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Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry, business, and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio.   She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly "bitten by the radio bug," and never recovered.  She took over the auto beat in January, 2009, just a few months before Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy.  Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio.   Her coverage of Michigan's Detroit Three automakers has taken her as far as Germany, and China. 

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. 

Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz / Creative Commons

The federal government says it has reached an impasse in talks with Volkswagen over penalties for emissions cheating. 

So the government is suing the automaker. 

The Department of Justice filed a complaint in federal court in Detroit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that Volkswagen installed software in 600,000 so-called "clean diesel" cars that sensed when an emissions test was being performed. 

Ann Arbor plans its first-ever deer cull this year.
Rodney Campbell / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A group of Ann Arbor residents passionately opposed to a planned deer cull have filed a 92-page lawsuit to try to stop it.

Ann Arbor has hired marksmen with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services to try to reduce a growing deer population.  The deer are eating almost everything in people's yards and nature areas in some parts of the city.

The lawsuit contends the city doesn't have the legal authority to order a cull. 

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

In 2003, Shari Elkort and her husband Richard Wickboldt fell in love with this property close by the Huron River. The yard was thick with mature trees, shrubs and other plants. In the spring and summer, there were wildflowers.  

"It was just a paradise," sighs Elkort.

But paradise has been lost,or perhaps, for the deer, paradise has been found.

Vegetation-rich yards like this provide abundant food for a highly-adaptable species. There are no predators, and no hunting, so as the city expands its footprint, deer multiply.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan has slipped out of the top five net loss migration states in Allied Van Lines' annual Magnet States Report.

But just barely.  Michigan is number six for 2015.  The report tallies family outbound moves by Allied, a leading moving company, and inbound moves. 

Allied says it moved nearly 2,o00 families out of the state this year, and moved 1,200 in to the state, for a net loss of 800 families.

The National Safety Council has a grim prediction: 307 people will die in traffic accidents over the three-day Christmas holiday period.

And 346 will lose their lives over the three-day New Year's holiday period. 

A combination of low gas prices, lower unemployment, and good driving weather means more people will be on the road, increasing the risk of fatal accidents.

Ken Kolosh manages the statistics group for the National Safety Council.

He says many of the deaths are preventable.  Take the very simple act of buckling up in the car. 

user anonymonous / Flickr

Like many of us, the folks at Washtenaw County have something on their Christmas wish list: 17 apartments to house 17 homeless veterans.

Andrea Plevek is with the county's Office of Community and Economic Development.

If she were writing a letter to Santa, "I think that we would ask Santa Claus to open the hearts and minds of the landlord community here in Washtenaw County," says Plevek.

The county hopes to reach its goal of zero homeless veterans by the end of 2015, but Plevek says the county can't do it alone.

USDA.gov

Ann Arbor city officials spent two years studying what to do about deer that are destroying gardens, defecating in people's yards, and eating young trees.

They did two aerial deer surveys, studied what other cities have done in response to the same problem, held several public meetings, and conducted a survey of residents.

And then they voted - twice - to approve a plan to kill some of the deer.

Flickr

Driverless cars are racking up more than double the number of accidents as conventional cars with a human behind the wheel. 

But "it's a complicated message," says Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

His study shows that driverless cars get in 9.1 crashes per million miles driven. 

But here's the really interesting part.  The accidents have all been minor - the worst injury was whiplash - and the crashes were all caused by human drivers plowing into the back of the driverless cars. 

Clarita / MorgueFile

Twenty-four Michigan hospitals will pay a penalty for having too many patients with infections they contracted while in their care.

That's up from last year, when 21 of the state's hospitals paid the penalty – which is 1% of the hospital's Medicare funding.

Laura Wotruba is with the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

She says the federal law unfairly punishes teaching and urban hospitals, which have sicker patients.

Kempf

Eighteen-year-old Ellis Kempf is captain of his wrestling team, the Royal Oak Ravens.

He wrestles in the 152-pound weight class.

Kempf is also completely deaf without his cochlear implants, which he can't wear during matches. 

Most of the time, it's not an issue. Kempf has a sign language interpreter who signs his coach's instructions during matches.

But during state matches sanctioned by the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), Kempf's  interpreter was prohibited from moving around the wrestling circle to maintain eye contact with him.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Aptly enough, it was 60 degrees in Michigan, in December, the day that 195 nations agreed to take steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Carbon dioxide from those emissions is heating the atmosphere, melting glaciers, and increasing sea levels.

In Ann Arbor, several hundred people joined a "Michigan Climate March," not to protest the accord, really, but to demand that governments go further.

At a rally following the march through city streets, participants held aloft signs bearing messages like, "I Love Clean Air," and "This is a Crisis." 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

As 190 nations try to finalize a climate change agreement in Paris, activists around the world are planning marches and rallies in support of that agreement.

But it won't be enough, says Nicholas Jansen of the group 350.org, so named for a reduction to 350 parts CO2 per million that the group is pushing the world to achieve.

That's why his group, and others around the world, will immediately begin pressuring their governments to go far beyond what is agreed to in Paris.

Jansen says the U.S. needs to play a large role.

Ford Motor Co.

Hybrid and electric car sales right now are weak.  That's not surprising, given that the price of a gallon of gasoline is averaging under $2 a gallon in 41 states.

So why is Ford upping the ante on electrification?

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Coal is an abundant source of energy.  But burning it spews billions of tons of climate-warming CO2 into the air every year.

Much hope has been placed on a developing technology known as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).  The idea is to extract the carbon before it’s emitted from smokestacks, compress it, and store it underground. 

That could allow humans to keep using coal, without further loading the atmosphere and oceans with more CO2.

Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has a prescription for Muslims in Dearborn who may be upset about anti-Muslim statements by his fellow Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump:

Do more to fight terrorism.

Photo by d.boyd, Flickr

State officials plan to remove hundreds of chemicals from a long list that requires companies to perform  modeling of smokestack emissions. 

The Michigan Manufacturers Association says each model can cost between $20,000 and $100,000, and removing the chemicals will make the process more efficient.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality agrees. 

Spokesman Brad Wurfel, in an email statement, said:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A group that was unsuccessful at stopping a planned deer cull in Ann Arbor is now planning to try to recall as many as five city council members who voted for the cull.

Sabra Sanzotta, a resident of the city's second ward, filed recall petition language with the city clerk this week, seeking a recall election against Kirk Westphal.

Brian Teutsch / flickr/creative commons

A "barn burner." 

That's how Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, characterizes new car sales in 2015. 

Sales are expected to at least match the all-time record of 17.4 million set in 2000.

MARIORDO / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

New research finds a surprising number of drivers around the world are open to trying a self-driving car.

Nearly 60% of respondents said they would be willing to travel in a fully self-driving car, according to a survey conducted jointly  by the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group.

The number was slightly lower in the U.S. at 52%.

Whatshername / creative commons

A new study commissioned by the Governors Highway Safety Association finds that people are significantly less likely to buckle up in the back seat. 

And that means people are dying in traffic accidents that they might otherwise survive.

Researcher James Hedlund says of the 883 unrestrained rear seat passenger fatalities in 2013, more than 400 would likely have survived had they buckled up.

wikimedia / creative commons

The Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System has determined that a water main break was responsible for tiny "specks" of material found on and in cases that store sterile surgical equipment.

Nurses found the specks as part of a routine examination of the equipment prior to surgeries.

UAW President Dennis Williams chats with GM CEO Mary Barra at the kickoff of the 2015 contract negotiations
Jeffrey Sauger / General Motors

This summer, as contract talks with the Detroit Three kicked off, United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams warned that negotiations are "never easy."

He was right.

Last week, the union came within a hairsbreadth of having a contract with Ford Motor Company sent back by rank and file with a big "NO DEAL" stamp on its face. 

Flickr/creative commons

A statewide push to reduce homelessness appears to be working, especially among homeless veterans. 

Kelly Rose with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority says overall homelessness in the first half of 2015 is down about 10% compared to the same period last year.

NOAA

Scientists say a toxic bacteria bloom in Lake Erie this past summer was the largest on record, and produced a thick scum so big it could almost cover New York City.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the outbreak surpassed the record-setting bloom in 2011 that stretched from Toledo to Cleveland.

Sandy Bihn is with Lake Erie Waterkeeper Inc. 

She says states bordering Lake Erie have to dramatically reduce the amount of phosphorus getting into the lake.

Phosphorus is a nutrient that helps cyanobacteria grow.

wikimedia commons

Wayne County's wastewater treatment plant will soon have to reduce the amount of phosphorus it dumps into the Detroit River.

It's part of the state's plan to lower phosphorus levels in Lake Erie to control cyanobacteria blooms. 

Bill Creal is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  He says the new permit for Wayne County will be the same as the permit given to Detroit Water and Sewerage last year, which was more successful at reducing phosphorus than anyone envisioned.

Steve Jurvetson / Flickr

Are you really doing the environment a favor by buying and driving an electric car? 

The answer may depend on where in the country you live.

New research indicates the impact of electric cars on the environment is much more nuanced than many people realize.

Porsche

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it has discovered more "defeat devices" in vehicles with diesel engines made by Volkswagen.

In September, the EPA said it had discovered emissions cheating in 482,000 VW and Audi diesel cars, which were equipped with software that could detect when there was an emissions test happening.  The cars' emissions controls would turn on for the test, and turn off during normal driving.

Wind turbine near Mt. Pleasant, MI.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A study by Stanford University professor Marc Jacobson says every state in the U.S. could get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2050 – and save money in the process.

In Michigan, most of that power would come from the state's most abundant renewable resource: wind. Forty percent of the state's electric needs could be met with on-shore wind power, according to Jacobson's analysis, and 31% from off-shore wind power.

UAW President Dennis Williams chats with GM CEO Mary Barra at the kickoff of the 2015 contract negotiations
Jeffrey Sauger / General Motors

The United Auto Workers has reached a tentative four-year contract with GM, averting the possibility of a strike for now.

The union had also set a strike deadline with Fiat Chrysler during a second round of negotiations, after the first tentative contract reached with that automaker was rejected by workers.

A strike deadline puts pressure on both sides, which view a strike as a failure of contract talks.

Neither GM nor the UAW are providing details.

Lance McCord

Blame "antigenic drift" for the failure of last year's flu vaccine to offer a robust protection against the illness.

The Centers for Disease Control says a series of small genetic changes in a flu virus can make it just different enough from the original variant included in the vaccine, that a vaccinated person's immune system won't recognize it.

And that person can get the flu even after getting the shot.

So, so unfair.

However, health department officials say all was not lost last year. 

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