Water Sentinel Lynn Henning Wins Planet Defender Award
On April 20, Sierra Club Water Sentinel and Michigan family farmer Lynn Henning received a 2012 Planet Defender Award from Rock the Earth, a Colorado-based environmental advocacy organization that works closely with the music industry.
Then that evening, she appeared on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher.
"My favorite part of the interview was at the end with Bill telling her she was 'a real American hero,'" observed Water Sentinels national director Scott Dye. "Truer words were never spoken—and Bill Maher doesn't hand out that kind of praise like candy."
Rock the Earth presents three Planet Defender awards each year. Henning was the 2012 winner in the Grassroots Activist category, while singer Willie Nelson won in the Music category, and scientist, writer, and Rocky Mountain Institute Chairman Amory Lovins won in the Community Leader category.
Henning was honored "for her extraordinary commitment and focus on water quality, fighting pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)."
Her activism over the last decade has exposed the egregious polluting practices of CAFOs, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.
On Real Time, Maher, who performed at the Sierra Club's national convention in 2005, asked Henning about the sewage "lagoons" associated with CAFOs.
"I find the term 'lagoon' misleading," he said. "When I think of a lagoon, I think of a young Brooke Shields and beautiful, clear water, "not a pool of s***."
Taking it in stride, Henning said there are 12 CAFOs and 60 lagoons containing more than 400 million gallons of antibiotic-laden animal waste within a 10-mile radius of her home. "People need to start looking at what they're eating and where their food is coming from and get to know their local farmers because the way they're producing food now has to stop," she said.
It's been a busy last two years for Henning, who boarded an airplane for only the second time in her life in April 2010 to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize—an honor that came with an award of $150,000 and led to meetings with President Obama, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and Robert Kennedy, Jr.
Official White House photo by Pete Souza
Three days after receiving the Goldman Prize, on Earth Day 2010, the self-described "redneck" from Clayton, Michigan, spoke to 200,000 people on the National Mall in Washington. More awards, media profiles, and national speaking tours followed, while Henning continued working with her husband Dean to run their 300-acre corn and soybean farm.
Henning and fellow environmental activist Erin Brockovich are featured in the new film Last Call at the Oasis, about how the global water crisis will be the central issue facing the world in the century ahead. The film opens nationally on May 5.
On Real Time on April 20, Maher asked in characteristically direct fashion what Henning had done with her Goldman Prize money. "I kept a little but donated most of it to the Water Sentinels, the Michigan Sierra Club, and the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan," she replied.
"You're not rich and you still gave away the money?" Maher asked, a tad incredulously.
"Yes, I gave the bulk of it away," Henning said to rousing applause.
Henning started volunteering for the Water Sentinels program in 2001, the year the program was launched, and quickly emerged as a leading voice on water pollution from factory farms, calling on state and federal authorities to hold CAFOs accountable to water and air quality laws. She joined the Water Sentinels staff in 2005.
"Our future depends on healthy food, clean water, clean air, and productive soil, but today's industrial livestock operations put all that at risk," she said in accepting the 2012 Planet Defender Award. "We need to work with farmers to produce food with integrity and pride than protects our health, our children's health, and the health of generations to come."