casperson voted on….no stricter than federal regulations, weakening our natural resources extraction ordinances, remove shoreline protections, etc. While not everything he has done is bad, I do think that a 33% overall score would mean he fails and it’s pretty clear that this bill is just another one like the string of those before them aimed at dismantling MI’s environmental protections.
  2. It doesn’t seem like the DNR really wants this legislation to pass. So far they haven’t come out with any statement that really advocates for it. I also found a few pages on their site that might tell us how they really feel (because biodiversity was allocated to them for a reason in the first place!): This page justifies their “living legacies” program that is specifically geared towards biodiversity, and the one that Casperson wants to cut specifically, and this page is a nice description about why biodiversity is so important in MI (in which they call biodiversity the “spice of life”!). Clearly science has been done around biodiversity and the DNR protects it for a reason, a reason that should not be pushed aside for the sake of ideology and corporate convenience.
  3. I’ve heard that Michigan has the second highest amount of biodiversity in North America, just behind California. In this case, protecting biodiversity will be beneficial for Michigan because biodiversity is what allows us to produce so much food and materials for others to use. While large scale farming is not a best practice for maintaining biodiversity, we cannot take economic advantage of the biodiversity of our state without acknowledging the importance of this biodiversity and caring for it in critical areas.
  4. OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT, LIKE FRACKING. If the government isn’t protecting these lands anymore, they may sell them to oil and gas companies (like they did with 195,000 acres of land in November). This is particularly scary at this moment why hydraulic fracturing is becoming a more regular practice, directly threatening our drinking water and public health.

Step 2: Get more students on your campus to write letters and make phonecalls! This effort will only make an impact if we can engage the grassroots. Hold a tabling event at a high-traffic area on campus, ask to speak in front of your class, or just get all of your friends to make the phone call. Use the points listed above or below from MEC to come up with sample letter or email templates, or create talking points for people to use. The letter only needs to be 2-3 paragraphs in length, and make sure you include your address so that he takes you seriously as an MI citizen. Anything you can do to get more people on board with add momentum to this effort!

Here is an email I sent to Senator Casperson about the bill you can use as a reference:

Dear Senator Casperson,

I am very concerned about SB 78, a bill you are currently sponsoring to limit the DNR’s ability to protect biodiversity within our state. Biodiversity is, in fact, very important to Michigan’s economy. Michigan has the 2nd highest amount of biodiversity in our country, meaning that we are one of the state’s with the highest capacity to produce a broad variety of agriculture and materials. Perhaps more important, however, is the biodiversity of our natural areas. As a native of Michigan’s west coast, I know firsthand the beauty of our natural areas, but also the amount of business that these areas can bring to small towns in those areas. De-regulating biodiversity will directly affect Michigan’s economy and the ability of our citizens to thrive within in.
Even if you only intend to impact the DNR’s “Living Legacies” program, the changes you propose will impact the DNR broadly because of the definition changes included. We cannot redefine “conservation” or “biodiversity” without significantly impacting how our DNR cares for our forests and lands.
Please, consider the implications of what you are proposing and their benefit to our state. I urge you to stop this bill and do what is right for Michigan.
Elizabeth Starke
Ypsilanti, MI

Here is a little more specific language from the Michigan Environmental Council on what the bill actually says and why it’s bad for MI. Its great and very thorough, and they also have a really useful  blog post linked to it at the bottom:

What is SB 78? Confusion With DNR Biodiversity Stewardship Areas (BSA) Program

At the recent committee hearing and in the media, the lead sponsor and author of SB 78, Sen. Tom Casperson, has repeatedly claimed that the intent of his legislation is to stop implementation of a very specific program — the Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) proposed “Living Legacies” (often referred to as the Biodiversity Stewardship Area, or “BSA”) program.

While this may the sponsor’s intent, we as advocates and concerned citizens must deal with the actual bill language that has been introduced. 

The bill being voted on would completely redefine “conservation,” the concept of “biodiversity,” and restrict or remove the ability of the DNR to even consider “biodiversity” or “restoration” when managing state forests. It is not NOT SPECIFIC to the DNR’s BSA/Living Legacies program, but a set of sweeping changes to the scientific principles that guide all state land management. Specifically, it amends Part 355 (Biological Diversity Conservation) and Part 525 (Sustainable Forestry on State Forestlands) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994 to do the following:

  • Revise the definition of “conservation” with regard to biological diversity, removing key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities.
  • Prohibit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity, and provide that no other state agency would be required to do so either (the only portion specifically targeting the proposed BSA program).
  • Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.
  • Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.
  • Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.
  • Repeal several sections that articulate the purpose of the original law, specifically deleting references to the Joint Legislative Working Committee on Biological Diversity (dissolved on December 30, 1995).

In addition to undermining Michigan’s commitment to common sense, science-based natural resources management, MEC analysis suggests the legislation may also endanger other core DNR programs, including our forest certification efforts, and put at risk areas that have long enabled people to see and appreciate Michigan’s amazing natural assets. Places such as Hartwick Pines, Haven Hill and others are managed and designated at least in part based on biodiversity values, but are also popular places for wildlife viewing and as places to experience Michigan’s history and cultural icons.

Please see our blog at http://www.michigandistilled.org/ to read MEC’s full commentary on these bills.

Please let me know there is any support I can offer with this effort! Email me at starkeel@gmail.com

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