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Rising to the challenge: EGLE's "By the Numbers" series to highlight 2020's work

2020 By the Numbers graphic for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy the month of January, MI Environment will publish regular "EGLE 2020 By the Numbers" briefs highlighting the work of the agency's 1,200-plus employees who protect Michigan's environment and public health through wise management of air, water, land and energy resources. Look for tomorrow's "By the Numbers" piece on the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's (EGLE) work to help property owners protect themselves from erosion caused by record-high Great Lakes water levels.
Today, we look back at EGLE's 2020 challenges, the most formidable of which was finding creative ways to continue protecting Michiganders from environmental hazards while practicing COVID-19-safe procedures that safeguard our staff, the public and our partners across the state.

Forced to recalibrate traditional work routines to adapt to challenges, including a global pandemic, threats from historic high water levels and a catastrophic dam failure, EGLE continued to protect Michigan's environment and public health during 2020 with resilience and adaptability.

Compliance inspections, permit issuances and drinking water and environmental testing at EGLE’s laboratory continued; the Pollution Emergency Assistance (PEAS) hotline stayed at full throttle, dispatching personnel to reports of toxic trouble; and the agency expanded its transparency with more online accessibility to key documents and the fulfillment of thousands of open records requests.

EGLE gained international notoriety with an entertaining-but-expensive tale of an aggrieved bald eagle sending an EGLE drone to the bottom of Lake Michigan. Less visible but more vital to our mission was our work with communities to restore formerly-contaminated properties to productive use, more than 25,000 permits acted on, and tests on thousands of drinking water samples for contaminants ranging from lead to PFAS to harmful bacteria.

While maintaining "business-as-usual" during a global pandemic might be challenging enough, EGLE also moved forward several new, groundbreaking and historic initiatives designed to meet future challenges with a lens on fair and equitable treatment of all Michiganders regardless of income, geography, ethnicity or race:

  • In September Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the MI Healthy Climate Plan, a comprehensive plan to protect Michiganders' public health and the environment and help develop new clean energy jobs by putting Michigan on a path towards becoming fully carbon-neutral by 2050. EGLE's Office of Climate and Energy will help lead the state's climate work through innovative programs such as the Catalyst Communities, which provides training, education, planning and technical resources to communities preparing for climate impacts.
  • EGLE's Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate launched a number of new initiatives, including the Clean Water Ambassadors initiative, which recruited approximately 150 Michiganders to improve transparency and communication. The office also launched the EGLE online Drinking Water Concern System providing an avenue to investigate drinking water concerns. This system, which is available in English, Arabic, and Spanish, provides another mechanism to support our local partners and better serve Michiganders.
  • Twenty-one Michiganders were selected for Michigan's first Environmental Justice advisory council in 2020. The Michigan Advisory Council for Environmental Justice (MAC-EJ) is run through EGLE's Office of Environmental Justice Public Advocate and was created to advise the state on issues impacting Environmental Justice communities. The office also conducted training for more than 1,000 EGLE employees on integrating Environmental Justice and equity into their work.
  • A $500 million water infrastructure plan was launched in October by EGLE and Gov. Whitmer. The resources will provide clean, affordable water to Michiganders, direct investments into communities and support more than 7,500 clean water-based jobs.

There's much, much more that EGLE's 1,200-plus public servants accomplished during the course of a year that presented challenges unlike any other. Subscribe to MI Environment to keep abreast of EGLE's work on behalf of Michigan's environment and public health.

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