Fresh, September 19, 2023: New Ruling Gives States and Tribes Greater Power To Protect Waterways

September 19, 2023

Fresh is a biweekly newsletter from Circle of Blue that unpacks the biggest international, state, and local policy news stories facing the Great Lakes region today. Sign up for Fresh: A Great Lakes Policy Briefing, straight to your inbox, every other Tuesday.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Fresh Editor

This Week’s Watersheds

  • A shuttered nuclear power plant on the shores of Lake Michigan is one step closer to re-opening in Covert Township, Michigan
  • The Biden administration, reversing a Trump-era policy, reaffirmed state and tribal authority to protect waterways from energy developments.
  • Waukesha, Wisconsin, delays the transition to a new Lake Michigan-fed water system until October.
  • As Minnesota’s dry summer continues, residents in the Duluth area are being asked to conserve their water.

Chippewa tribes in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are rallying against a proposed natural gas power plant on the shores of Lake Superior.

“As our shared climate rapidly continues to destabilize, it is unconscionable that Dairyland Power Cooperative has not canceled its request for a $350 million public loan and permits…this location was never the place, and now is obviously not the time, to build new fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind.” — the tribes, in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Nemadji Trail Energy Center natural gas-fired power plant, proposed for the shores of Lake Superior in Superior, Wisconsin, has been a work in progress for the past three years. In total, the plant, which is not yet built, is estimated to cost $700 million. Utility officials hope that the plant will help the state transition to cleaner energy, providing an alternative to coal. 

Chippewa tribes — including the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Michigan, the Fond du Lac of Minnesota and the Bad River and Red Cliff of Wisconsin — are adamantly resisting the plant, its greenhouse gas emissions, and its location near a Fond du Lac mass grave, Spectrum 1 News reports. The tribes are appealing to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urging the agency to deny the plant’s loan request.

Fresh from the Great Lakes News Collaborative

  • Cancer-causing hexavalent chromium spills from Wixom plant into Huron River — Bridge Michigan
  • National Wildlife Federation certifies Enbridge restoration project from oil spill, but calls for shut down of Line 5 — Michigan Radio
  • Researchers: Current Great Lakes stewardship is “ill-equipped” to handle future challenges — Great Lakes Now

The Great Lakes News Collaborative includes Bridge Michigan; Circle of Blue; Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television; and Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader. We work together to produce news and information about the impact of climate change, pollution, and aging infrastructure on the Great Lakes and drinking water. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Find all the work here.

‘Waters of the United States’ Ruling

Beginning in November, states and tribes will have greater power to block large-scale energy projects — including those related to oil pipelines, dams, and “other federally regulated projects” —  thanks to a Biden administration ruling last week, the Detroit News reports. The decision reverses a Trump-era ruling that took these powers away in efforts to streamline energy and fuel development. 

States and tribes will have a minimum of six months, and up to one year, to review proposed projects and consider the well-rounded effects of any particular development. 

Per Detroit News, the new ruling is a pared-down version of a previous draft — the Supreme Court ruling that weakened wetlands protections will, in some cases, disallow states and tribes from exercising their restored powers.

In the News

Waukesha’s Water Recovery Delayed: City officials announced that Waukesha’s transition to Lake Michigan water will be delayed until October 9 because of a pump issue, WISN reports. For years, residents have been drinking water from wells that were discovered to be contaminated with radium. The change required approval from all eight Great Lakes region governors, and the town’s adherence to strict water planning and management guidelines.

Minnesota Drought: Residents of the Duluth area are being asked to conserve water as dry conditions have surpassed the ‘Drought Warning’ response phase, Northern News Now reports. The state has suffered from a summer-long drought affecting farmers, fishers, rural, and urban residents alike — multiple water conservation notices have been issued over the past few months. Duluth receives its water from Lake Superior.

Looking Ahead

Palisades Nuclear Generating Station: In the recently-approved Michigan state budget, $150 million was allotted to “restart” the former Palisades Nuclear Generating Station, which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan in the township of Covert. Wolverine Power Cooperative, a non-profit “serving rural communities across Michigan,” signed a deal earlier this week to purchase “up to two-thirds” of the plant’s to-be-generated power. But some concerns linger about waste and the effects of the plant on Lake Michigan, given the site’s history of “mechanical problems,” AP reports

Upcoming Events

September 19-21 — Lakebed 2030 Conference — register

September 22 — Great Lakes Seminar Series: Bill Currie — learn more

September 22 — Old Woman Creek NERR Research Symposium and Open House — learn more

September 23 — September Adopt-a-Beach — learn more

September 25 — Webinar: IJC Great Lakes Science Advisory Board and Water Quality Board: Progress Toward Nutrient Management in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario — learn more and register

Other News

Erie PrOH: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Sea Grant have launched “Erie PrOH,” a new voluntary certification program and course for fishers to learn and then share responsible stewardship techniques on the Great Lakes, The Beacon reports

Director of Urban Agriculture: Detroit has hired Tepfirah Rushdan as its first-ever director of urban agriculture, Michigan Radio reports. Rushdan’s primary responsibility is to “support the current farms in the city and help turn more vacant land into farms.”

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