2013-07-04 / Columns

Michigan Politics

Low Rating for Three Great Lakes States; Better for Michigan
By George Weeks

Michigan borders four of the Great Lakes, and has 3,288 miles of coastline, more than any state except Alaska. More than 40% of its surface is water.

So it figures that Michigan is replete with beaches—a subject that is timely to note because the 23rd annual nationwide beach water quality report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was released last week in Traverse City.

Furthermore, CBS-TV on Saturday cited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in its “Look at the best beaches to spend the holiday.” Previously, Sleeping Bear was picked by viewers of ABC-TV’s Good Morning America show as “America’s Most Beautiful Place.”

The NRDC press release on its report headlined:

“Great Lakes Beaches Continue to Show Higher than Average Contamination: Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota Worst in the Nation, While Michigan Sees Improvement.”

It was more than improvement.

NRDC said, “The news was grim throughout most of the Great Lakes, which were home to higher than average contamination levels and the three states recording the highest percentage of violations. Michigan, however, bucked that trend, outperforming the national average and laying claim to one of the nation’s best beaches.”

The report provides a 5-star rating guide to 200 of the nation’s popular beaches, evaluating them for water quality and best practices for testing and public notification. The Michigan beach among 13 making the national “Superstar” list based on 2012 evaluation was the Bay City State Recreation Area in Bay County.

The report said that 7% of beach water samples nationwide violated public health standards, while it was 10% in the entire Great Lakes basin, 21% in Ohio, 14% in Wisconsin, 12% in Minnesota, and 6% in Michigan.

Monitoring figures were provided for all of Michigan’s popular vacation beaches but the northernmost beaches given a rating beyond the 5- star category were the Ludington State Park Beach and the Port Crescent State Park in Huron County. In each of the two, less than 5% of the samples exceeded public health standards.

The full “Testing the Waters” report, including a zip code searchable map of more than 3,000 beaches nationwide, can be found at http://www.nrdc.org/beaches.

This is a political column, not a travel column, and the NRDC said its report “highlights two critical actions that the Environmental Protection Agency can take to protect people at the beach.

“First, because polluted runoff is the biggest known source of beach water pollution, EPA should reform and rigorously enforce the national requirements that govern sources of polluted storm water to ensure that runoff is controlled using innovative green infrastructure solutions.

“Second, EPA should reconsider its new recreational beach water quality criteria, which leave beachgoers inadequately protected and unnecessarily exposed to bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can make them sick.”

The EPA, and the Obama Administration overall, get escalating criticism from the right for overregulation. Nonetheless, a coalition of groups concerned about water quality, including NRDC, recently filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue EPA “to take action to protect beachgoers on any given day and to adopt criteria ” that more adequately protect public health in what NRDC contends is recreational water quality criteria that “allow 1-in-28 to get sick.”

I would not presume to assess the accuracy of specifics of that claim, but concerned beachgoers, after the holiday, and others may want to tune into the issue at the site cited above. It’s an important issue for the Water Wonderland.

Schauer vs. Snyder

Across the land there are Republican governors who are having trouble getting GOP legislatures to expand access to Medicaid health for the working poor. I thought it an extreme mistake when Arizona, GOP Governor Jan Brewer vowed to veto others bills that came to her until lawmakers passed the Medicaid expansion.

Now comes ex-one term U.S. Representative Mark Schauer of Battle Creek, a former state senator who likely will be the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, calling on Governor Rick Snyder to make the same vow as Brewer.

After Snyder failed to get enough votes from the GOP-ruled Senate, Schauer said last week:

“With health care for nearly 400,000 citizens on the line, I’ve called on Governor Snyder to show real leadership by using his constitutionally provided power to declare this an “extraordinary occasion” and call the legislature back to Lansing. The governor should go a step further, by pledging to veto every new bill that comes to his desk until the legislature takes action on expanding Medicaid.”

There’s debate about whether Snyder has authority, under terms of the legislature’s current recess, to call it back but GOP leadership talks of a vote before September. Meanwhile, a Brewer-style vow to veto every bill would be the height of irresponsibility. Good things could end up on the cutting room floor.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing Bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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