Alex Sudolsky and Cole Greenberg's Proposal on Great Lakes Pollution

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

House Resolution No. 49 aims to maintain funding provided by the Congress of The United States for federal programs that support the restoration, protection, and economic strength of the Great Lakes. This House Resolution relates to our proposal because, like ours, it aims to improve the current and future quality of the Great Lakes. While this Resolution has a greater focus on the funding of projects, our proposal focuses on raising general awareness about the issues currently facing the Great Lakes.

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

This proposal will have a significant impact on students of all ages K-12 across the state of Michigan. As part of our Great Lakes Day initiative, public school students K-12 would spend an hour, or two, of the school day learning about the environmental problems facing the Great Lakes and actively-participating in engaging activities. As students participate in Great Lakes Day throughout their lower, middle, and upper school careers, their knowledgeability and support of Great Lakes protection and restoration efforts will exponentially increase. If properly combined with after school clubs and other year-long extracurricular activities, the establishment of a Great Lakes Day could create a generation of environmentally conscious minds ready to support, sustain, and improve Great Lakes conservation efforts.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

The emphasis on the environmental problems facing the Great Lakes within the caucus online discussion led us to focus our proposal on Great Lakes sustainability. We got a lot of valuable information about these issues by following discussion topics, sourced articles, and the replies of our peers. As we developed an interest for Great Lakes sustainability, we spoke with a friend of ours from West Bloomfield, MI, who gave us firsthand knowledge on the legitimacy and importance of the environmental fragility of the Great Lakes. We then built on this foundation by performing extensive online research. Our sources include newspapers, blogs, government archives, and environmental groups, among others.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

When we chose to work at the Boys & Girls Club in February, Alex and I were planning on working on a proposal that would increase funding for afterschool programs in Michigan. As we got further into the semester and the caucus discussions advanced, Alex and I developed a deep concern for the issues facing the Great Lakes. We sat down and came up with our idea to propose a statewide Great Lakes Day.

Suprisingly, our work at the Boy’s and Girl’s club has positively impacted our new proposal for Great Lakes Day.  Since our proposal involves interactive activities with students K-12, we needed to be knowledgeable about how to best communicate our message and engage them. Working with the kids there has given us a better understanding of what interests and excites young students. Getting to know these kids, along with our consultations, has shown us that the our education program will be most effective if it is interactive and relatable.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Our Buzzfeed Article: 13 Things You Didn’t Know About Pollution In The Great Lakes (Google Drive PDF Link)

Our Buzzfeed Article: 13 Things You Didn’t Know About Pollution In The Great Lakes (Buzzfeed Webpage Link)



 

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1:

Sara Rapaport, Northwood Middle School Language Teacher

Cole & Alex: Hi Sara. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. We wanted to ask your opinion on the effectiveness of implementing a Great Lakes Day in the state of Michigan that would educate students on the various issues facing the lakes and how they can help the cause.

Sara: Oh, Interesting! Can you explain a little more?

Cole & Alex: Of course! There are many environmental issues currently facing the Great Lakes and we’ve found that many young students don’t even know about them! We are hoping to designate one day a year where students, grades K-12, take 1-2 hours to learn about these issues. We believe that educating and providing students with outlets to get involved at a young age can create a better future for the Great Lakes. We’ve come to you because you interact with young students everyday and we wanted to know what you thought about this idea?

Sara: First of all, I grew up in the Chicagoland area just five minutes away from Lake Michigan so I’m extremely glad that I can help you out. Personally, I think that this could be a really cool idea. I think if I were to ask my students about the Great Lakes only about half of them would  be able to name all of them. I am a strong believer that education can do wonders for solving issues in our communities especially ones that are affected by people's everyday actions.

Cole & Alex: Wow! Thank you! It definitely makes us feel good hearing that from you. You clearly know young students better than we do, do you have any tips of how we can make this day have a greater effect on students? Maybe a certain way that we should design the education program?

Sara: Umm, for these types of programs I think most effective way of designing them is to make them interactive. Any student K-12 gets excited about not having to do boring school work for 1-2 hours but from experience I see them getting noticeably more excited if it’s something that is getting them out of their seats and moving around. That’s about my best advice for you guys when designing this program.

Cole & Alex: Awesome! That’s kinda what we’ve been thinking as we’ve been working on our proposal. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us we really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day.

Sara: Anytime. Let me know if there’s anything else i can do to help and send me over a copy of your proposal when you’re finished, I would love to see the final product.

 

CONSULTATION 2:

Rose Ellison, US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Detroit River / Lake Erie Project Manager

Alex & Cole: Hi Rose, thanks for returning our call. To clarify our message, we’re crafting a proposal through a public policy course we are taking with the goal of establishing “Great Lakes Day” as a state holiday in Michigan. As part of our proposal, students of all ages at Michigan public schools would engage in education sessions covering Great Lakes sustainability during the school day of the holiday. We hope to be able to advocate our idea in front of a legislative committee later this semester.

Rose: Wow, that’s actually a pretty cool idea. This is one of those things that could actually get done, although I am not very familiar on the process of creating a state holiday. What are you guys unsure about?

Alex & Cole: One of the big things we’ve been struggling with is how to structure the education session so that it leaves a lasting impact on the students. Do you have any advice on that and have you ever conducted a similar form of community outreach?

Rose: I’ve never directly managed an outreach program at a school but I have made trips out to schools for talks to students. I think the best way to create sustained interest is to get people involved. Meaning that the best way to reinforce idea is through actions - come up with a way for people to go out and get involved. For example, on World Water Day, people around the country went out and tested water samples they collected, and uploaded the data to a website. Another initiative that comes to mind is the BackYard Bird Count, where people simply went into their yards and counted the birds they saw. I think that if you have students engage in some type of interactive activity as part of the Great Lakes Day it would make the experience much more meaningful. Perhaps you can find some initiative that’s already going on and get students to participate in it on Great Lakes day.

Alex & Cole: Thanks, we hadn’t put much thought into incorporating an activity into the day. Another part of our assignment is to discuss the costs associated with Great Lakes Day, but we’re having a hard time thinking of anything besides trivial costs of program design, printing, and travel for environmental educators.

Rose: The most important thing we look into when designing programs is the transactional cost to the economy, the involved organizations, and taxpayers. Although the costs you mentioned may not be that great in comparison to a budget-related policy, I think it’s important to consider the “cost” of having students take an hour or two out their day that they could be spending in normal classes.

Alex & Cole: Great, one last question. If we do end up getting to pitch our proposal, what do you think is our best selling point for getting this passed? Right now we want to focus on the long-term benefit of educating a generation of students about the problems facing the Great Lakes. A lot of people have critiqued our idea in that it doesn’t do anything to directly solve or mitigate the issues facing the Great Lakes in 2017.

Rose: I think the biggest thing you have to show is how you’re idea is different. You have to differentiate yourselves from things like Earth Day. If you can show that your idea provides both education and action that would be effective. The education to the students doesn’t mean anything unless something is done with it. I think that you’ve got it right in pointing out the long-term benefits of educating young people. You have to show why it is in the public’s interest to have this holiday and why it outweighs public cost. If young people really don’t know that much about these problems then the long-term value of education could actually be greater than spending a ton of money on restoration that will eventually be undone. The fact that its relatively low cost compared to a bill aimed at a clean-up program, for example, is a great selling point.

CONSULTATION 3:

Lauren Fontana, Principal of Public School 6 (PS6), a New York City elementary school. Alex’s former principal and mentor for his Eco Kids club, which aided in the successful fundraising for and construction of a green roof on top of PS 6, the first of its kind in the city.

Alex: Hi Lauren! It’s great to speak to you again, it’s been too long. As you saw in my email, my partner Cole and I are working on a proposal for the state of Michigan to establish “Great Lakes Day” as a statewide holiday.

Lauren: Hey! Can’t believe it’s been this long. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest to see that you’re still involved with environmental activism. How can I help?

Alex: A big part of our proposal is that on Great Lakes Day public school students K-12 will engage in an education session intended to teach them about the environmental problems facing the Great Lakes. I’m curious to hear about what you guys have done at PS 6 with the students to educate them about climate change using the green roof or otherwise.

Lauren: Since its construction the green roof has become an integral part of our science curriculum. At least once a month, every science class gets the chance to go the roof, make observations, and conduct experiments. The kids really love the break from being stuck in a classroom all day. We’ll have them collect samples from plant soil, or look at the energy outputs of the solar panels. Then they’ll do a homework assignment or project based on what they do on the roof.

Alex: That’s pretty cool, I wish that I was still at PS 6 when it finally got built. Since almost half of the public school students in Michigan are in K-5, we’re wondering how to most effectively keep such young kids engaged with a topic that’s probably boring to them. We want this holiday to have a lasting impact on the next generation in Michigan.

Lauren: Well, that can be pretty tough. These kids aren’t totally equipped to understand serious environmental issues, so you might have a hard time with them no matter what you do. Even if you do get them involved and interested on the day, it’s going to be tough to retain that interest over time. Maybe with the annual repetition students will stay involved and aware. We have morning meetings and assemblies all the time and there were quite a number of them where the younger kids are complete space cadets, not paying attention.  

Alex: Oh, wow. That’s actually very helpful. Thanks so much and hopefully we’ll talk again soon!

Prospectus:

The Great Lakes account for over 20% of the entire world's fresh water supply. Obviously, it is imperative that we keep this water safe for both the organisms that inhabit it and the people who rely on it for drinking water and other domestic uses. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin analyzed the degree to which certain “stressors” are impacting regions of the great lakes. Based on their research, they’ve found that a significant number of the areas with greater threats are those that border the State of Michigan. These regions are mostly at the edges of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. The first significant factor on these high pollution levels have been dumping from factories that surround lakeside areas. Lake Michigan in particular has a high concentration of such factories. Another major problem, which occurs in many states and bodies of water all across the nation, is pollution from industrial farms and fertilizer plants. These farms and plants are very harmful because fertilizer runoff and pesticides enter these lakes and can disrupt the natural ecosystem. Fertilizer and pesticides include chemicals that can cause algal blooms and oxygen depletion, which can cause massive kill offs of fish and marine vegetation. Furthermore, there has been a massive amount of garbage dumped into the Great Lakes, comparable to the size of Texas in total, which can cause deaths and habitat destruction for the marine organisms. What makes this problem even worse is that only 1% of the water in the Great Lakes leaves their basins each year, which means that the problem will only become more concentrated over time. Chemicals and garbage simply will not be removed from the great lakes unless we make significant strides in preventing future additions and educating the public. As this pollution can lead to sickness, reproductive problems, cancer, and neurological disorders in humans, it must be addressed as soon as possible. As we look to the future, we see awareness becoming the main driver of Great Lakes restoration efforts. The EPA currently runs the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative but with new President Donald Trump working to cut the EPA Great Lakes restoration funding by 97%, the state needs to find new affordable ways to help The Great Lakes.

Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: The state should sell state bonds to raise money for the great lakes fund so that they can provide assistance to local governments for long-run infrastructure improvements to increase the effectiveness of waste-treatment processes. The state successfully did this in 2002 with the Great Lakes Water Quality Bond Proposal (Proposal 2), which authorized the sale of $1 billion dollars in bonds. The proposal passed with an overwhelming majority of 60% which indicates that a similar proposal has a strong chance of passing now given the problem of waste-water in the Great Lakes has worsened in the past decade. The bonds would give the State Revolving Fund (SRF) increased ability “to finance sewage treatment works projects, storm water projects, and nonpoint source projects that improve the quality of the waters of the state.”

SOLUTION 2: The state should designate a specific calendar date as “Great Lakes Day”. As indicated by journalist Dan Egan in his book “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes”, the largest problem facing the Great Lakes is “people’s ignorance to the inherent dangers which threaten one of the world’s largest supplies of fresh water”. On this day, public schools would be required to hold education sessions on the various threats to Great Lake sustainability and ways in which students (and their parents) can get involved and support the protection and preservation efforts. This could be partnered with informational handouts, an ad campaign, and PSAs by legislators to increase awareness and further legitimize the problem.

We acknowledge that this is not an immediate solution to the issues currently facing The Great Lakes but we believe that this is an effective long-term solution. This solution enables us to create an environmentally conscious generation prepared to tackle the challenges facing The Great Lakes at an extremely low cost to the state.

SOLUTION 3: The state should institute tax incentives and credits for residential property owners who construct green rooftops. These sustainable systems serve to absorb rainwater that reduces harmful pollutant runoff into the Great Lakes. Such a program should be available for all but specifically targeted to the Detroit. Chicago has a similar program in place that we could model which awards $5,000 grants for residential and small commercial green roof projects. The State of Michigan appears to also already have programs like this in place that are for municipalities and large commercial projects. Expanding to residential would not only increase positive impact but also improve awareness. Furthermore, we could complement this program with lobbying support for Rep- Mike McCready’s “House Bill 5991” which would “allow local governmental subdivisions to collect fees rather than property taxes for stormwater abatement and grant credits against "green infrastructure" capital projects”.

 

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

We met with Topic Coordinator Brett Spielman when we were first trying to find consultations for our proposal. At first we were having difficulties finding consultations because we didn't know exactly what we were looking for. Brett sat down with us and helped us narrow down our possible choices. At the end of the meeting we decided that it would be beneficial to try and speak with at least one educator and one member of an environmental organization. We all agreed that this would give us well rounded feedback on our proposal and help us improve it. After deciding on that he gave us strong advice on how to go about getting in contact with people. He stressed that we should email and call individuals to show them that we care about this issue. Following that advice, we were able to get strong consultations that helped improve our proposal.

 

This meeting was also extremely beneficial for Alex & I because before meeting with Brett we didn’t fully understand what we were looking for in our consultations. He helped us write down a list of questions that we could choose from depending on who we were speaking to. This question bank allowed us to get the most out of our consultations and also helped us push our thinking as we reread through the questions. Rereading the questions helped us spot weaknesses in our proposal that needed to be addressed.

 

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

Our research process started with the discussion posts on the Michigan Student Caucus website. We noticed that topics related to environmental problems facing the Great Lakes, Great Lakes conservation efforts, and Great Lakes restoration projects repeatedly popped up on the forums. This forced us to recognize the legitimacy of the issue and decide that we wanted to do something to help. After reading the various articles and sources used in Great Lakes environmental discussion topics, we moved onto independent research. We knew that there were a wide variety of environmental issues surrounding the Great Lakes, and we wanted our media artifact to address as many of them as possible. We looked to newspapers, magazine publications, TV networks, environmental agencies, and Great Lakes groups for our information and data.

We initially believed that our proposal would be most effective if it focused on a singular issue (Algal blooms, plastic waste, invasive species, etc.) facing the lakes, however that soon changed. Through our research, especially Dan Egan’s book “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, we saw that awareness of these issues was severely lacking. As a result, we shifted gears towards creating a proposal focusing on raising awareness about the environmental problems facing the Great Lakes and the importance of the lakes as a fresh water source. Before deciding on “Great Lakes Day”, we weighed two other options that would both directly address the environmental issues and raise awareness: Great Lakes Water Quality Bonds and residential green roof tax incentives. While we were confident in the potential effectiveness of these solutions, we feared they would struggle to get passed as they would come at a significant cost to the state. Furthermore, we wanted to advocate a policy that would allow us to be directly responsible for its impact. With Great Lakes Day, we present the state with an affordable, effective strategy to spread awareness and educate future generations of Michigan residents.

Our consultants changed our thinking in a few ways. First, Sara Rapaport forced us to consider the idea of having students engage in an interactive activity as part of the Great Lakes Day education session. We had originally thought that such an addition would be too complicated and difficult to implement, but after our conversation it seemed that it would be necessary so that the students would be engaged and retain the information. Second, Rose Ellison confirmed what we learned from Sara and expanded on it. She heavily emphasized the importance of active involvement, not only from an educational standpoint but also from a general activism standpoint; people are more interested and passionate about a cause when they can directly contribute to it. We thought the idea of using an existing initiative for the students to participate in was very interesting. Furthermore, she shifted our focus from the general Great Lakes awareness of the holiday to the long-term effect on a generation of young people. This made our proposal a lot stronger as it drastically increased the value of Great Lakes Day. Finally, Lauren Fontana gave us a more pessimistic viewpoint of our proposal. We were so confident in our idea that we had developed some tunnel-vision and had not really considered the possibility of Great Lakes Day simply not resonating with students, especially younger ones.

Author contributions:

For this proposal we did a great job of sharing the workload. In the beggining Cole had a greater focus on researching issues facing the Great Lakes. He used the discussions within the caucus to help guide his research and find information relevant for our proposal. As Cole found information he would relay it to Alex who is an extremely talented writer. We would then meet and work through the research together where Alex would then turn the research into well crafted paragraphs. We felt that this was a great process because it allowed Cole to focus on research, which he enjoyed, and allowed Alex to utilize his writing skills. For the consultations we sat down together and emailed numerous people. As Cole's other classes picked up in work, Alex did a great job of cold calling people during the day as Cole continued to send and respond to emails. We then came together to speak with the individuals so that we could both hear what they have to say. We had great communication and worked well together on this proposal. Our ability to work as a team on this has made our final product significantly better.


 

Formal Proposal

This is your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... The Great Lakes account for 20% of the world’s fresh water supply but 1.2 Million Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of raw sewage are dumped into the lakes each year. Ice cover on the Great Lakes has decreased by 71% over the last 40 years. Phosphorus levels in the Great Lakes are rising, which has lead to increases in algal blooms that can be disastrous for aquatic ecosystems.

WHEREAS....President Donald Trump has proposed to cut annual funding to the Great Lakes Restoration initiative by 97% from $300 million to $10 million.

WHEREAS.... People in Michigan are dangerously arrogant to these problems, and there is no large scale system in place to educate K-12 students about the environmental problems faced by the Great Lakes.

(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

  1. The State of Michigan shall proclaim a specific date within the public school calendar as “Great Lakes Day”.

  2. An education program will be designed educational and environmental experts focusing on the environmental issues facing the Great Lakes now and in the future. This program will include a presentation, informational booklets, and interactive activities for students of all ages K-12 that will be designed and paid for by the State.

  3. Public schools K-12 in the State of Michigan are required to set aside 1-2 hours on Great Lakes Day for all students to listen to the presentation and engage in the activities.

  4. The overall awareness and knowledgeability of students K-12 of Great Lakes environmental issues will be amplified in perpetuity, leading to a generation of environmentally conscious Great Lakes advocates.

(Add more "Resolved" clauses if necessary.)

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. Our proposal does not address the decline of the Great Lakes in the short-term. For example, this proposal does nothing to decrease the amount of raw sewage that will be dumped into the lakes next year, or the phosphorus entering the lakes from runoff. The education program focuses on the long-run sustainability of The Great Lakes instead of creating an immediate solution to issues facing The Lakes at present.

2. Our proposal will take students away from valuable class time. As of 2016 the school system in the State of Michigan ranked 34th in the nation and taking students out of class for 1-2 hours every year is not ideal.

3. The education session and activities on Great Lakes Day could potentially be ineffective as a means of creating interest among students in environmental issues. Students may not be engaged by our education program and may just see the 1-2 hours as a time to take a break from class to not do anything.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

There are relatively few costs associated with instituting “Great Lakes Day” as a state-wide holiday in Michigan. The cost objects involved with our proposal are designing an education session and interactive activity, designing and printing information packets for the students, and displacing students from 1-2 hours of their normal classes. Designing the educational program would require a team of local educational and environmental experts, however this cost would most likely be trivial as these people already work for the state (teachers, Michigan EPA employees, etc.). The printing of information packets for students to learn about the environmental challenges facing the Great Lakes and their potential solutions is also quite low. Cole and I conservatively assumed that we would need to purchase an information packet for every single student in Michigan. As of 2016, there were approximately 1.5 million total public school students throughout Michigan. We spoke with a large offset printing company and they informed us that on such a large scale the price can fall to as low as $0.05-$0.07 per eight page booklet. If we conservatively assume the price would be $0.07/unit, it would only cost $105,000 (plus shipping to schools) to supply every student across all ages with a booklet. This could be funded by a miniscule diversion from the existing environmental protection budget or the public education budget. Finally, we have struggled to come up with a group who would object to dedicating resources to our proposal. Instituting Great Lakes Day is almost the perfect bipartisan policy as its costs are relatively negligible, it contributes to the education of our youth, and supports environmental sustainability.

References:

https://www.energycodes.gov/resource-center/policy/green-roof-improvement-fund-chicago-il-2006

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/Financing_Green_Infrastructure_in_Michigan_455013_7.pdf

http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20161120/NEWS/161129992/managing-the-storm-efforts-encourage-property-owners-to-go-green

http://www.freep.com/videos/news/local/michigan/2017/03/07/how-invasive-species-and-climate-change-threaten-great-lakes/98876402/

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-ess-mfs-SWQIF-SWBond_249310_7.pdf

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/MI-GLPlan_262388_7.pdf

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/numbsch_26940_7.pdf

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/MDE_Fast_Fact_379573_7.pdf

https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-best-schools/5335/

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(p0eawfyzypdxjgikwp0qwjwg))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=2017-SB-0049

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/budget/CAFR_FY_2016_550912_7.pdf

http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/03/trump_great_lakes_epa_cuts.html

https://www.epa.gov/great-lakes-funding/great-lakes-restoration-initiative-glri








 

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Total votes: 44

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