Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An antidote to what ails you; a remedy for disillusionment: Michigan's Dark Sky Park

Unnecessary light pollution plagues our cities, suburbs and countrysides.

Gas stations are illuminated like white hot suns. Whole floors of office buildings stay lit for a solitary night owl worker. And blazing security lights click on constantly throughout my neighborhood (note to neighbors: walking my dog on the sidewalk is NOT A THREAT; recalibrate your lights, goats).

But in Michigan we are still blessed with dark places where the Milky Way and a million twinkling stars inspire awe and wonder. Places where science and religion combined seem pitiable tools of inquiry. Places where – necks craned and mouths agape – words are insignificant to define what we see.

One of those places has now been recognized internationally. Michigan has an International Dark Sky Park. It’s one of only six Dark Sky Parks in the nation – one of nine in the world. 

Located along the Straits of Mackinac on 550 acres of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline called The Headlands, the stargazers' paradise is the result of years of hard work by Emmet County citizens and officials. They were dedicated to preserving this little slice of Pure Michigan that speaks volumes about the quality of life Up North.

The designation required light meter readings from the International Dark Sky Association, the adoption of a special lighting ordinance and 75 pages of paperwork according to my friend Ron Dzwonkowski’s Detroit Free Press column.

In a great tidbit of storytelling, Ron says one “key to securing the designation was the endorsement of Patrick Stonehouse, a teacher and astronomer in neighboring Cheboygan County who from his rooftop observatory in Wolverine discovered a comet in 1998 that the International Astronomical Union has labeled 1998 H1, or Comet Stonehouse.”

Michigan’s International Dark Sky Park. What a great, great story!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Michigan Senate cave dwellers vote to cripple Great Lakes protection, strip governor's powers

SB 272 sponsors
Back in the 1970s Lake Erie was dying and Michigan’s waterways were choked with weeks and algae. Phosphorus from laundry detergents was identified as a major culprit in the problems. But the state legislature and federal regulators – under intense industry pressure – were paralyzed with inaction.

Michigan Gov. William Milliken put on his big boy pants and took a stand in 1976, using his power to ban phosphorus. It was the beginning of a steep decline in Great Lakes phosphorus and the recovery of Lake Erie. Other states followed suit. It wasn’t until 2008 that Michigan’s legislature affirmed the Milliken-era ban.

Now Michigan Senate Republicans – under the treacherous guise of reducing regulatory burdens – want to strip Michigan’s governor of his power to protect the lakes and other natural resources. Senate Bill 272 was passed last week. It forbids the governor's environmental regulators to exceed any federal environmental standard. 

That means Republicans believe that water protection laws in places like Arizona and New Mexico are a good fit for Michigan, where we are stewards of the greatest freshwater resource on planet Earth. It means Republicans, erstwhile protectors of state’s rights, believe Washington bureaucrats know what’s best for Michigan. And it means they want to strip Michigan governors of a key power they’ve held for decades.

The bill is part of an onerous package of legislation that seeks to intimidate state regulators into tepid enforcement of environmental laws. 

Here’s hoping that – if these cavemen and women get their way in the State House of Representatives – Gov. Rick Snyder will veto the bills. If he cares about the lakes, he will. And if he’s offended that the legislature is seeking to strip him of the power to enforce the law, he will too.

You can help. Find your state representative and tell them a vote for SB 272 and the rest of this package ensures your vote will go to someone else in 2012.