Minutes from October 13, 2021 Ann Arbor Rotary meeting

Notes from October 13, 2021 Ann Arbor Rotary Meeting

Lauren Heinonen

The October 13, 2021 Rotary meeting was called to order by Public Image Board Director, Lauren Heinonen at 12:30 PM. President Susan was away, today, participating in a Rotary Conference. Tom Strode began the meeting by playing “God Bless America.” 

Victor Stoeffler brought us an inspirational message related to today’s speaker, Nicholas Leonard – Executive Director, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit. Vic said that the Law Center sets policy for the Great Lakes region, but we as individuals can also do things to help the environment. He encouraged us to “take the pledge” by not using single use plastics such as plastic bags, plastic straws and plastic table utensils. Vic urged us to do what one individual can do against pollution.

There will be an event, “Pints for Polio,” at Ashley’s in downtown Ann Arbor from Mon, October 18 – Sun, October 24 to raise money and awareness for the fight against Polio (more on that in a bit). Shelley MacMillan shared a rousing musical video of “The Beer Barrel Polka” (Roll out the Barrel). Shelley introduced the music by saying “You are going to roll into Ashley’s and then have a barrel of fun. Your purchase of pints keeps polio on the run”

Lauren thanked everyone who helped in making today’s meeting a success. There were 2 birthdays. She also announced that next week’s Rotary meeting will again be on Zoom, but we are hoping to be back at the Michigan Union for the October 27 meeting.

Dawn Johnson and Tom Millard reported on the recent Clean Up Service Days. Dawn began by saying that protecting our environment is a significant focus of Rotarians across the globe. Our own club is involved in projects that focus on water and land. On Sunday, September 26, after being rained out on Saturday, a group of Rotarians met to celebrate World Rivers Day along the Huron River near Argo Park to clean up the shoreline. There were 15 Rotarians and 4 Rotaractors. They collected many bags of garbage including an old fishing pole and a blowup mattress. Tom then told us about the next clean-up day, October 2 when Rotary members and Rotaractors cleaned a section of land along I94. These “Road Waste Warriors” collected 58 bags of trash including pieces of tires, clothing, knives and a credit card. They even reported a meth lab waste dump to the authorities. As Rotary continues its commitment to the environment, our Club plans of repeating these clean-up days 2 times a year.

Collyer Smith

Collyer Smith reported on the Jim Tobin Virtual Lecture that will be held on October 20. Rotary members around the world have given 2.1 billion volunteer hours to help protect 3 billion children in 122 countries from polio. The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor, Literati Book Store, and Rotary District 6380 invite all of us to listen to award winning author, Jim Tobin, on Wednesday, October 20 at 7:00 PM, who will talk about Roosevelt’s Rise from Polio to the Presidency. The talk will be delivered on Zoom. More information here or jump straight to registration here.  The book “Master of His Fate” will be for sale. $10 of each sale will go towards the fight against polio.

Roy More

Roy More, owner of Ashley’s Restaurant in Ann Arbor gave us the information about the upcoming “Pints for Polio” (or “Pinot for Polio”). This will be a week-long event starting Monday, October 18. Along with Dragonmead Brewery, Ashley’s will be offering a special selection of beers, some new to the market. Ashley’s will donate $1 of each pour to the fight against Polio; that dollar will be matched 50% by the Rotary Foundation and 200% by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bringing it to a total of $4.50 for each pour served. There will be a special Rotary Club of Ann Arbor Happy Hour on Sunday, October 24 from 2PM to 4PM. Please let us know you’re coming by filling out this form, or by emailing Lori Walters at executivedirector@a2rotary.org.

Lauren continued with the theme of the day. Recently, Rotary International has added a seventh area of focus: Protecting the Environment. The seven areas of focus include: (1)
peacebuilding and conflict prevention; (2) disease prevention and treatment; (3) water, sanitation and hygiene; (4) maternal and child health; (5) basic education and literacy; (6) community economic development; and now (7) protecting the environment. Lauren listed projects and committees in our club that have supported works in each of these areas over the past few years including protecting the environment. But “we can do more.” One suggestion for each of to think about – food, plant-based food. Lauren quoted the World Resources Institute which said in 2016, “Reducing consumption of animal-based foods among the world’s wealthier populations could free up significant amounts of land – possibly enabling the world to feed 10 billon people in 2050 without expanding into forests.” At the beginning of October, we heard from our Environmental Sustainability Action Group that they were challenging us to trying to eat more plan-based food for 15 days. Some of our members have signed up. Lauren challenged us again to try it for one day or 15 days. She has offered her help to anyone who would like more information.

Slide from the presentation on Rotary’s 7th Area of Focus: Protecting the Environment.


Eric Lipson

Eric Lipson introduced our speaker, Nicholas Leonard, the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit. His topic was “Fighting for Environmental Justice in Michigan”.

Nick explained that that the Law Center is a not-for-profit organization furthering environmental justice by providing legal services through-out the State to communities where health and quality of life have been impacted. The focus is primarily on public health to those whose are most exposed and most vulnerable to environmental risk. Environmental justice, as a concept, took hold in the 1980”s in North Caroling at the sight of a hazardous waste landfill in a predominately black community,

When we talk about environmental justice, we are talking about “the fair treatment and involvement of all people regardless of the race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement and environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Broken down, this is seeking two outcomes: fair treatment which is substantive and meaningful involvement which is procedural. This is seen in three contexts: development of laws/regulations, implementation of laws/regulations and enforcement of laws/regulations.

Nick Leonard

An example of the work of the Law Center is a large solid waste incinerator that operated for six decades in Detroit at the intersection of I94 and I75. This incinerator was the largest in the United States. The Center interviewed community members regarding their concerns. Every resident wanted it shut down. Their concerns were the terrible odors and air pollution. The Center looked at the facility operations and where the benefits of the incinerator were flowing. Trash disposal was more expensive for Detroit residents at $25/ton vs communities outside such as Grosse Pointe that paid $15/ton. The electricity generated benefited the community at-large. The steam generation primarily went to large industrial facilities not the surrounding residential communities. 66% of the employees of the incinerator plant were from outside of the city of Detroit. The impact of the burdens, odors and air pollution, were all felt by the surrounding local community which was 80% people of color and 80% low income. (200% of the federal poverty level).

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had refused to enforce hundreds of cited violations. The Law Center stepped in and told the incinerator company that they were going to hold them accountable for these violations. After filing a Clean Air Citizens lawsuit, the company decided to shut down rather than comply.

History of raced-based discrimination in the United States can be related to the work of Law Center today. During the middle of the 20th century, the federal government would rank neighborhoods for eligibility for federal home loan insurance. In their words, “if a neighborhood was an undesirable race or mixed race, then it was classified as a high risk for home loan insurance.” This locked the residents out of home ownership and home improvement. Detroit targeted these neighborhoods for clearing dilapidated areas and build industrial structures. One of these areas on Detroit’s east side houses a hazardous waste facility, US Ecology. It is in an area that had been targeted for clearance even though it is a densely populated, diverse community. Several years ago, that facility proposed a 9-fold expansion of its waste storage capacity. The State authorized the expansion. In approving the expansion, the State incorrectly asserted that the area is “primarily industrial”.

The Law Center did a study and found a gross disparity in the demographics of commercial hazardous waste host communities. In Michigan, more than 65% of the people living in these communities are people of color. Nationwide, that population of people adjacent to a hazardous waste facility is approximately 45% people of color. The waste coming into the Michigan facility is coming from 71% out of State, 24% in-State, out of County, and 5% in-State, in-County. These are the same concerns that were being raised 30 years ago in North Carolina.

The last example is the Benton Harbor’s lead in the water crisis. Benton Harbor’s public water system has exceeded the lead action level since the fall of 2018. The highest lead concentration in a sample from a household tap was 889 parts per billion – nearly 60 times the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. Nick tied this problem to the history of racial discrimination in Benton Harbor. In the mid-20th century, the Benton Harbor Housing Commission segregated public housing and denied black residents admission to a veteran housing project. In 1967m the federal court found the Benton Harbor area school district in violation of the U.S. Constitution for intentionally segregating public schools based on race. In the 1960’s, the white population rapidly declined.

There are two main challenges of environmental justice. They are complicated. Modern environmental injustice often has its roots in a long history of race-based discrimination that had led to public and private disinvestment in communities of color. Strong affirmative action is necessary to stop the legacy of environmental injustice and to put us on a course towards racial justice.

How do we solve it!
Nick gave the following thoughts on what needs to be done:
1) “Cultural Change in Environmental Departments – Get environmental agencies to come out of technocratic silos and into the real world”
2) “Redress for Frontline Communities – Bring frontline communities to the negotiating table to get redress for ongoing environmental injustices.”
3) “Stopping Future Environmental Injustices – Advocated for policy changes to put an end to our history of environmental racism.”

Nick went back to the two earlier cases that he is working on. In Benton Harbor, the Law Center has filed a petition with the EPA for them to use their authority under The Safe Drinking Water Act. The lawyers made clear that lead in the water leads to an eminent and substantial danger to health. They are negotiating with the State EPA to make sure that all Benton Harbor residents have safe drinking water now and in the future.

In the U.S Ecology case, the Law Center got together with community residents and said let’s file a complaint under Civil Right law. He said that the State’s decision is discriminatory because they failed to account for the unique issues this would present to a community of color. The Law Center has been negotiating with the State for over a year and making progress.

Nick closed with the following lesson he learned from a law professor. The professor told a group of graduates that if you get into environmental work, you are stepping into a world of wounds. Nick added that it is up to us to “heal those wounds.”

Next week, October 20, our speaker will be Neil McBeth with an update on Polio Plus. That meeting will be on Zoom.

Lauren gave the quote of the day: “The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.” Ross Perot.

The meeting was adjourned at 1:27 PM

Carol Senneff

Photographs by Fred Beutler