Michigan Sierra Club Endorses Vivienne Armentrout in Ward 5 Council Race
by P.D. Lesko
On June 30, 2012, the The Sierra Club, Huron Valley Group, and Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter announced that the groups had bestowed one of the most sought after political endorsements in the United States onto Fifth Ward Council candidate Vivienne Armentrout (left), a Democrat who spent four terms as a Washtenaw County commish focusing on water quality issues. For the past several years, the Michigan Sierra Club has refused to endorse John Hieftje or any of the City Council candidates he has backed, including Armentrout’s opponent, Chuck Warpehoski. The spin from Hieftje and his supporters is that the Michigan Sierra Club endorsement is withheld because of petty jealousies between Hieftje and members of the local chapter of the state Sierra Club.
Perhaps the answer is less complicated—that the Michigan Sierra Club endorses candidates who care about the environment. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data and analysis reveal that the air and water in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw county are dirty. Really dirty. In fact, Washtenaw county and Ann Arbor have some of the dirtiest air and water in the state of Michigan, according to the EPA. Ann Arbor has been singled out by the EPA for its failure to meet federal clean air standards since 2005. Add to this the fact that over the past decade miles driven within Ann Arbor rose by a whopping 47,481,632, and well, suddenly the refusal of the Michigan Sierra Club to endorse Hieftje or the candidates he endorses looks less about a personality conflict and more about the Sierra Club having standards. The EPA data also raise questions about the Michigan enviro groups who have given Hieftje and his local, county and state political cronies awards and endorsements over the past decade.
Matt Grocoff makes a tidy living off of living the “green” lifestyle. According to his own bio., Grocoff is Founder and CEO of GreenovationTV, LLC, a broadband television channel to empower homeowners to make their homes net zero energy, water and waste. Based on his bio., one would imagine Grocoff could pick a political candidate whose experience and support of sustainable policies were in line with what would be seen by the Sierra Club as best serving Ann Arbor.
Turns out, he can’t.
Like Hieftje, Grocoff endorsed Chuck Warpehoski for the Ward 5 City Council seat.
Armentrout will tell you that she spent much of her four terms on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners working on what is commonly known as the Gelman/Pall Plume. The Plume is a wide ribbon of 1,4 dioxane contamination running through the county/city water table. 1,4 dioxane is a carcinogen. Ann Arbor resident Charles Gelman’s manufacturing company pumped contaminated water containing 1,4 dioxane into holding pits. The pits leaked, and an environmental disaster for Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor was born.
The plume is working its way toward Barton Pond, from which Ann Arbor gets most of its drinking water. Clean-up efforts on the part of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) have infuriated county residents who see the efforts as relatively ineffective. The City of Ann Arbor has already closed one drinking water well that was contaminated by the 1,4 dioxane plume. If this is the first you’ve heard of the Gelman/Pall plume, check out this MDEQ website. The problem is simple: where the MDEQ finds 1,4 dioxane in the groundwater, use of that contaminated groundwater is then prohibited.
Should the plume hit Barton Pond, Ann Arbor residents will find themselves faced with some ugly choices, and uglier questions for politicos who sat back and watched the plume spread instead of fighting the MDEQ tooth and nail to clean up the contamination.
As a county commissioner, Vivienne Armentrout worked for many years to get Ann Arbor City Council members interested in partnering with the county to come up with a plan to deal with the growing contamination. Armentrout says, “I asked John Hieftje directly to appoint someone. (He usually ran away when he saw me coming at parties.) He finally appointed (Ward 1 Council member) Kim Groome, who did make a game effort but was completely ignored by her colleagues.” What then-County Commish Armentrout did accomplish was this: She revived the intergovernmental partnership whereby all affected units of government met regularly to address strategies for dealing with the Gelman Plume contamination, and she was able to get county funding for several appeals to the Attorney General and the head of DEQ.
Her opponent espouses lofty ideals, but has no boots-on-the-ground experience. It may be why he lists his paid job as one of three “community service” gigs on his campaign website.
Like Grocoff and John Hieftje, Mike Garfield, head of the Ann Arbor Ecology Center, endorsed Warpehoski, as well. It’s the “local environmentalist” trifecta. However, just what does hitting this trifecta mean?
Garfield endorsed Hieftje in 2006, 2008 and 2012 with this pithy quote: “John Hieftje has the strongest environmental record of any Mayor in the Midwest. He’s championed the city’s Greenbelt, the clean energy initiative, commuter rail, bicycling and our terrific parks system. These programs set Ann Arbor apart. John’s leadership has set the standard for progressive mayors everywhere.”
However, between 2005-2012, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County have been on the EPA’s list of state areas defined as “nonattainment” with respect to air quality standards tracked and measured by the organization. In fact, Washtenaw county’s air pollution is so pervasive it has been identified by the EPA as contributing to the poor air and water quality in neighboring Wayne County. In light of Ann Arbor’s poor air and water quality, Garfield’s cloying endorsement of Hieftje reads like a mother’s blurb about her son’s B movie.
The EPA data should lead local voters to question whether “local environmentalists” base endorsements on the health of the local environment, or on candidates’ environmental accomplishments.
Dirty air and dirty water have won Hieftje endorsements from “local environmentalists” such as Garfield, as well as awards from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, a small organization that, like Ann Arbor’s “local environmentalists” obviously did not take the state of the environment into account when deciding to honor Ann Arbor’s mayor.
While Warpehoski is relying heavily on endorsements to flesh out a very thin record of public service, Armentrout, with years of experience as an elected official, is shying away from relying on endorsements. While Warpehoski is running hard on the names of his endorsers, Armentrout is running on a record of public service and, now, has an endorsement that puts her in some very rarified company. Along with urging local voters to elect Vivienne Armentrout, the Michigan Sierra Club has also endorsed President Barack Obama and Senator Debbie Stabenow, but not Representative John Dingell.
In neither 2012, 2010 nor 2008 did the Michigan Sierra Club endorse Dingell—the politico whose name appears at the very top of Warpehoski’s list of supporters. Like Warpehoski himself, as well as many of his endorsers who hold elected office, including Hieftje, and current Ward 5 Council member Carsten Hohnke who is stepping down, they have had absolutely no luck convincing one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organizations that their records as environmentalists are worthy of endorsement.
Along with Ward 5 Council candidate Vivienne Armentrout, the Sierra Club is urging Ann Arbor voters to support Democrats Jack Eaton in Ward 4, Sally Hart Petersen in Ward 2 and Sumi Kailasapahy in Ward 1.
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