For Earth's Sake
Michigan Environmental Council bucks
corporate interests in Capitol's corridors.
LANA from page 61
are known to cause birth defects and asthma.
The U.S. Federal District in Detroit court agreed
with the MEC and ordered Detroit Edison to switch
from burning coal to burning gas.
"Lana has a wonderful grasp of the issues," says
MEC policy director James Clift, a former policy
director for the Michigan Senate Democratic Office.
"Her commitment inspires people."
"I was taught that we leave our children the best
of what we hay.e to offer," Pollack says. 'And shame
on us if we leave them money without a healthy
Earth and environment."
Some of the environmental issues she thinks are
important are reflected in the research, education
and political policies MEC is currently working on,
including urban sprawl, air and water quality and
Great Lakes protection.
Pollack learned about misuse of the land at a young
What's also inspiring about Pollack's background is
age. She grew up with sand dunes and Lake Michigan.
how far she traveled from her first political awakening
"I knew then that the lakes were very special," she says.
barely 20 years before she was elected as a state senator.
While enjoying the nature around her, she also
She recalls being at a women's coffee klatch when
witnessed the effects of sand dune mining (for glass
John F. Kennedy was running for president of the
production) and how it scarred the land. But the
United States in 1961. Pollack was startled when a
pleasure derived from the environment never left her.
woman asked her if she were a Democrat or a
"When I was first sworn in to the Senate in 1982,
Republican. "It was a personal question then,"
I immediately looked for a major issue, a
Pollack says, but she answered,
lasting contribution to Michigan," she
"Democrat, I think."
says. "I knew I would work on many
The woman asked if Pollack's husband
As a teenager, Lana
issues ... but I wanted to carve out time
Pollack studied flute at — not her — would be a precinct captain.
for something very important, and. I
Henry Pollack, a geophysicist professor at
Interlochen Arts Camp.
focused on the polluter-pay law."
the University of Michigan, agreed. But
The law required that parties responsible
because Lana did all the work, the couple
for pollution be required to pay for cleaning The Schoenberger
decided she would be captain the next year.
family: Pollack's father,
it up. Pollack says the bill eventually saved
It was her husband's last political
taxpayers $100 million. The polluting com- Abbie Schoenberger;
position, but far from hers.
brother Maurice, 2;
panies provided the money for the cleanup
Another turning point in her political
sister Marlene, 3;
of toxic waste, which also served as a big
awakening, Pollack says, was returning
Lana, 10 months
incentive for companies to stop polluting.
from a year in Zambia, Africa, where
and mother, Genvieve. she and their two young children joined
As architect of the bill, Pollack worked
fot seven years to make it a law. "It finally
her husband on his sabbatical in 1971.
passed by negotiating with everyone — Detroit
"When I left the United States, my friends and I
Edison, General Motors, environmentalists," she says.
joked about the new women's liberation movement,
Five years later, however, Gov. John Engler repealed it. but when I returned they had stopped laughing,"
Pollack was undeterred. Both as a senator and,
since 1995, as head of the nonprofit MEC, she lob-
"Gradually I gained a sense of the bigger world,
bies for the environment.
the social injustices and my own capacity to impact
"We organized a fight when John Engler wanted to
things I cared about," she says.
drill for oil and gas along our shores and lakes — and
By 1976, Pollack headed the Ann Arbor Derdocratic
we were successful in stopping him," Pollack says.
Party. After earning a master's in education from U-M,
MEC also initiated an effort against Detroit Edison.
she was unable to find a job. So she eventually ran and
The utility wanted to restart the Conner's Creek Plant
won a position on the Ann Arbor school board in 1979.
in Detroit, "a filthy coal plant without modern pollu-
tion controls," Pollack says, adding that its emissions
LANA on page 63
nly blocks from the Capitol in Lansing, a
once-abandoned warehouse looks like a hip
new office space, with high ceilings and
brick walls inside.
Many posters of flowers and lakes with captions
like "Ruin and Recovery" and "Wildflowers of
Michigan, A Heritage Worth Protecting" cheer up
the already well-lit workplace.
One quickly learns, it's the kind of office where pol-
icy director James Clift, a lawyer, is also an avid kayak-
er; office manager Judy Bearup is a master gardener;
and president Lana Pollack has worked with groups in
Togo, Africa as well as in Washtenaw County.
The Michigan Environmental Council has 12 full-
time people, four part-timers and usually four uni-
versity interns. They run on a $1.4 million budget
raised from foundations, businesses and individuals
as diverse as Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Ford Motor
Company Fund and the United Auto Workers.
Just as you think they're having too much fun
for all the gloom and doom of the issues they
research, you get a whiff of the kind of conversa-
tions people have around here.
They talk about beautiful places like Isle Royale in
Lake Superior that, though it has no industry, still
has industrial contamination brought by the winds.
Pollack remembers an old warning growing up
about conserving heat that people could still heed
today. "My dad used to say, 'Close the door, you
don't have to heat the outdoors.'" The less we use the
more we prevent pollution, she says, because most
electricity in Michigan comes from burning coal.
"We need to reduce reliance on coal plants," policy
director Clift says, "and transition to cleaner energy
sources like wind, solar and natural gas in the interim."
With . this discussion, it's an easy slide to talk
about global warming — "the greatest environ-
mental disaster facing the Earth," says Pollack.
And one-third of it is caused by car emissions.
The diversity of issues MEC covers speaks to the
inter-connection of environmental concerns.
"They're all of a piece," says Pollack, adding that
we can't just consider air pollution alone and not
recognize its impact on soil, water and ground pol-
lution. "You pull on one of these threads and the
whole fabric of our way of life can unravel."
In 1980,.six organizations pulled their resources
together to have a voice in Lansing on the environ-
ment. They hired a lobbyist. The group became
MEC and now has 65 environmental and public
health organizations, like Sierra Club chapters and
the American Lung Association of Michigan.
And what keeps this operation going?
"The MEC allows us to play a role not filled in
Lansing," Clift says.
"Many people represent corporate interests [as
lobbyists], but not many are interested in protect-
ing the public heath and the environment."
He adds that MEC has no financial interest.
"While politicians are interested in the next elec-
tion, we're there for the next generation of children.
's s frustrating some days, but we work hard
and we're committed." ❑
Lana Pollack will be speaking on environmental
advocacy at 8:30 p.m. March 12 at the Jewish
Community Center in Oak Park. For information,
call Sara Bernstein (248) 642-5393, Ext. 110.