Environment & Science

creative commons

Does a stretch of unseasonable warmth do much to influence people’s views on climate change?

One recent study suggests the answer is: No.

This study looked at two big data points. One was weather data for the winter of 2012, an unusually warm one across most of the country—and the 4th-warmest on record for the contiguous US as a whole.

SEMCOG

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to lower the allowed level of ozone from 75 to 65 to 70 parts per billion.

Ozone is a dangerous chemical that forms when sunlight and heat interact with emissions from cars, factories, and power plants.

"Even going to 70 (ppb) will be a monumental challenge for us in the region," says Joan Weidner of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). 

SEMCOG is the group which monitors ozone levels and coordinates actions to reduce ozone. 

Courtesy photo / Holland BPW

Federal regulators are proposing new rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions, and it looks like one community in west Michigan has a decent head start.

In case you missed it over the summer, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing cutting carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

Power plants are the biggest producers of carbon emissions in the U.S.

Here in Michigan, coal powers half of all homes and businesses. So utilities are probably going to have to stop burning so much coal in order to meet the requirements, assuming they are approved.

The City of Holland owns a coal plant. The James De Young plant is 75 years old.

Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

Less than a month after voters weighed in on wolf hunting in Michigan, a new study looks at the attitudes driving the wolf debate.

The study, co-authored by Meredith Gore of Michigan State University, tries to better understand why controversy persists in wolf management in Michigan.

Gore's research found that a common factor appears to be assumptions people make about other groups. She says interviews revealed a tension between local knowledge about wolves, and what the science says. She says that can undermine trust in the decision-making that goes on in Lansing.

NRC

Several environmental and citizens groups argued today against extending the life of DTE Energy's Fermi 2 nuclear power plant in Monroe.

The groups presented multiple safety and environmental concerns about the plant to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. They had been granted permission to intervene in DTE Energy's application for a 20-year extension of its license to operate the Fermi 2 nuclear reactor.  

DTE wants permission to keep the plant open until 2045. Its current license expires in 2025.

David Tenenbaum / UW-Madison News

More than 2,500 species of plants, fish and mollusks will be invading the internet soon.

It’s an effort by more than 20 museums and universities around the Great Lakes region (including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Central Michigan University). They’re teaming up to digitize their collections of species that are not native to the Great Lakes.

Ken Cameron directs the Wisconsin State Herbarium at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he’s leading the project. He and his collaborators will be pulling fish and mollusks out of jars and taking dried plants out of drawers, taking photos of them, and uploading them to the online collection along with data about the species. He and his colleagues around the region will be doing this for 1.73 million specimens.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is figuring out new ways to try to block two species of Asian carp — bighead and silver — from getting into Lake Michigan. The Corps also wants to block other aquatic nonnative species from getting into the Lakes from the Mississippi River system.

They’re considering whether to put in new barriers near the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in the Des Plaines River near Chicago. The site is about five miles downstream from a system of electric barriers in the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. Those barriers are essentially the last line of defense against Asian carp in the Chicago area.

“This may be a perfect site to implement a range of different kinds of technologies," says Dave Wethington, a project manager with the Army Corps in Chicago.

He says the Corps could put in barriers that block fish passage into the lock and dam, or more electric barriers. It could also put in special water guns that use pressure waves to deter carp.

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan.
user cgord / wikimedia commons

 A new report from Public Sector Consultants projects Michigan will lose enough energy production for 1 million people in 2016.

According to Julie Metty Bennett, who helped author the report, Michigan is overly reliant on coal-fired power plants compared to other states.

Bennett says many of these coal plants in Michigan won't comply with new regulations from the EPA.

“Given the age of our coal plants, upgrading them to comply with the new EPA regulations is not economically viable. Because we are so reliant on these old coal plants, we are going to lose a significant amount of our energy supply, and it takes years to replace that capacity,” Julie says.

You can listen to our conversation with Bennett above.

User: ellenm1 / Flickr

Wetlands have all kinds of benefits for people and wildlife. But wetlands have also gotten in the way of farming and building. So, we’ve drained them over the years. 

The federal government has been trying to clarify what kinds of wetlands and small streams fall under the Clean Water Act.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new rule that they say would clear up confusion. 

Annie Snider is a reporter who covers water issues for Greenwire in Washington, D.C. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and Snider says the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers took a broad approach to what fell under it.

"But in 2001, and then again in 2006, there were [Supreme] Court challenges that threw that into question. And after those, the questions of which waters, which streams, which creeks, which wetlands fall under federal power under the Clean Water Act was thrown into question," says Snider.

The 2006 ruling involved two cases out of Michigan. While one contested the rejection of a permit, in the other, the U.S. sued a Midland real estate developer for filling in a wetland property. The developer said the wetland was not a "navigable waterway" and therefore not covered by the CWA. However, until that point, the EPA interpreted "navigable waters" as being "waters of the U.S." and any waters or wetlands connected to one of these waterways. In its ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA's limitless authority over water.

After that decision, Snider says that regulators had to make case-by-case decisions about which streams and creeks are important to the downstream waters — the big rivers and lakes that do fall under the Clean Water Act.

River
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Stefan Tucker made a head-turning discovery when doing research for his senior undergrad thesis in the St. Mary’s River. Instead of finding the sturgeon he was looking for he found wild Atlantic salmon. Previously, the species was believed not to be reproducing in the upper Great Lakes. Tucker explained to us just what this discovery means and what questions it has now raised about the salmon’s presence in the Great Lakes.

ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

This is the "song" coming from the comet that is now home to a spacecraft. It's the first time in human history that engineers managed to land a spacecraft on a comet.   

user: adamshoop / Flicker

The cost of electricity could jump dramatically next month in the Upper Peninsula.

Residents there might have to start paying to keep a coal plant open that isn't entirely needed anymore. The increase will be a harsh blow to a region that struggles economically.

Brimley is a little town at the end of the road on Lake Superior’s south shore. There’s a bar, a casino and a couple motels. Brimley State Park draws campers here in the summer and into Ron Holden’s IGA grocery store.

"Basically the six weeks of summer pay for the rest of the year’s bills, " he says. On the wall of the IGA are deer heads, a black bear rug, and a flag that says, ‘American by choice, Yooper by da grace of God.’

But being a Yooper might cost more starting December 1. Holden expects his store’s electric bill will be $700 a month higher and he has no idea where he’ll get that money.

World Resources Institute

Are cash-starved state legislatures taxing the energy industry as much as they could? 

Barry Rabe is director of the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy. He's one of the co-authors of a new report that tracks how states are taxing thousands of new oil and gas wells.

Rabe says so-called severance taxes arose from the question, ‘What happens when you take a non-renewable natural resource and remove it for some kind of use?’

He says it's an issue some states are facing for the first time, including North Dakota, which is booming because of oil. Rabe notes that 65% of North Dakota’s budget will come from energy taxes.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

More than 40 years ago, people in Michigan were poisoned. Researchers are still following those people today.

In 1973, a fire-retardant chemical called PBB, polybrominated biphenyl, accidentally got mixed into livestock feed.  It took a year to discover the accident. 

Studies estimate 70-90% of people in Michigan had some exposure to PBB from eating contaminated milk, meat and eggs. The MDCH says the "overwhelming majority of those who were exposed to PBB received very low levels."

Other people had higher levels of exposure.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta are studying the long-term health effects of exposure to PBB. The team was in Michigan this past weekend to continue the study. 

With the addition of seven new plants and animals, Michigan now bans 40 non-native species. That means they cannot be possessed or transported in Michigan or the rest of the Great Lakes region.

The expanded list is part of a deal reached between the U.S. states and Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes. Many of the newly banned species are still in Europe and Asia, but the creatures get spread around through ships’ ballast. Tourism, and collectors of exotic plants and animals also contribute to the problem.          

Roger Greil, manager of LSSU's Aquatic Research Laboratory, holds up a container full of Atlantic salmon fry that were hatched in the wild, not in the lab's hatchery.
John Shibley / LSSU

Lake Superior State University researchers have determined that Atlantic salmon are naturally reproducing in the St. Mary's River.

The prized game fish were originally native to Lake Ontario, but experienced a massive population decline by the late 1800's. Today, Atlantic salmon are stocked in the St. Mary's River and in other parts of the upper Great Lakes.

Though the Atlantic salmon population remained healthy when maintained by the St. Mary's fishery, the salmon population did not take root naturally, apparently due to a thiamine deficiency.

While conducting research for his senior undergraduate thesis on sturgeon, Stefan Tucker found what he suspected were Atlantic salmon fry in the St. Mary's River. His identification was later confirmed by University of Michigan taxonomist Gerald Smith. Tucker and a team of researchers concluded that the Atlantic salmon population is indeed naturally reproducing.

A press release from Lake Superior State University explains the implications of this finding:

The discovery is not only exciting for those at LSSU, the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, and others who have been involved with stocking Atlantic salmon in the upper Great Lakes for more than two decades, but also to anyone who follows the changing dynamics of the Great Lakes, especially in relation to lake trout and salmonids.

Though this discovery answers one question, it begs others.

Tucker concluded his thesis by stating that "the extent of natural reproduction and mechanisms influencing reproductive success are unclear and warrant further attention."

- Ari Sandberg, Michigan Radio Newsroom

This trail camera photo of a cougar was taken on public land in western Mackinac County in early November.
MDNR

Cougars were wiped out in Michigan more than 100 years ago, but a few of the big cats have been returning.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently confirmed two new cougar sightings in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

MDNR officials say the two photographs were taken this fall – one was taken on a camera phone 30 miles south-southeast of Sault Ste. Marie in late October – another was taken with a trail camera on public land near Mackinac County’s Garfield Township.

Earlier this week, when he won his second term, Governor Rick Snyder thanked his family, he thanked his supporters and he gave a shout-out to the Great Lakes.

“I still like to remind my fellow governors, four out of five Great Lakes prefer Michigan,” he joked.

So what do policy experts expect from Snyder in his next term?

James Clift is with the Michigan Environmental Council.

"I think what we’ve got is a confluence of a number of things coming to a head,” he says.

He says energy will be a big issue for Snyder.

“Is there going to be enough power in this region of the country to serve our needs in the upcoming years? Some federal regulations coming into play, with the utilities making some very large decisions about the energy future, and the clean energy legislation plateauing off in 2015.”

Clift is talking about our renewable portfolio standard. It requires Michigan utilities to get 10 percent of their electricity sales from renewable sources by 2015.

Snyder has said he’d like to see that standard raised – as long as it makes business sense.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Oil is flowing through Enbridge’s new pipeline in southern Michigan, but people who live along the pipeline say the job isn’t done yet.

Enbridge’s new Line 6B pipeline is in the ground and in service.  It runs for 285 miles across the state from Griffith, Indiana to Marysville, Michigan.

The company installed this new pipeline after their old pipeline burst and caused a massive oil spill in 2010.

To replace it, they had to cut down trees and tear up people’s land. Enbridge has hired contractors to restore those properties in phases.

But some landowners in the first phase of the project say they’re still waiting for work to be wrapped up.

An "exoplanet" orbiting a distant sun.
Jet Propulsion Lab/CalTech

In recent years, more than 1,800 exoplanets (planets that orbit a sun outside of our solar system) have been discovered across the universe by telescopes such as the Kepler Space Telescope. Hiding among these planets are some that researchers hope could perhaps be hospitable for life. 

The International Astronomical Union is now opening up the opportunity for the public to become involved with this exciting age of planetary discovery through its "Naming Exoworlds Contest."

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A controversial conference promoting creationism takes place at Michigan State University tomorrow.

The Oklahoma-based Christian group behind the conference says university students should not be taught solely the Theory of Evolution.

Mike Smith is the founder of the Creation Summit. He insists the goal is not to ban the teaching of evolution, only to make room for a biblical view of the origins of life on Earth.

“It would be good if the students could hear from both sides and draw their own conclusions,” says Smith.

EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today two toxic hot spots in Michigan have been cleaned up.

Work is now complete at White Lake in Muskegon County and Deer Lake in the Upper Peninsula.

The sites are on a list of about 40 toxic hot spots surrounding the Great Lakes; 14 sites are in Michigan.

Brian Wilcox / BYU

There are all kinds of diseases and other problems that are hurting honeybees. One of them is a bacterial infection called American Foulbrood and it’s been a problem for bees around the country for decades. The disease kills bee larvae and can lead to the entire hive collapsing.

Researchers at Brigham Young University have come up with a natural way to fight back. They’re using a kind of virus — a phage — that infects and replicates within a bacterium.

"This is using nature in order to fight nature, basically," says Sandra Burnett, an associate professor of microbiology and molecular biology at Brigham Young.

"We see phages naturally in the environment, so what our goal has been is to find phages that will infect this bacteria, and capture [these phages] and have them ready to actually do an attack and kill the bacteria for us."

Michigan State University / http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/msu-partners-with-detroit-to-investigate-death-scenes/

It sounds like "CSI" meets "Bones." 

The Wayne County Medical Examiner is sending swab samples from dead bodies to Michigan State University researchers.

They're going to run a new kind of analysis in hopes of determining when someone died, whether they touched a weapon, and possibly even where they've been. 

What they’re looking at are the teeny-tiny things that live on our bodies: microbes.

You can’t see them with the naked eye, but we all have bacteria, fungi, and even tiny worms that live on our bodies and form their own ecosystems.

Randall Schaetzl, MSU

News of a decline might sound surprising since there has been so much excitement and controversy over horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in recent years.

But not many high-volume, horizontal wells were actually drilled since 2010, and the company that led the recent fracking boom has left the state.

That leaves the industry and its watchdogs wondering where new action will come from.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The most recent round of environmental DNA sampling on the Kalamazoo River showed no evidence of genetic material from Asian carp, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Ed Golder, spokesperson for the department, says this is very good news, "but it doesn't mean that we're going to stop being vigilant about the concern that Asian carp generally, and silver carp and big head carp in particular, pose to the Great Lakes."

For as many as 250 years, a bur oak has been growing on what is now the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. The big tree stands in the way of an expansion of the Ross Business School.

But instead of cutting it down, the university is moving the tree. It's not easy, it's not cheap, and it's definitely not fast.

Tracy Samilton/Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan is moving a 250-year-old bur oak tree this weekend to make way for an expansion of the Ross School of Business.

The $400,000 cost of moving the tree will come from a $100 million donation for the expansion from philanthropist Stephen Ross.

U of M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says the project will save a piece of living U of M history, "and  provide a teachable moment where we can learn about this process, because we've – at the University of Michigan – we've never moved a tree like this before."

(courtesy Consumers Energy)

Michigan connected more wind farms to the power grid than almost every other state last year, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Michigan added 175 megawatts of wind power in 2013 – more than 46 other states.

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