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Nestlé Wants to Suck Even More Water Out of Michigan
By Sami Mericle
Given that Michigan, the "Great Lakes State," is practically surrounded by water, the state sure has trouble managing its water.
Five state officials were recently charged with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in a public health crisis that has left the city of Flint without drinkable tap water for years following widespread lead poisoning and an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. In another highly publicized case, during the last several years thousands of Detroit residents found their water disconnected for nonpayment in what United Nations experts deemed a violation of human rights.
The battle over fresh water has now reached Osceola Township, a town of barely 1,000 residents, where Nestlé Waters North America wants to increase its pumping of spring water from the White Pines Spring. Currently, Nestlé pumps about 250 gallons per minute from the spring; the company hopes to increase that to 400 gallons per minute—a total of 210 million gallons per year. Nestlé pays nothing for the water, which it sells in the Midwest under its Ice Mountain label.
"We live in the Great Lakes state," said David Holtz, chair of the Michigan Sierra Club. "And yet we have a community like Flint [where] residents don't have access to clean, affordable, safe drinking water. And at the same time, we're giving water away to Nestlé to sell for profit."
Nestlé's application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has been met with public opposition since MLive broke the story last October. The proposed increase comes in conjunction with a $36 million expansion to Nestlé's Ice Mountain bottling plant in nearby Stanwood.
Reports commissioned by Nestlé predict no significant adverse effects on streamflow, local wetlands or aquatic habitats as a result of the increased pumping. But environmental groups contest that conclusion. They argue that neither Nestlé nor the MDEQ has considered the aggregate impacts of the company's activities at a total of seven wells in Osceola County and neighboring Mecosta County.
"These are all little nibbles, it's a cumulative impact on all our natural resources," said Mike Ripley, environmental coordinator at the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority. The organization represents five Native American nations that are worried about ecological changes caused by the water extraction. The tribes say any environmental damage will violate the 1836 treaty that gives them the right to hunt and fish in the area. Under the treaty and subsequent court-affirmed consent decrees, the state of Michigan must protect ecosystems for tribal uses like gathering medicinal plants and subsistence fishing and hunting.
Nestlé examined 17 years' worth of data from approximately 100 different monitoring locations to conclude that the increased withdrawals will have no negative environmental effects, said Arlene Anderson-Vincent, natural resource manager at Nestlé Waters North America's Ice Mountain facility. The company began collecting data—including groundwater levels, streamflow and aquatic surveys—when the well was first constructed in 2000.
"It [the data collection] is completely unprecedented in the state of Michigan," Anderson-Vincent said. "There are thousands of wells that are permitted by the state that do not gather groundwater level data, let alone streamflow data, or conduct all the other environmental studies that we do."
Environmental advocates, however, are reluctant to trust Nestlé's self-reporting, and they are demanding that the state conduct its own independent research.
"The process we have for evaluating these permits is seriously flawed," said Holtz of the Michigan Sierra Club. "They haven't done on-site inspections and research. They relied on computer models and information from consultants hired by Nestlé. They don't really take a holistic view, an aggregate view, of all the different permits over the years that Nestlé has gotten."
A similar dispute over a well in Mecosta County resulted in a 2009 court order that required Nestlé to reduce pumping from 400 to 218 gallons per minute after the environmental group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation sued.
"Back then, there wasn't a lot of data, it was really just projections and predictions of what might happen and different opinions on that," Anderson-Vincent said. She maintains that 17 years worth of data and stricter regulations ensure that there will be no environmental degradation in this case.
Groundwater is difficult to study, largely because it's, well, underground. If the MDEQ were to conduct its own research on the watershed, as environmental groups have requested, it would take years to develop an accurate picture of how Nestlé's activity may affect the local environment.
Ice Mountain is one of Nestlé's six regional spring water brands in the U.S. It differs from Pure Life, another Nestlé brand, in that Ice Mountain is only minimally processed in order to maintain a taste characteristic of Michigan water. In contrast, water sold as Pure Life is pumped from municipal water sources all over the country, stripped of its natural minerals, and then has Nestlé's own recipe of minerals added back in so it tastes the same no matter where it originates.
The expansion of the Stanwood factory is fueled by increased consumer demand. Despite its well-known environmental burden, bottled water outsold soda for the first time last year to become the most popular beverage in the country.
Nestlé is quick to point out that it is far from the greatest consumer of water in Michigan. According to MDEQ data, it ranked 85th in state water usage in 2015, preceded by factories, mines and other industrial operations. The difference is that most of those companies eventually return extracted water to the watershed, while Nestlé ships water out of the area.
At the heart of the issue is how communities manage their natural resources. "Should we even be in the business of allowing for-profit corporations to withdraw water and export it and sell it for profit? Should that even be something we allow?" Holtz asked.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.