Linda Sullivan: Pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act in Illinois

Linda Sullivan, Sierra Club River Prairie Group volunteer, had her letter to the editor published in the Chicago Tribune. Her piece is reprinted below.


  When Greta Thunberg begs legislators to stop telling her she is amazing but instead do something actually effective to avert climate disaster, she is talking about bills like the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Introduced into the Illinois General Assembly last spring, CEJA has 56 cosponsors in the Illinois House, 31 in the Illinois Senate, but unforgivably, is still awaiting a vote.

    A special urgency exists that this bill be considered during the fall veto session. About 21% of our electric bill pays for energy called “capacity market” energy bought through an auction run by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This auction is already heavily weighted toward expensive fossil fuels. Under the Trump Administration it has been proposed that the FERC advantage coal-plant energy even more.  Among other things, CEJA pulls Illinois out of the polluting federal capacity market and sets up our own Illinois capacity market which will create Illinois jobs and be directed toward carbon-free energy sources.

     If the General Assembly does not pass CEJA in the fall veto session, Illinois will be forced into contracts for expensive, polluting coal energy that will continue long after Mr. Trump is out of office. Rate payers cannot afford this; the planet cannot afford this.

    Unlike many empty gesture climate bills, CEJA is not an “aspiration” to get to 100% renewable energy, but sets forth an ingenious path that will save consumers money, create thousands of well-paid Illinois jobs, while decarbonizing our electric grid by 2030 and getting Illinois to complete renewable energy by 2050. It will do that while ensuring that a significant portion of the training and great jobs will go to underserved populations and communities hit by the closure of coal mines.

     It is a positive step that Gov. JB Pritzker and so many Democrats have pledged to take Illinois to 100 % renewable energy. But enough pledging! Pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act this fall!

“Now We Can All Move Forward Together” as Tollway Drops Rt 53 Project

Today the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority formally moved to halt work on the controversial Route 53 extension by notifying the Federal Highway Administration that it is rescinding the authorization of the current Environmental Impact Statement. The move comes after decades of controversy over the high cost and environmental damage the project would have brought to Lake County, and action this week by the Lake County Board to remove the project as a focus of the County’s transportation plan.

Lake County residents, leaders, and motorists welcomed the Tollway’s action and pledged to work collaboratively to move other transportation solutions forward to address traffic congestion and plan for a future Lake County with high mobility, prosperity, equity, and quality of life.

“This is a real victory for the people of Lake County,” said Doug Ower, Chair of the Sierra Club’s Woods and Wetlands Group. “For decades, planners from outside Lake County tried to bulldoze Route 53 right through neighborhoods and natural areas, but citizens did not give up and demanded better solutions. We applaud the new leadership at the Tollway for listening to the public – now we can all move forward together on traffic solutions that create jobs and sustain our quality of life.”

Tony Dean, resident and former Mayor of the Village of Long Grove, said “After wasting 56 years on four failed attempts, the Route 53 extension must finally be completely abandoned and work at last begun on traffic solutions we can achieve in our life times. I am 74 years old so we need to get going.” 

“The Route 53 corridor borders the backyards of dozens of homes for hundreds of residents and consists of over 60 wetland areas that serve as invaluable habitats for plant and wildlife species, some of which are protected and endangered,” said Anna Pieta of Save Indian Creek Wetlands.  “These areas are critical for flood control and biodiversity, and now they can be protected for future generations.”

“We are delighted that the Tollway now recognizes what we’ve been saying all along: The Rt.53/120 extension is unaffordable, unneeded and unfair,” said Barbara Klipp, executive director of the Midwest Sustainability Group. “Now it’s time to move on by retiring the corridor and developing a better transportation plan for Lake County that is modern, multimodal, reduces our trip times, improves our air quality, reduces Greenhouse Gasses, protects our valuable open space and positions Lake County to be competitive in the 21st century economy.” 

“I am heartened with this result,” said George Ranney co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Advisory Council. “The Tollway is to be commended for putting a stop to the misbegotten work it had commissioned to study the subject several years ago.  Everyone knows that Lake County deserves and needs better transportation, and it is imperative that it be done well. And now we can move forward with modern day roads and related transportation, some of it in line with the BRAC report and present realities.  I thank the private citizens and the environmental organizations who worked so hard over the years to get this done, and I have high hopes that the new State administration will get it right this time.”  

Bill Morris, former state senator and director of the Tollway board spoke of the importance of implementing alternatives: “Our 50+ year battle is not over until the Tollway, the State of Illinois and Lake County commit funding to affordable congestion relief solutions like a rail overpass at Rt. 120/83, and adding longer turning lanes to existing roadways.  The Illinois Department of Transportation should also engage these communities in a process to determine the ultimate use of the state-owned road corridor, potentially including open space protection and other local government needs.”

Regional leaders are also welcoming the Tollway’s decision.

“As a former member of the Blue-Ribbon Advisory Council, we congratulate the Tollway and the Lake County Board for moving beyond the Route 53 Extension towards multi-modal transportation solutions that will make Lake County more prosperous and resilient to climate change.  It demonstrates that transportation projects don’t have to sacrifice our communities, our health and some of the finest natural landscapes in the country. This decision opens the door to true consensus in how reclaiming the Route 53 corridor can offer vital linear connections and world class amenities to the county and the region,”  said Gerald Adelmann, President and CEO of Openlands 

“Our region needs to think beyond highways and invest in a sustainable transportation network that protects our natural resources – and this is a big step in the right direction,” said Bob Dean, President of the Center for Neighborhood Technology.  “As a former member of the Blue Ribbon Advisory Council, we applaud the Lake County Board and the Tollway for making the decision to change direction on the Route 53 Extension project.”

Moving forward together, 

Sierra Club Illinois – Jack Darin, Chapter Director ‭(312) 229-4690‬

Sierra Club Woods and Wetlands Group – Doug Ower, Executive Committee Chair

Midwest Sustainability Group – Barbara Klipp, Executive Director (847) 986-6900

Open Lands – Gerald Adelmann, President and CEO 

Tony Dean, Former Village President of The Village of Long Grove (847) 366-0660

Bill Morris, Former State Senator and Director of the Tollway 

Livable Lake County – Sam Beard, Staff Organizer (630) 453-3155

Friends of Indian Creek Wetlands – Anna Pieta, Larry Friedrichs, Executive Directors

Center for Neighborhood Technology – Bob Dean, President

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The Dawn of a Bold New Era in Illinois?

D6JqNgPWAAMPV1FIllinois May Be Emerging As One of America’s Environmental Leadership States. The seemingly sudden passage of several mega-measures by the Illinois General Assembly in the final days of the spring legislative session undoubtedly surprised many Illinoisans who learned that, over the first weekend of summer, the legislature legalized recreational cannabis use, expanded gaming, launched a long overdue infrastructure program, protected access to reproductive health care, and passed a balanced budget for a change.

A bit overshadowed by those headlines are some significant advances toward environmental protection, including action on climate change, clean water, toxic chemicals, and more.  These wins suggest that Illinois may be emerging as one of America’s environmental leadership states, at a time when state innovation has never been more critical given the active deconstruction of our national environmental protection framework at the hands of the Trump administration and their polluter allies. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of 2019.

A Ban On Toxic BPA In Store and Bank Receipts

receipt-cropIllinois will join the European Union in banning BPA (bisphenol A) from customer receipts beginning in January.  BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that has been used as a coating on the shiny, thermal paper used in many receipt, where it poses a risk to both workers and customers. Two freshman lawmakers, State Representative Karina Villa (D-West Chicago), and State Senator Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights) teamed up to move the ban to Gov. Pritzker’s desk.

New Training Opportunities for Clean Water Jobs

image2Illinois needs significant investments to address drinking and surface water quality concerns, and communities of color and other disadvantaged populations are more likely to suffer from poor water quality.  These Illinoisans will now have better access to the jobs created in solving these problems thanks to the Clean Water Workforce Pipeline program created under legislation passed by State Representative Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), and new State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), which will support community organizations in placing those most in need of quality jobs in apprenticeship programs to prepare for water infrastructure jobs.

Investing in Environmental Infrastructure

The long overdue capital investment plan includes over $1 billion in environmental investments, including over $300 million in clean water infrastructure, transportation electrification projects, funds to help the Pritzker administration lead by example with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for state facilities, and funds for Illinois DNR to acquire natural areas through the Open Land Trust program.  In most cases, these funding levels are short of the overall multiyear need, but they are critical downpayments on long term investments and will help the new administration begin to build an environmental and conservation legacy after years of neglect of these priorities.

Making Polluters Pay for Coal Ash Cleanup

59759287_2565502050143782_1978614639251947520_nCommunity members fed up with living near giant piles of toxic coal ash seeping into groundwater teamed up with State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) and State Representative Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) to pass SB 9, which will lead to rules requiring these health threats to be cleaned up, at the expense of the coal companies who created them.

Repealing the Prohibition on Climate Action

In 1998, the coal industry pushed through a broad prohibition against Illinois EPA regulating greenhouse gas emissions.  As a result, Illinois has been benched on the sidelines while other states adopted innovative emissions reduction programs that spurred job growth in clean energy and consumer savings from energy efficiency.  At the time, the prohibition passed over the strong objections of environmental champions, but coal carried the day. This year’s repeal is a sign of how things have changed in 2019, with the urgency of the climate crisis prevailing over objections from coal.  Governor Pritzker’s early, strong action to commit Illinois to the Paris Climate Agreement’s emissions reduction targets, and a 100% clean energy goal for the state, were important in setting this new direction.

Broad Support for 100% Clean Energy

With consideration of comprehensive energy policy slated for consideration this fall, a wide variety of proposals have been introduced, but none saw floor debate in either the full House or Senate.  However, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) introduced by State Senator Cristina Castro (D-Elgin) and State Representative Ann Williams (D-Chicago) has attracted by far the most support from lawmakers, with cosponsors approaching majorities in each chamber, while competing proposals from coal companies drew broad opposition. We’re excited to continue working with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition to build support for CEJA’s 100% clean energy goal, with a focus on economic benefits for disadvantaged communities and a just transition for workers and communities dependent on 20th century technologies, over the summer and into the fall veto session.

Why is Illinois seemingly headed in a new direction of environmental leadership?  Three key elements are people, partnerships, and politics.

People are Connecting To the Capitol

Illinoisans are waking up to the role that state and local action can, and must, play in moving forward on the issues they care about, even as the Trump administration moves backward or ignores their priorities.

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Sierra Club had strong participation from members in its Volunteer Lobby Team program, in which members commit to learning the details of priority environmental issues and visiting with their local State Representative or State Senator once each Spring to explain the issues and ask for their support.  This Spring Sierra Club volunteers held over 50 district office visits, and earned support for a wide range of issues from legislators across the political spectrum.  These in-district conversations with volunteers, not paid lobbyists, really help key priorities stand out during a very busy spring.

Partnerships Are Key

d2hx2rvx0aminvn.jpgNew alliances are key to both building a bigger, more diverse environmental movement, but also in advancing a bold progressive agenda.  This spring, Sierra Club teamed up with labor unions representing workers in the water sector and social justice advocates to write and pass the Clean Water Workforce Pipeline Act, and with the United Food and Commercial Workers to ban the BPA receipts that are a health concern for their members as well as an unnecessary toxin. We’re also proud founding members of Forward Illinois, a new alliance of statewide progressive organizations focused on supporting each other in our efforts to enact nation-leading policies that make Illinois healthier, cleaner, more prosperous, and more equitable. We’re thrilled at the big wins for the broader progressive agenda and ready to build on these partnerships for bigger wins in the future.

Politics – Elections Have Consequences

The progress of 2019 is a direct outcome of the 2018 elections. Governor J.B. Pritzker proposed and enacted a big and bold legislative agenda, all while building a team on the fly and staffing up state agencies.  This year’s freshman class of legislators includes an outstanding group of women who not only took the lead in sponsoring bold ideas, but made it clear from the start that they were breaking the mold of “target” legislators from swing districts, who are normally coached to avoid tough votes that might be fodder for campaign attacks.  The Class of 2019 is led by women who ran not to play it safe but to be bold, and resist the daily outrages coming from the Trump administration with clear moves in the opposite direction. Sierra Club mounted its largest volunteer and voter contact election campaign ever in 2018 to elect just these types of new leaders, and we can’t wait to see what we can do together next.

Let’s hope this spring’s big steps forward are the first on a long journey toward the future we want for all in Illinois.  The challenges we face together call for nothing less.

Jack Darin is the Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter

Connecting for Clean Water: First statewide Water Sentinels gathering a huge success!

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Last weekend, Sierra Club volunteers from around the state came together for our first Illinois Water Sentinels gathering, hosted by the Eagle View Group in the Quad Cities. The weekend included presentations from water experts, outings to explore the area and witness the impacts of flooding, plus opportunities to connect with one another over shared meals and social activities.

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Speakers from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Augustana College, American Rivers, Living Lands and Waters, the Rock Island County Waste Management Agency and the Illinois Chapter of Sierra Club shared fascinating information about local, regional and statewide efforts to protect clean water, restore the health and resilience of our waterways, aquatic life and riverfront communities, and ensure safe drinking water for all. Presentation topics included:

  • Freshwater mussel relocation in the Mississippi River;
  • The story of Living Lands and Waters (a one-of-a-kind “industrial strength” river cleanup operation);
  • Floodplain restoration and flood risk management;
  • Addressing Illinois’ nutrient pollution problem through local and state action;
  • Monitoring and communicating about water quality;
  • Building student and community partnerships for clean water and public health;
  • Better recycling (and reconsidering) to protect our waterways; and 
  • Organizing for water equity and justice and building a clean water campaign plan.

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We also heard beautiful drumming and singing by Regina Tsosie who leads the Native American Coalition of the Quad-Cities and learned some of the history of Native Americans who first occupied the area. Historian Beth Carvey, who directed the Hauberg Indian Museum in Rock Island for 36 years, shared about the history of the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes during our evening at the Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island, which occupies much of the historic site of the village of Saukenuk, the home of a band of Native Americans of the Sauk nation. 

The goals of the gathering were to provide opportunities for Sierra Club volunteers from around the state to come together and connect with each other, feel a sense of belonging to a broader statewide team of water protectors and be inspired and equipped to expand their local efforts to protect clean water.

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Our water teams throughout the state do a variety of activities that bring communities together around local action for clean water. Activities include monitoring local rivers and streams, hosting beach and river clean-ups, advocating for federal funding for Great Lakes restoration and state funding for investments in clean water infrastructure, lobbying for legislation to protect water quality and ensure safe drinking water, and tabling at community events to share these initiatives with the public. Learn more about our water teams and how you can get involved here.

We appreciate every person who spent their weekend with us, and especially the Eagle View Group for hosting!

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House Passes Ban on Toxic Receipts

SPRINGFIELD– The Illinois House today approved legislation banning store, bank, and other receipts containing bisphenol-A (BPA).

BPA exposure has been associated with an increased risk of conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well as effects on the development of reproductive tissues, the immune system, and other tissues. Recent studies have found that BPA can be absorbed through the skin and may remain in the body longer when it is absorbed through the skin than when it is ingested. Retail cashiers and other workers who handle thermal business paper over the course of their workday are at risk of greater levels of exposure than the general public. The ban takes effect January 1, 2020.

“There is no reason why workers and customers need to handle a material that could jeopardize their health and their families, especially with safer alternatives being widely available,” said chief House sponsor State Representative Karina Villa.

“Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers applaud Rep. Villa and Sen. Gillespie for making Illinois the second state to ban  harmful BPA receipts. Workers have a right to know what chemicals they come into contact with at work and if they are safe. Today, the General Assembly took a huge step in ensuring that retail and commercial workers can go to work and not be forced to handle toxic chemicals as a condition of their job, thereby protecting workers and the customers they serve. This is a good example of what labor and our environmental partners can accomplish working together; making a safer and more sustainable Illinois,” said Zach Koutsky, Legislative and Political Director for Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers.

“We’re proud to partner with workers on this important public health advance, and make Illinois a national leader in reducing exposure to this toxic chemical,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “By working together to eliminate toxins, we can make Illinois a healthier place to live and work.”

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Illinois House and Senate Pass Landmark Legislation to Clean Up Coal Ash

Bill addresses coal ash impoundments plaguing the state for decades

Yesterday the Illinois Legislature passed SB9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which now heads to the Governor’s desk. The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state. Illinois is now the third state in the country to pass legislation providing significant coal ash protections above and beyond federal requirements. The legislation creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup, guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities, and provides Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup. It also requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.

SB9 amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and was sponsored by State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Champaign) sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. A large coalition of activists from around Illinois championed the legislation that will now proceed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk to be signed into law, including; Central Illinois Healthy Communities Alliance, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, Clean Power Lake County, Earthjustice, Eco-Justice Collaborative, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Faith in Place Action Fund, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois People’s Action, Metro-East Green Alliance, Prairie Rivers Network, Protect the Middle Fork, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, and Springfield Clean. See quotes from legislators and coalition partners here.

Illinois has the highest concentration of coal ash impoundments in the country. The Illinois EPA has found groundwater contamination from coal ash waste sites dating back to 2009. A 2018 report from environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club analyzing data collected by ash dump owners under the federal coal ash rule found that 22 of 24 of Illinois’ reporting coal ash dumpsites have unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in the groundwater. Illinois joins Virginia and North Carolina in addressing coal ash through state level legislation.

“Sierra Club Illinois applauds the General Assembly for passing this historic bill to protect Illinois communities and waterways from toxic coal ash waste that has been contributing to groundwater contamination across this state for too many years. It’s critical that we protect Illinois taxpayers from the clean up costs that profitable companies like NRG and Vistra should be responsible for if they do business in Illinois,” said Joyce Blumenshine, Conservation Chair for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Reflections on HOW Great Lakes Conference in Detroit

Earlier in May, I attended the Healing our Waters (HOW) Coalition’s annual Great Lakes Conference. It was the coalition’s 14th (and my 4th) iteration of this conference, and this year showed a palpable shift in how things are done, who is invited to the podium and what content is highlighted. The conference booklet describes a shift in their priorities:

“Increasingly, the Healing Our Water–Great Lakes Coalition has been working to ensure that ecological restoration of the Great Lakes means that all of the region’s people can have access to affordable, clean, safe drinking water; to eat fish that are safe and not toxic; to live healthy lives that are not undermined by toxic pollutants and legacy contaminants. We know that healthy lakes and healthy lives go hand-in-hand.”

To put action behind this commitment, the coalition formed its Equity Advisory and Action Committee in 2017. The efforts of the committee and the support behind it were visible as Great Lakes advocates gathered for two days of connection, inspiration and collaboration.

A meaningful demonstration of the coalition’s commitment to equity was shown when HOW leaders decided to postpone the conference from its original dates in October due to an active strike by the workers at the hotel where the conference was to be held. In an act of solidarity with the protesting workers, HOW announced it would not be asking conference attendees to cross the picket line and would be postponing the conference to the spring. A representative from the hotel workers union came to the podium during the conference to speak about the impact of this decision and express their appreciation for this support of their efforts for better treatment and higher wages for hotel workers. While I can in no way take credit for deciding to postpone the conference, I felt proud to be part of a coalition that chose to put aside the cost and inconvenience of changing the dates in order to put action behind their stated values.

The conference took place in Detroit, Michigan and I welcomed the opportunity to return to my home state and the city that has experienced so much struggle, injustice, heartbreak, rebirth, and renewal, and has shown the world its strength and resilience. 

Detroit Statue.jpgI had the privilege of participating in a biking tour that showcased parts of the city that I hadn’t seen since my high school senior trip to Detroit, and other parts that I had never seen before – parts that have experienced dramatic changes over time and are now reawakening with vibrancy thanks to the tireless efforts and inspired vision of local leaders and organized residents. Groups like the Eastern Market Corporation are creating a future where Detroit thrives as a regional food hub with urban farms, food processing centers and markets all within one neighborhood. Community members are working together to create a city that is a desirable place to live and work with affordable housing and active transit, thriving local businesses and economic growth that benefits residents and attracts visitors.

Many of the city’s features serve to highlight the beauty of the natural and human environment, such as the riverwalk that provides access to the city’s waterfront and the murals that express the creativity of local artists and power of the community.

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When I wasn’t pedaling through city blocks or along the two-mile greenway converted from rail to trail, I was connecting with other Great Lakes advocates from around the region like a young man from Cleveland who’s building robots to solve environmental problems and a woman from Flint who’s working to protect Michigan residents against harmful PFAs in their water. I was soaking in the wisdom of speakers like Mustafa Santiago Ali, Monica Lewis Patrick and Carla Walker who spoke on issues of water affordability, organizing for water liberation and environmental justice, and told stories about what happens when community members take action into their own hands when the government fails them. I was basking in the beauty of Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty’s poetry and songs by Detroit’s own Aretha Franklin. This infusion of art and creativity brought a new energy to the experience that I now firmly believe should be welcomed into every stuffy conference room or sterile hotel ballroom.

The conference’s breakout sessions — while always hard to choose between — provided a deeper dive on some of the issues, systems and projects affecting the Great Lakes region. I expanded my toolbox of actionable strategies for proactive, inclusive community engagement with the Delta Institute, learned how non-profit organizations can thrive by mimicking nature’s structures, and was inspired by stories of Detroit residents creating their own solar-powered light when the streetlights were removed from their neighborhood.

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Gloria Rivera of Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit speaks about biomimicry for social innovation.

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the HOW’s annual Great Lakes Conference, it’s that the reception is not to be missed. This year was no different, with a trip to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant where original Model T’s from the 1900s are preserved to showcase Detroit’s automotive heritage and spirit of innovation. While we browsed the antique vehicles, we were entertained by live music from members of the Gathering Orchestra, a program of the Carr Center, and snacked on delicious hor d’oeuvres from local caterers. I tried to soak in this experience and push away the “What the heck did I do to deserve this A-list treatment?” thought lurking in the back of my mind. I remembered the words on biomimicry from Gloria Rivera and thought, “does nature deny the beauty of its flowers or refuse the abundance of its harvests because it’s ‘not deserving’?”…and then grabbed another tiny cup of chocolate mousse and enjoyed the music.

The last session I attended on the second day of the conference featured Kimathi Boothe, Environmental and Climate Justice Co-Chair for the Northern Oakland County Branch of the NAACP. He spoke about various water injustices experienced by residents of Oakland County and the ongoing efforts to mobilize, equip and build capacity, resiliency and resistance in frontline communities to create water warriors and achieve water liberation. As environmentalists, clean water advocates and justice warriors we are up against big challenges, but there is overwhelming power revealed when passionate people come together around a common vision. I left Detroit feeling reaffirmed that a future of clean water, healthy families and empowered communities is already being realized through our efforts. I’m so grateful to be part of this movement, working alongside great hearts and minds for the future of our Great Lakes.

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You can help rebuild community and empower Flint residents by supporting the Flint Community Water Lab

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