The Environment Report

Tuesdays & Thursdays at 8:50 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

The Environment Report hosted by Rebecca Williams explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy

A majority of Americans now say all levels of government need to act on climate change.

That’s one finding from the latest survey in a series of National Surveys on Energy and Environment.

President Donald Trump at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference
Gage Skidmore / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1f2P1w6

The Trump administration has been in office for a little more than a year, and it’s done a lot to change the federal government’s stance on environmental issues -- from announcing the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, to opening up thousands of miles of U.S. coastline to offshore drilling.


It’s been a tough flu season. Health experts are always looking for ways to outsmart the influenza virus.

David Brenner thinks he’s found a new way: a type of ultraviolet light called far-UVC.

Wind power.
cwwycoff1 / flickr

Last year, the Trump administration announced it would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, and repeal the Clean Power Plan, or CPP. That’s the Obama-era policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electric power generation by 32% by 2030, below 2005 levels.

But in a new study, a group of researchers found that the U.S. can meet its commitment to the international climate agreement without the Clean Power Plan.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

80,945 against to 75 in favor.

These numbers show the scope of the public opposition to a new proposal from Nestle.

The company wants to be able to pump a lot more water out of the ground in West Michigan that it can bottle and sell under its Ice Mountain brand.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Early in February, Eastern Michigan University canceled classes due to a sloppy snowstorm. 

But it didn’t cancel a big event it had planned for a long time – the ceremonial flipping of the switch on its energy pride and joy: a brand new co-generation plant.  

Drinking water fountain.
Gabrielle Emanuel / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is moving forward with proposed changes to the lead and copper rule. If approved, Michigan would hold the toughest regulations on lead in drinking water in the nation.

Among the policy revisions is a motion to lower the acceptable lead level in a community’s tap water. If the law passes, the “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead would drop to 10 ppb.

”Though no amount lead is safe in water, reducing that down is going to be very important,” says Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council.

A graph shows thousands of data points representing water test results in Flint, Michigan.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

Last month, the state of Michigan declared Flint’s drinking water quality "restored." To get to this point, it’s taken, among other things, more than 30,000 water tests.

Cypress Creek Renewables

Cypress Creek Renewables has been lining up farmland in Michigan for more than a year now.

The object? Leases for enough land to install several hundred megawatts worth of new, emissions-free solar projects. Combined, that would equal the electricity output of a small coal-fired power plant.

But a bill introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., could put a halt to those plans, as well as the plans of other renewable energy companies that want to set up shop in Michigan and states across the nation.

Modernizing PURPA, or gutting it?

sink faucet
Flickr user Bart / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Low-income, rural areas are the most vulnerable to drinking water quality violations that could affect people’s health, according to a new nationwide study.

Hundreds race to catch "dinosaur of a fish"

Feb 13, 2018
A fisherman heads across Black Lake before the sturgeon fishing season starts on February 3.
Morgan Springer / Interlochen Public Radio

This month, hundreds of spear fishers went to Black Lake in northern Michigan. They competed to catch just six lake sturgeon before the fishing season ended. Sturgeon are a state threatened species, and their harvest is tightly regulated.

Van Etten Lake in Oscoda, Michigan
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

People who live in Oscoda are concerned about foam containing toxic chemicals known as per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances – or PFAS – that keeps appearing on Van Etten Lake.

The serene lake in Northeast Michigan is surrounded by trees and houses. But it also has foamy stuff that looks like soap scum floating along its shores.

Residents are wondering why the state isn’t doing more about it.

Sampling locations in the Great Lakes region.
USGS/courtesy of Michelle Hladik

Insecticides widely used on farms, lawns and gardens — known as neonicotinoids — are showing up in rivers across the Great Lakes region.

Suzannah Tobin

The climate solutions caucus in the U.S. House is a group of more than 60 Democrats and Republicans who want to address climate change. Representative Fred Upton from St. Joseph just joined the caucus.

Last fall, Representative Jack Bergman, R-MI 1st District, announced he was joining the caucus. He represents northern Michigan.

A group of Traverse City high schoolers were the unlikely lobbyists who helped convince Bergman to join the caucus.

Piping plovers.
Roger Eriksson

Piping plovers are little white and gray shorebirds. You might’ve seen them running around on the beach.

Sarah Saunders is a post-doctoral researcher at Michigan State University.

“The majority of the piping plovers in the Great Lakes region nest at Sleeping Bear Dunes,” she says. “The chicks look like little fluffy cotton balls on toothpicks because their legs are really long and they’re very cute. And they make a very high pitched piping noise.”

The latest influenza map from the CDC.

Health experts say we can catch the flu if someone coughs near us. But now there’s evidence we can spread the influenza virus into the air just by breathing.

Waves on Lake Michigan.
Nathaniel May / UM

Scientists have found organic matter from toxic blooms in the Great Lakes can get airborne.

Andrew Ault is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, in the departments of environmental health sciences and chemistry. He’s an author of a new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“Anytime a wave breaks on the ocean or in a lake, you push bubbles below the surface. When those come up, they burst and that bursting process essentially, ends up leading to aerosols being formed,” he says.

Ross and Donna Tingley
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

At least 14 communities in Michigan have water contaminated with a family of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

One of those sites, in West Michigan, has gotten a lot of attention recently. This month, the state abruptly announced a cleanup standard for PFAS.

But these chemicals have been a pollution problem in the state for years.

In Oscoda, some residents are wondering why remediation is taking so long.

Donna Dewhurst / USFWS

A new study in the journal Science finds there are genetic differences in yellow warblers that live in different parts of the U.S. and Canada, and some of those populations seem to be more genetically vulnerable to climate change than others.

Rachael Bay is the lead author of the study, at the University of California-Davis.

“We did some genome sequencing and we found a bunch of genes that seem to be associated with whether yellow warblers live in warmer or drier or hotter or colder areas," she says.

Lake Superior
Helena Jacoba / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

More than three centuries of thriving marine commerce and those notorious storms in the Great Lakes have given Michigan a wealth of historic shipwrecks. There are nearly a thousand on the bottomlands of the state's 13 designated underwater preserves alone. But Michigan's mostly volunteer system of protecting the shipwrecks is showing signs of trouble. 

Ryan Utz / Chatham University

There’s too much salt getting into our rivers and streams.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds over the past 50 years, freshwater systems across the country have become saltier, and that can cause problems for people, wildlife and our infrastructure.


Scientists might have found a new way to combat white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by a fungus killing millions of bats in the U.S. and Canada.

Ben Abbott / Courtesy MSU

Streams can tell us a lot about the health of an ecosystem. But some researchers say we can do a better job of paying attention to those streams.

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy

Getting exposed every day to certain kinds of air pollution can lead to a higher risk of premature death if you’re over 65.

That's the finding of a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Francesca Dominici is a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and an author of the study.

School plane
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There are about 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes. Most are uninhabited. But for those who live year-round on about 30 of them, it can be an isolating experience. Now, Great Lakes islanders are getting together to tackle some of the problems they have in common.

Should we ever leave invasives alone?

Dec 21, 2017
Rebecca Thiele

Invasive plants and animals are an expensive problem in the United States.

Federal agencies spent more than $104 million last year to control them. But a study on the garlic mustard plant shows that it might be better to leave some invasives alone. 

Garlic mustard is a forest plant with heart-like leaves and clusters of white flowers. It can grow up to about four feet tall and is often the first green plant you’ll see in the spring.

Europeans settlers brought it to the United States in the 1800s as an herb for cooking. It was also used to treat ulcers and gangrene.

Paul Vugteveen, a chef in Battle Creek, uses the plant in his cooking. He says it has a garlicky, oniony flavor and is best served raw. 

The Impossible Burger
Kara Holsopple

Scientists have created a vegan burger that bleeds like beef. It’s called the Impossible Burger and its creators argue it’s better for the planet. But there are some questions about the substance the company uses.

Sarah Bird


"When can we eat the fish?”

That’s what the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wants to know.


Officials in Michigan issue fish advisories. Those recommend limits on how much fish we eat because of toxic chemicals that can build up in fish.


Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes are at greater risk because they eat a lot of fish.


For years, there was a focus on trying to get tribes to follow the advisories more closely. But some people argue that’s the wrong way to tackle the problem.


A small fish is held in a net.
Sarah Bird


If you eat wild caught fish from Michigan, you might know about fish consumption advisories. They’re recommended limits on safe amounts of fish to eat, and they're necessary because toxic chemicals build up in fish in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and streams.

Japanese knotweed is a prohibited invasive plant species in Michigan.
USDA Forest Service

Invasive species tend to do well in new places, and they can push out native species. There’s an assumption that they do better in the same kind of environment as the country they came from.

But scientists have found that some invasive plants can change and adapt to new continents and new climates.