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Issues of the Environment: Donna Lasinski reflects on six years of representing Washtenaw County in the Michigan House

Donna Lasinski
Michigan House Democrats
Donna Lasinski


  • State Rep. Donna Lasinskiis serving her third term in the House of Representatives, and she is term-limited this year. She represents Michigan’s 52nd House District, which encompasses northern and western Washtenaw County, including Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Saline and Whitmore Lake. Rep. Lasinski previously served as a member of the Communications and Technology and Insurance Committees, and as minority vice chair of the Energy Policy Committee.
  • A resident of Scio Township for 20 years, Rep. Lasinski has always believed in taking action to solve community problems. During her first term she took action to address water quality issues in her district, winning stricter clean-up standards for 1,4-dioxane and co-sponsoring legislation to set safe PFAS standards for drinking water. In 2021, Scio Township officials announced the discovery of dioxane contamination in additional residential drinking water wells north of a dioxane plume at the Gelman Sciences’ site. These new test results strongly suggest that the plume is expanding and will soon impact more communities.
  • Donna also focused her efforts on: 

    • Protecting water resources from corporate and political interference with regard to water quality and levels of PFAS, dioxane, and lead. She drew attention to the PFAS contamination in Michigan that continues to grow, the contamination in Norton Creek, which feeds into the Huron River, has reached a record-high at 5,500 parts per trillion (ppt), more than 78 times greater than the current acceptable standard. 
    • She also puts light on the need to fund critical water infrastructure with regard to residual lead contamination and the need for capacity to deal with future flooding from climate change. The Village of Manchester issued a public advisory in October 2021, notifying residents of a heightened level of lead in the village water supply. Several sites in the village exceeded the state’s drinking water action level. In response, House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) issued the following statement: “These lead measurements underscore the critical need for investments in our water infrastructure across the state.
    • Donna has also lent legislative support to efforts to convert vehicle manufacturing in the state to electric vehicles, a transition to net-zero to combat climate change, and the repeal of the so-called “no stricter than federal” law, that prevents Michigan from enacting legislation on environmental protection that exceeds federal standards.
  • Donna has not announced plans to return to political office at this time, but she expressed great gratitude for the opportunity to serve as a state representative during her three terms.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the final edition of Issues of the Environment for 2022. Now, it seems only appropriate to mark the occasion with someone who is ending one part of her career and looking to new adventures and opportunities in 2023. Donna Lasinski has served three terms in the State House of Representatives. And officially, when the new Legislature is sworn into office in January, she'll be all done. The Scio Township Democrat has spent the last two years as House Minority Leader and has worked in advocacy of greater environmental health and sustainability, prior to and in that role. So, thank you so much for making time for us today, Donna. I appreciate it.

Donna Lasinski: Thank you, David. It's a good chance and opportunity to have a good conversation. I look forward to it.

David Fair: So, for the first time in about six years, you get a moment to breathe. Has it felt somewhat strange to go through this holiday season without having to prepare for a new session?

Donna Lasinski: Yes, it has. I will tell you I am speaking with you from the Capitol today as we wind things up. And I am so looking forward to the Democratic agenda that will be put forward over the next year. There's a lot of things that people in Michigan are looking forward to, particularly in the environmental arena, but really reflecting on some of the great work we got done in the last session as well.

David Fair: So, when you were first elected to the State House in 2016 and officially took office in 2017, you had stated environmental concerns were among your priorities. Now, you had been working locally on the Gelman Sciences 1,4 dioxane plume that was emanating from the Wagner Road facility in Scio Township--a place you call home. So, when you first went and look back now, how did you take that community level work and apply it to the issue at the state level?

Donna Lasinski: Thank you for that question. You know, when I first took office, I took office on the same day that President Donald Trump, Governor Rick Snyder, the Republican majority in the House and the Senate were elected. In that first term, what I understood was that I needed to understand where all the levers of power were in Lansing. You know, I live a stone's throw from the deepest part of the Pall Gelman plume, and I joke I couldn't throw that stone, but any one of my three sons could. But, you know, it's looking at that--understanding that--we have rules and we have administration and we have ways that governance happens across state government. And in that first term, using the rulemaking process was able to move down the level of permitted toxicity, getting a little nerdy, from 85 parts per billion to 7.2 parts per billion. That change in the rule, in the permissibility, of how much dioxane was allowed to permeate and leave that facility, spurred more wells, spurred more cleanup, earned consideration for federal Superfund site dollars. And so, that was a really important learning that I had, in my first term, was that when you are in state government, you need to look not just at your purview, but at where you can influence the process across the state. And that was a critical learning and resulted in real, measurable benefits for our community.

David Fair: And while there was most certainly benefits, you probably also encountered some barriers to progress. How discouraging can that be when you know what the right thing is?

Donna Lasinski: You know, if you can just look at PFAS, right? When we look at PFAS and the fact that we weren't as a state addressing that. I remember standing with then-representative Winnie Brinks--now-incoming Senate majority leader Winnie Brinks--with a PFAS countdown clock. You know, we got up to over 300, 400 days that the state was not taking action to address immediate health concerns with PFAS in the drinking water of folks. We look at the do not eat fish advisory going through the Huron River. And we look at those items and we say, "It's clear. It's common sense. We don't want to poison our fish. We don't want to poison our growing children. We don't want to poison our residents." And so, absolutely. That frustration of having to simply call on the public to say, "Please help us get your representatives to take action on this." It was a fact that we're one of the first states in the nation now that has a PFAS standard. And we were able to move our colleagues on the other side of the aisle by partnering with the people in Michigan. And frankly, now having incoming representatives with these as the heart of their priorities. I look forward, frankly, to polluter pay passing. The idea that if you pollute, you have to clean it out. That's a kindergarten lesson. You spill the glue. You have to clean it up in kindergarten. And so, I'm looking forward to us putting in place some common sense environmental standards that don't put the burden on the backs of Michigan taxpayers.

David Fair: This is Issues of the Environment on 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with the outgoing minority leader of the Michigan House of Representatives, Donna Lasinski. And you mentioned PFAS. You mentioned polluter pay. And the foundation has been sent for those things to take place once Democrats are in full majority in January. But as you reflect on these past six years in the state House and last two as Minority Leader, there were a great number of environmental issues that you worked on, including water infrastructure, safety and accessibility to the greening of the state economy and towards a more sustainable energy future. What do you consider highlights of your tenure on those matters?

Donna Lasinski: You know, thank you for that. As my first and second term, I was the minority vice chair on the energy committee. And, again, bringing voice to the issues that are important. While I was minority vice chair, we were responsible in the first term for the implementation of the negotiated 2016 energy bill. But also, we were responsible for consistently bringing the voice of Michiganders and the desire for clean air and clean water to the table. During that time, our two major investor-owned utilities signed on to the Paris Accord, which was, as we know from a national perspective, was not being signed on to during those four years. Yet, our investor-owned utilities signed on to that. In my second term as minority vice chair of the Energy Committee, both utilities committed to going beyond the Paris Accord and accelerating their work towards clean, renewable energy production for our state, which we know is important for every single resident. But when I look at some of the real items you can point to, the environmental supplemental that we passed, working together, that strong partnership with Governor Whitmer, we delivered $750 million to build clean drinking water infrastructure. We delivered nearly $140 million for lead service line removal and another $88 million for PFAS contamination cleanup. So, these are real, measurable, impactful things that are going to help people in their everyday life, and they're going to make generational change for clean water and for the health of every Michigander. And that is something, frankly, from the minority position. You know, our fingerprints are on everything. Our voice and Michiganders' voice is included in the process. And that moved and made real change in Michigan.

David Fair: Even with that foundation set, there is a lot of work yet to be done. The governor put forth her MI Healthy Climate Plan last year, and that sets forth a structure for a more sustainable future in Michigan. But it's going to take great investment, and it's going to take some policy change. Do you believe the foundation is strong enough to see that come to fruition?

Donna Lasinski: I do. As we look, there are going to be no surprises. As House Democrats, the Senate Democrats, the governor, we have laid four clear agendas about what would be the intention of our work to help grow a thriving Michigan. A big part of having a thriving Michigan is having healthy citizens in an environment where businesses can grow for innovators and entrepreneurs. And the Democratic agenda is clearly placing those as top priorities. We have seen that Michiganders across the state--independents, Republicans and Democrats alike--support that agenda. So, I look forward to us ensuring that Michigan grows and thrives in a way that leaves all of its citizens and its environment in good stewardship for the future.

David Fair: Once again, we're talking with outgoing minority state House leader Donna Lasinski on WEMU's Issues of the Environment. And I've not heard you discuss this, at least not publicly. Do you have any professional plans for 2023?

Donna Lasinski: You know, thank you for that question. And no, I haven't discussed it publicly. You know, I had a real pivot point. I had when the lines were redrawn and came out, you know, a year ago, just about a year ago now, January, the opportunity to run for the Senate. And I am not a person who makes promises or who doesn't meet commitments. And when my colleagues elected me as the Democratic leader for the first female majority caucus in our nearly 200-year history and the most diverse caucus with 25 members, nearly half who identify as Black or Brown. I committed to take this caucus to majority. And so, I made the personal decision that the impact on Michigan of having a House Democratic majority was greater than the personal movement that or opportunity that I could have taken. And so, you know, we were voting just up until about a week ago. And, as I said, this is my final day in Lansing here, making sure my staff and everyone is well cared for and positioned. And I look forward in January to finally turning towards my personal future. So, I'll let you know when I have a decision or where I intend to move forward. But, right now, it's still about the state. It's about ensuring we have a smooth transition and ensuring that we are set up to make real, lasting change for generations for Michiganders.

David Fair: Any potential your constituents may see your name appear on a ballot somewhere down the line?

Donna Lasinski: I'm not ruling that out, but we have a strong--in Washtenaw County--leading congressional member. We have a strong state senator. And I will be looking towards the next big problem that I can be a part of solving.

David Fair: Well, thank you so much for the time today. Thank you for your service. And a Happy New Year to you!

Donna Lasinski: Thank you so much, David.

David Fair: That is Donna Lasinski, Scio Township Democrat and outgoing state House Minority Leader. Term limits require her departure from the Michigan Legislature. And we do appreciate the time reflecting and looking ahead today. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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