Looking back at Michigan’s environmental risk


Fishermen below the Sixth Street Dam in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The biggest environmental risks predicted by Michigan experts in 1992 included risks to natural resources, urban development and human health. Image: Andrew Blok

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a four-part series on Environmental Risk in Michigan: Past, Present and Future.

By Andrew Blok

In 1992, Michigan set a new course for environmental regulation and protection.

Two decades after the environmental awakening that saw the EPA’s creation and the first earth day, after the environmental disasters of the the decades previous, Michigan would take a clear-eyed look at the challenges of the coming years. Looking forward, they’d head off environmental harm, lessening the blow before it fell.

This clear-eyed look became Michigan’s Environment and Relative Risk, a report that ranked the most pressing environmental risks facing Michigan.

Some saw it as the return of Michigan as a national environmental leader. Others saw it as another step toward environmental deregulation.

Listen below to my conversations with one of the report’s architects and a longtime environmental advocate. They provide differing views on this 1992 report and help us understand in a new light Michigan’s relationship to its environment.

Sometimes looking back helps you see today in a different light.

In this episode:

Bill Rustem

Photo courtesy Michigan Municipal League

Bill Rustem spent years in two Michigan governors’ offices and decades in public policy consulting at his company Public Sector Consultants. Public Sector Consultants prepared Michigan’s Environment and Relative Risk.



Dave Dempsey

Photo courtesy Dave Dempsey

David Dempsey spent decades working on Michigan’s environmental issues. He worked for Michigan’s Governor James Blanchard, Michigan Environmental Council, Clean Water Action and, currently, FLOW, a nonprofit working to protect the Great Lakes.


William Cooper

Photo courtesy Michigan State University Department of Integrative Biology.

William Cooper was a Michigan State University professor in the Department of Zoology. His work on environmental risk with the US EPA led him to push for a similar project in Michigan, which became Michigan’s Environment and Relative Risk.



Michigan’s Environmental Risk

Read the report and the white papers here.

Listen to the rest of the Environmental Risk in Michigan: Past, Present and Future series:

Part one: Looking back at Michigan’s environmental risk

Part two: Risks in Michigan’s urban environment

Part three: Education builds lasting connections to Michigan’s environment

Part four: The future of Michigan’s environmental risk

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