Rebecca Williams

Reporter/Producer - The Environment Report

Rebecca has a natural science degree from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources & Environment, where she had close encounters with escaped boars and poison sumac. Before getting into radio, Rebecca snapped photos of Mongolian diatoms and published a few papers in obscure scientific journals.

Now she spends her days reporting on everything from hungry watersnakes to heritage turkeys to people who live in 300 square foot houses.

She’s won several national awards for her work including a first place National Headliner Award at the network level for her stories on the uber-destructive emerald ash borer.

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The Environment Report
5:00 pm
Thu January 31, 2013

Tweeting the flu: Scientists tracking epidemic with social media

A map the team made with their Twitter method shows a high flu rate during the first week of January 2013.
Michael Paul Johns Hopkins University

You can listen to today's Environment Report or read the story below.

Flu season started early and came in swinging. Health officials say it’s been a moderate to severe flu season for most of the country.

Curtis Allen is a spokesman with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"In Michigan, it’s still at a high level of activity. Hopefully you’ll see less and less as we go on. But influenza is notoriously unpredictable and there could also be another peak," Allen says.

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The Environment Report
12:02 pm
Tue January 29, 2013

State officials want your input on Michigan's energy future

The Holland coal plant
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report segment here or read the story below.

In Michigan, we get more than half of our electricity from coal.  All of that coal is imported from other states.

In a couple weeks, you’ll get a chance to weigh in on how we’ll use energy in the future.

When Governor Rick Snyder gave his Special Message on Energy and the Environment last fall, he said he wanted to hold forums around the state to talk about energy.

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The Environment Report
1:38 pm
Thu January 24, 2013

Study: Chemical in anti-bacterial soap turning up in freshwater lakes

Professor Bill Arnold takes sediment samples with a student.
University of Minnesota

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read an expanded version below.

When you use anti-bacterial soap, there’s a good chance there’s an ingredient called triclosan in it. It’s also added to things like body washes, some toothpastes, and dishwashing soap. You can find it listed as an ingredient on the label for many of those products.

But the Food and Drug Administration says there’s no evidence that using soap with triclosan in your home or office is any better at keeping you from getting sick than regular soap and water.  (Health experts say a good rule of thumb is to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds: the length of time it takes to sing the "happy birthday" song twice.)

The FDA says triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans. But the agency is re-evaluating the safety of triclosan in light of animal studies showing the chemical alters hormone regulation... and also because of studies suggesting that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

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The Environment Report
4:11 pm
Tue January 22, 2013

New report assesses current and future climate change

Tart cherries, the main cherry crop in Michigan.
Emily Fox Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report here or read an expanded version of the National Climate Assessment story below.

You probably remember that extreme weather was not kind to Michigan crops last year.

Frank Szollosi is with the National Wildlife Federation.

“We lost more than 80 percent of our apples and peaches, we lost grapes and cherries. Our cherry farmers saw 90 percent of its crop destroyed because of the unusually warm winter last year followed by hard freezes,” he says.

The federal government has put out a new draft report on how our climate is changing. More than 240 scientists wrote the report.  It’s called the National Climate Assessment.

Agriculture is one of the key messages of their chapter on the Midwest.

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The Environment Report
10:19 am
Tue January 22, 2013

U.S., Canadian leaders seek more action on Great Lakes

Lake Michigan, as seen from the Empire Bluff hike.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

U.S. and Canadian leaders are getting together in Chicago tomorrow to talk about water.

There’s a pact between the two countries. It’s called the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  It takes on all sorts of threats to water in our region, from toxic chemicals to runoff from farms and sewer overflows from cities.

Lyman Welch is with the Alliance for the Great Lakes. He says when the agreement was first signed 40 years ago, it was promising.

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The Environment Report
4:08 pm
Thu January 17, 2013

Sturgeon season to open on Michigan lake

DNR Fisheries Biologist Tim Cwalinski holds a sturgeon with Michigan State University students.
MSU

Lake sturgeon are amazing fish. They can weigh several hundred pounds and they can live to be 100 years old.

Sturgeon used to be abundant throughout the Great Lakes region. But they were overfished, and construction of dams on rivers where they spawn hurt their reproduction. They’re now a state threatened species.

Tim Cwalinski is a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says these days, sturgeon are carefully managed.  There are a few fishing seasons for sturgeon in different parts of the state.

The season for sturgeon in Black Lake in Cheboygan County opens February 2nd. Tim Cwalinski says there are about 1,200 adult sturgeon in the lake.  The quota this year is just six fish total for all the fishermen combined.

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The Environment Report
1:50 pm
Tue January 15, 2013

The future of "green cars"

A demo of the Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid drive train at the North American International Auto Show.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read a version of the story below.

It used to be that fuel-efficient cars were not taken all that seriously. But that has changed.

Jim Motavalli is the author of High Voltage and a blogger for the New York Times and Car Talk. He spoke with me for today's Environment Report from the North American International Auto Show. 

Motavalli points out that there's no special section for "green cars" at the auto show.

"I think what we’re seeing is green technology has been incorporated into pretty much all of the cars on display here, so the green cars aren’t in a little special penned-in area. That’s inherently a good thing. And maybe at this auto show 2013, we’re not seeing a lot of electric car introductions or plug-in hybrid introductions; what we’re seeing is 'eco' incorporated into every model that’s introduced here, including the Corvette Stingray and the Grand Cherokee Jeep SRT, both of which have eco modes or eco buttons, because every automaker is being driven towards the 2025 goal of 54.5 mpg fleet average, which the federal government is demanding."

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The Environment Report
4:20 pm
Thu January 10, 2013

Trying to predict the future of the Great Lakes

Lake Michigan, as seen from the Empire Bluff hike.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read the story below.

The Great Lakes are incredibly complex. There are just a lot of moving parts.

A new project is taking on a giant task... to try to predict the future of the Great Lakes and what we might want the region to look like.

21 research institutions from the U.S. and Canada are collaborating on the Great Lakes Futures Project

It’s not just a classroom exercise.  Along with researchers and grad students, government officials from the U.S. and Canada are involved, and so are industry and environmental groups.

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The Environment Report
10:14 am
Tue January 8, 2013

Congress extends production tax credit for wind

There's a lot of debate about how close wind turbines should be built to homes.
Callum Black Flickr

With all the buzz around the fiscal cliff in Congress, something happened that you might’ve missed.

There’s a federal tax credit. It’s called the wind energy Production Tax Credit, and it was about to expire at the end of last year.

At the final hour, Congress extended that tax credit, and President Obama signed the bill.

It now covers wind projects that start construction in 2013.

Peter Kelley, a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, says the credit gives tax relief for the first ten years of a wind farm.

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The Environment Report
11:40 am
Thu January 3, 2013

2012 shaping up to be warmest on record

The redder the area... the higher the difference from average temperature, June-August 2012.
NOAA

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read the story below.

The experts are still finalizing the data, but it looks like 2012 will go on the books as the warmest year in the U.S. in recorded history (ever since 1895).

I spoke with state climatologist Jeff Andresen for today's Environment Report. He's also a professor of geography at Michigan State University. He says in Michigan, we also came close to setting a record last year.

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Environment & Science
9:45 am
Mon December 31, 2012

Cleaning Michigan's rivers

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

State officials have opened up a competitive grant program for river cleanup projects.

People can buy a special fundraising license plate in Michigan. It’s called the water quality protection plate and it funds small grants to local governments for river cleanup projects.

Bill Dimond is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says the DEQ collects the fees from those license plates. Then an agency called the Great Lakes Commission decides who receives the grants. The cities and towns have to provide 25%.

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The Environment Report
10:52 am
Tue December 18, 2012

Researchers map 34 threats to the Great Lakes

The research team used the combined influence of 34 different threats to map environmental stress on the Great Lakes.
University of Michigan

You can listen to the interview with David Allan on today's Environment Report.

The Great Lakes are under a lot of stress. 

34 different kinds of stress, to be exact.

That’s according to a research team that has produced a comprehensive map showing many of the things that stress the Great Lakes.  Think: pollution, invasive species, development and climate change... just to name a few. 

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The Environment Report
12:03 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

Palisades: a year in review

NRC officials Jack Giessner, Tom Taylor, April Scarbeary, Robert Orlikowski, and Chuck Castro answer questions from the public.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has been going through some significant challenges over the past couple of years. It’s been shut down eight times in two years, and federal regulators downgraded its safety rating to one of the worst in the country.

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith has been writing about the plant through the turmoil. She joined me on today's Environment Report to take a look back at the events of the past year.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Tue December 11, 2012

Scientists track potential Great Lakes invaders with searchable watchlist

Killer shrimp
S. Giesen NOAA GLERL

More than 180 non-native species have already made a home in the Great Lakes basin, and more could make their way in.

Scientists and government officials have their eyes on a watchlist of 53 species that are most likely to become established in the Great Lakes region if they get in.

Take for example: killer shrimp.

Rochelle Sturtevant is a Regional Sea Grant Specialist for Outreach at NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Ann Arbor.

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The Environment Report
11:33 am
Thu December 6, 2012

DEQ reviewing final permit application for new U.P. copper mine

Lake of the Clouds, in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The proposed Copperwood Mine would be near the edge of the park.
michigan.gov

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read an expanded version below.

The company Orvana Resources is one step closer to getting the approval it needs to build a new mine. The Copperwood Mine is proposed for a site north of the town of Wakefield in the western U.P. The state is reviewing the company’s final environmental permit.

The Department of Environmental Quality has already given the company mining, wastewater and air permits.

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu November 29, 2012

Gov. Snyder gives energy and environment address

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read the story below.

Governor Rick Snyder gave what his office calls a "special message" on the environment yesterday: Ensuring our Future: Energy and the Environment. He touched on all sorts of topics: renewable energy, brownfields, land and water, timber and mining and many others.

But his main point: you can’t separate economics from energy or the environment.

“There’s not two separate worlds. There’s not a world of just environment, nor a world of energy or economics. It’s a symbiotic relationship and they tie together,” he said.

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The Environment Report
9:10 am
Tue November 27, 2012

Gov. Snyder considers changes to Michigan's park system

Lake of the Clouds, in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder is considering whether to make some changes to Michigan’s parks.

Last year, the Governor appointed a panel on state parks and outdoor recreation.  Their mission was to come up with a vision for the future of Michigan’s parks and state forests.

Erin McDonough is the executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. She was co-chair of the panel.

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The Environment Report
12:41 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Plan to store lower-level nuclear waste near Lake Huron

The Bruce Nuclear Power Plant
Bruce Power Ontario Power Generation

You can listen to today's Environment Report or read an expanded version of the story below.

The Bruce Nuclear Power Plant sits on the Ontario side of Lake Huron. It’s across the lake from Michigan’s Thumb region.  Ontario Power Generation owns the plant. 

The company wants to store the lower level nuclear waste from all of their plants underground, near the Bruce plant.

They’re proposing to dig almost a half mile underground to build the facility. It would be a little more than half a mile away from the shore of Lake Huron.

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The Environment Report
11:31 am
Thu November 15, 2012

Study links flame retardants to developmental problems in children

Flame retardants are used in many consumer products. They're often added to polyurethane foam.
user kahle MorgueFile.com

You can listen to the interview with Brenda Eskenazi, PhD, on today's Environment Report, or read an expanded version of the story below.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are in all kinds of consumer products.  We're exposed to these chemicals every day. They're in our couches, our TVs, our cars, our office chairs, the padding beneath our carpets, and the dust in our homes. They're building up in pets, wild animals and fish. They're even in some of the foods we eat.

Scientists are finding these chemicals in newborn babies, and the breast milk those babies drink.

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The Environment Report
10:58 am
Tue November 13, 2012

Tribes opposed to possibility of Michigan wolf hunting season

Canis lupus.
USFWS Midwest

You can listen to today's Environment Report segment above, or read the transcript below.

We reported last week that Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation to make gray wolves a game species (State Representative Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine) introduced HB 5834. Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) introduced a similar bill (SB 1350) in the state Senate). These bills would make it possible to have a hunting and trapping season for wolves. 

SB 1350 cleared a Senate committee late last week.  It now moves to the full Senate. 

But a number of tribes in Michigan are opposed to a wolf hunt and that could hold the process up. 

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