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Director: EGLE team is at the heart of environmental protection in Michigan
January 04, 2024
In today's MI Environment edition, Phil Roos, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), shares the department's accomplishments in 2023.
EGLE Director Phil Roos
Protecting Michigan’s land, air, water, and public health is at the heart of what the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) does. The weight and importance of that mission is the everyday focus of dedicated professionals at EGLE and, in large part, is what inspired me to join this team.
Throughout 2023, we were at the forefront of initiatives directly impacting the lives of Michiganders – protecting the state’s world-class natural resources while supporting sustainable development that grows a cleaner economy.
Our diverse team of scientists, engineers, geologists, environmental analysts, and more work from 10 office locations throughout the state. When they’re not on the job, they are at your Little League games, your school board meetings, and are out enjoying the same parks, lakes, streams, and hiking paths that you do. Their work is essential to making Michigan a great place to live, work, and play by enhancing and protecting everything that makes our state great.
Because so much of their work often goes without praise or celebration, I wanted to recap 2023 with a sampling of the EGLE team’s 2023 accomplishments and efforts:
- Supporting removal of all drinking water lead service lines in Benton Harbor. The last lead water service line was replaced in Benton Harbor in November 2023. The unprecedented replacement program was part of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “all of government” approach to resolving high lead levels in the city’s drinking water. Additionally, the two most recent lead testing periods showed lead results at 1 part per billion (ppb) – well below the 15 ppb action level. We continue to work with the city to meet needs throughout their drinking water system and with state and local health agencies to address potential sources of lead in indoor plumbing. Statewide, there are an estimated 450,000 lead service lines yet to be removed. Through a combination of federal, state, and local funding, EGLE is supporting communities in their efforts to remove these lines as quickly as feasible.
- Providing $1.4 billion in grants and loans to communities. More than half of EGLE’s budget is redirected to support and invest in Michigan communities. These dollars helped rebuild water infrastructure, including lead service line replacements and dam upgrades, boosted recycling and waste management services, remediated contaminated properties for housing and other redevelopment, incentivized the deployment of renewables, and enhanced the overall well-being of Michigan residents. EGLE also leveraged over $669,000,000 in federal tax dollars to reinvest in Michigan, including money to lower energy bills with energy efficiency improvements and reduce power outages with grid enhancements.
- Protecting health through air quality improvements, monitoring. Remember all those wildfires and how it was hard to breathe? Suddenly, everyone was checking the “AQI” (air quality index) in their weather app. Where do those numbers come from? Us! Providing accurate information that you and your family can rely on is a critical part of our work. During the smoke events, our staff meteorologists conducted dozens of media interviews explaining what was occurring, why, and how Michiganders could protect themselves and their families. While the Canadian fires were beyond our control, air pollution issues we can influence continue to improve. Two decades of steady declines in Southeast Michigan ozone levels culminated in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moving the region into “attainment status” for ozone. We continue to work to reduce levels of air pollutants, particularly in overburdened communities near industry and other pollution sources. We are also actively engaged with the EPA to identify solutions for the challenging ozone non-attainment concerns that are impacting Michigan’s west coast.
- Championing Clean Energy. EGLE is aggressively implementing the MI Healthy Climate Plan, the state’s climate action roadmap. This started with EGLE hosting the state’s first MI Healthy Climate Conference to build momentum for bold climate action in Michigan and continued throughout the year with a series of public meetings to gather input on how to prioritize climate action. Implementation efforts were boosted with the passage of game-changing clean energy legislation and a state budget that centers climate change. The team worked to integrate climate into existing programs, including the Water Resources Division’s efforts to better incorporate climate resiliency in water infrastructure planning. The goal is to reduce flooding and the negative impacts of a more volatile climate. New initiatives also included the Office of Climate and Energy’s MI Healthy Climate Corps, a program that will provide training and career development support to bolster the capacity to act on climate. The state’s climate efforts are a marathon, not a sprint, so there is plenty of work to be done this year and in the coming years to meet our statewide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 52% by 2030.
- Cleaning up contamination and redeveloping brownfields. In 2023, EGLE spent more than $54 million at 627 contaminated sites identifying, investigating, and reducing risks to ensure public health is protected and to safeguard our land, air, and water. The team also worked to support communities through clean-ups and redevelopment programs, including investing over $31 million in incentives to support 88 brownfield redevelopment projects in 49 communities. These investments have paved the way for new affordable housing, business opportunities, new school campuses, placemaking investments like hotels, marinas, and amphitheaters, and more. The team also utilized President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to plug over 200 orphan wells in Michigan in 2023 – completing nearly a decade of work in one calendar year. With 26,000 known contaminated sites in Michigan, cleanup and brownfield redevelopment work will continue to be a significant challenge for the state for the foreseeable future. EGLE will continue to work to obtain funding for cleaning up our legacy sites and will hold polluters accountable for cleaning up new releases.
- Leading the nation on PFAS response. Michigan continues to lead the nation in identifying and addressing sites of Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) contamination. In 2023, EGLE established new surface water quality values for two new PFAS compounds in addition to the previous three. This built on our work to establish some of the strongest health-based PFAS standards in the nation. Our team continues to add PFAS sites to its work list and build on our work to date to continue to protect Michiganders from these toxic chemicals.
These accomplishments and efforts are but a fraction of what our team has done or supported on behalf of Michiganders during the year. Working with barely 1% of the state’s budget, we’re proud of what we accomplished in 2023, and are focused on what comes next. We are going to protect the environment, rebuild infrastructure, invest in communities, support sustainable development, and improve Michiganders’ quality of life. At the end of day, EGLE’s work is at the heart of protecting so much of what all of us can’t live without.