coal

Environment
12:53 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

EPA: Lake Michigan Badger ferry can apply to continue coal ash dumping

wikimedia commons

LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) - Federal regulators will let operators of the passenger ferry S.S. Badger apply for a permit to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The Badger typically puts more than 500 tons of waste ash into the lake every year during its crossings between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis. The Environmental Protection Agency previously set a December deadline for the company to stop the practice.

The Ludington Daily News reports that EPA on Tuesday told Badger operators they could apply to continue the dumping as they study ways to convert the ship to burn natural gas.

Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga tells The Muskegon Chronicle that the Badger is a historic vessel that provides jobs on both sides of the lake.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan also praised the EPA decision.

Environment
10:54 am
Thu January 26, 2012

Power line fight in the U.P.

There’s a fight brewing about whether Michigan’s Upper Peninsula needs two new power lines. The high voltage lines would cut through northern woodlands to bring electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. Energy companies say the single existing line is maxed out.

An announcement by WE Energies of Milwaukee sparked this debate last fall. The company said it would phase out an old coal burning power plant in Marquette over the next five years. To keep the plant going would mean investing millions in new pollution controls.

People in the U.P. were worried about where their power would come from, and they were upset about the prospect of losing 170 jobs at the Presque Isle power plant.

WE Energies favors building new power lines to send electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. That plan was put on a fast track for regulatory approval.

But then a couple of weeks ago, WE Energies and Wolverine Power based in northern lower Michigan announced a joint venture.

They’re now looking at upgrading the plant in Marquette to meet stricter pollution rules.

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Environment
9:49 am
Tue December 20, 2011

Fingerprinting mercury pollution

PhD candidate Laura Sherman setting up a rain collector in Crystal River, Florida.
Photo by Laura White

Mercury is a neurotoxin. The Environmental Protection Agency says mercury can be especially harmful for babies and kids. Mercury can affect their developing brains and harm their memory, attention, language and motor skills.

Mercury is naturally-occurring. Volcanoes emit mercury and so do hot springs, like the ones in Yellowstone National Park.

But the EPA points out... the largest manmade source of mercury emissions in the U.S. comes from coal-burning power plants.

Joel Blum is a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. Blum says when power plants burn coal, mercury is emitted as a gas.

“In order to become toxic, it has to be transformed into a particular form known as methylmercury which is something that happens in the environment.”

So... mercury falls from the atmosphere, and is converted to methylmercury in the water. That toxic form builds up in fish... and it can build up in us when we eat fish.

But for years... there’s been a big debate about where that mercury goes when it’s released from a power plant smokestack.

“How much is deposited nearby, close to the plant, and how much goes into what we call global pool of mercury - basically goes into the atmosphere and stays there for a long period of time and mixes with mercury from other sources.”

Joel Blum and his colleagues have started to crack that puzzle with some careful detective work. They were able to track mercury emissions from a power plant in Florida... and they found that a high proportion of the mercury ended up nearby.

They did this by looking at chemical fingerprints.

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Environment
2:10 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Cutting back on manmade mercury pollution

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan. The plant burns a blend of low-sulfur western coal and high-sulfur eastern coal. Coal-burning power plants are one of the biggest sources of man-made mercury pollution.
user cgord wikimedia commons

A new report from the group Environment Michigan says 115 inland lakes and rivers in the state have advisories for mercury pollution. Eating contaminated fish is the main way people are exposed to mercury.

Jessica Surma is with Environment Michigan. She says children are especially at risk for adverse health effects from mercury exposure.

“These can include lowered IQs, developmental disabilities and problems with motor control.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says electric utilities are by far the largest manmade sources of mercury emissions in the U.S. The EPA is planning to regulate mercury from power plants – for the first time ever.

John Austerberry is with DTE Energy.

“We agree with the goal of those regulations, but we are concerned that the federal rules will not provide sufficient time for the utilities to plan and install control systems.”

He says the company doesn’t know yet how much any new mercury control systems might cost or how much of that cost they might pass on to customers.

Environment
5:20 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

Consumers Energy scraps plans to build coal plant near Bay City

The J.R. Whiting Generating Complex, a coal plant in Erie, MI.
Photo courtesy of Consumers Energy's flickr page

Consumers Energy has canceled its plans to build a coal plant near Bay City. The $2 billion plant would have created 1,800 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs.

Jeff Holyfield, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, says there two main reasons for the cancelation:

  1. Customer demand is down "about 5 or 6 percent. Holyfield says they "don’t expect that demand to reach pre-recession marks until sometime late in 2012."
  2. Natural gas prices are cheap, which Holyfield says makes a "new coal-fired power plant less economically attractive."

Holyfield says Consumers Energy invested about $25 million in the now scrapped coal plan.

The utility will also suspend operations at seven of its smaller coal-fired units across the state by 2015, and focus on two new wind farms it’s developing: one in west Michigan's Mason County, the other in Tuscola County in the thumb.

Consumers continues its $1.6 billion investment at its five largest coal-fired units to meet environmental regulations, which Holyfield says will create about 2,000 jobs in the state.

Environment
1:21 pm
Tue November 8, 2011

New fly ash regulations for Michigan power plants?

A worker cleans fly ash from one of the containers inside the silo at the Eckert power plant.
Photo by Steve Carmody

Coal burning power plants are often scrutinized for what they emit from smokestacks. But now a by-product of burning coal for electricity is getting a closer look. Steve Carmody reports:

For the past few days… Dennis Brabant and his crew have been vacuuming up tons of fly ash trapped in the silo at the Lansing Board of Water and Light ‘s Eckert Power Plant.

“That’s what we’re dealing with right there… it’s part of electricity.”

Brabant lets the fine power pour through his fingers. It spreads like water on the silo floor… and coats everything.

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Environment
3:08 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

Environmental group asks Holland not to expand coal plant

A group rallies near the Holland Farmer's Market Wednesday morning. Most are wearing shirts that read 'beyond coal'.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

People rallied in Holland today to ask officials not to expand the city-owned coal-fired power plant.

Holland took the state to court get an air quality permit that would allow it to replace a more than 60-year-old boiler with a more efficient one. City officials haven’t decided if they will replace it yet or not.

Tia Lebherz is with the Sierra Club in Holland. She and about twenty others held protest signs outside the Holland farmer’s market demanding the city move “beyond coal”.

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Environment
4:37 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Coal regulations could reshape Midwest energy

The W.C. Beckjord Station along the Ohio River near Cincinnati. Duke Energy says it plans to close the coal burning power plant in 2015 because updating the plant to meet new environmental regulations would be too costly.
courtesy of Duke Energy

The Midwest relies so heavily on one source of power that some call us the "coal belt."

Coal is cheap and plentiful, but that’s about to change.

A wave of government regulations is about to hit the electric industry.

Ed Malley, a Vice President at industry consulting firm, TRC Corporation has a name for all the new rules coming down the track: “The train wreck.”

That "train wreck" is the list of environmental regulations expected to be in place within the next few years.

Electric utilities say this will mean the shutting of power plants, leading to higher prices and less peak capacity for hot summer days. Environmentalists say: about time.

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Energy
12:08 pm
Wed June 29, 2011

Michigan approves power plant permit

DETROIT (AP) - State officials have approved a permit for a coal-burning power plant in northern Michigan.

The state Department of Environmental Quality is announcing the decision Wednesday.

The Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative Inc. now may proceed with its 600-megawatt, coal-fired steam electric power plant near Rogers City, about 210 miles north of Detroit.

Wolverine Power provides electricity to more than 220,000 customers

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Environment
4:43 pm
Mon June 27, 2011

Report: Michigan's old coal plants costing residents $1.5 billion

A new report from the Michigan Environmental Council says Michigan’s oldest coal-burning power plants are costing state residents $1.5 billion dollars in health care costs each year. 

The report focuses on the state’s nine oldest coal-burning power plants.  It highlights particle pollution.  This type of pollution comes from power plants and factories as well as car and trucks.

James Clift is the policy director for the MEC.

“If you think of smog, kind of the black cloudy stuff, the really tiny particles, they lodge deep in your lungs and those are the ones they’re seeing causing the most impacts.”

He says these tiny particles are linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, including asthma.

He says on average, a family of four spends more than 500 dollars a year on health care expenses that can be attributed to the particle pollution from the power plants.

DTE Energy owns four of the power plants targeted in the report. 

John Austerberry is a spokesperson with DTE.

“All Detroit Edison power plants meet or exceed federal standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.  And it’s those constituents that can contribute to the formation of fine particles under certain atmospheric conditions.”

The report calls on DTE and Consumers Energy to gradually phase out the oldest coal-burning power plants.

Accolades
4:43 pm
Tue June 14, 2011

Michigan Radio's Environment Report wins national Edward R. Murrow award

Edward R. Murrow through the eyes of artist John Tebeau.
John Tebeau Artist/Illustrator

The Environment Report from Michigan Radio has been recognized for excellence in broadcast journalism by the Radio Television Digital News Association with a 2011 National Edward R. Murrow Award.

The Environment Report received the award for Best Audio News Documentary in the Radio: Large Market category for “Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future.

In the series, The Environment Report's Rebecca Williams, Mark Brush, Lester Graham and Shawn Allee take an in-depth look at the future of coal in this country and the true costs of our dependence on coal. The series explores the role that coal plays in our lives and in the lives of those who depend on coal mining for a living. “Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future” takes listeners on a journey from their light switch back to America’s coal fields, and takes a closer look at the technologies that promise to deliver coal into the new green economy.

The Environment Report was the only news organization in Michigan to receive a 2011 National Edward R. Murrow Award, and one of seven public radio stations nationwide. This award is the third national Murrow Award that The Environment Report has received. The news service also received a National Murrow Award in 2010 for the five-part series “Dioxin Delays” and in 2002 for a story about the reproductive decline of mallard ducks in the Great Lakes region.

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Environment
4:22 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Environmental groups take state to court for allowing Holland coal plant expansion

The DeYoung power plant sits on the shore of Lake Macatawa in the City of Holland.
Holland Board of Public Works.

The legal battle over a proposed expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Holland is not over yet. The State of Michigan granted the city the necessary air quality permit in February, following years of delays. But now a number of environmental groups are teaming up and bringing the issue back to court.

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Coal
12:07 pm
Sat April 9, 2011

Questions remain a year after West Virginia mine explosion

One year ago tonight, mine rescuers discovered the remains of the last four missing coal miners deep inside Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

There had been hope that the four had made it to refuge chambers and were still alive. Optimistic rescuers carried four sets of breathing apparatus with them, hoping they would be used to bring the miners safely to the surface. The bodies of 25 other miners were found four days earlier.

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Coal plants
3:05 pm
Fri February 11, 2011

State issues permit for Holland to expand coal-fired-power plant

Holland is considering replacing one of the units at the James DeYoung power plant.
Holland BPW

The state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment initially denied the air quality permit. That’s because former Governor Jennifer Granholm said the state must consider whether or not a community really needs more power before issuing a permit. An Ottawa County judge ruled that’s not a good enough reason to deny the permit and ordered the DNRE to review the permit application by this Sunday.

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Energy
5:29 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Michigan is changing course in legal fight over coal plants

Holland's BPW wants to expand the James DeYoung coal plant on the shores of Lake Macatawa.
Holland BWP

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality will not continue its legal fight to prevent the plans for two coal power plants.

The state denied air quality permits last year for two coal plants, one in Holland and one in Rogers City.  The decision was based on an executive order issued by former Governor Jennifer Granholm. She said the state must factor in whether or not a community really needs more power and consider conservation efforts and alternative energy.

Brad Wurfel is a spokesman with MDEQ. He says their decision to change course is partly because of two judges ruling against the state and partly because of the new administration.

 “Governor Snyder is in favor of building Michigan’s economy and in the case of Wolverine Rogers City has expressed an interest in additional power to realize a long term vision for increasing its port capacity, expanding its infrastructure, and they need power to do it. Right now they’re buying that power from Ohio and Indiana.”

Wurfel says it’s not an issue of whether or not the new governor is for or against coal plants. 

“Our job at the department of environmental quality is to see to it that the permits that are issued to them are in compliance with state and federal clean air statues.”

Wurfel says the state is working with Wolverine Power on their plans to build a new plant in Rogers City, and the City of Holland to expand an existing plant. He says they will still have to meet air quality standards to get the permits they need.

Environment
10:18 am
Thu January 27, 2011

Wind turbines close to home

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

The North Carolina based giant Duke Energy wants to build more than a hundred 500 foot tall turbines in rural Benzie and Manistee counties.  Bob Allen reports this proposed wind farm is causing divisions in communities up north.

Michigan officials have identified parts of these two counties as having the 2nd highest wind potential in the state. 

Alan O’Shea has been in the renewable energy business for the past thirty years. 

“We don’t have to wait for Michigan to heal. This project can heal northern Michigan. I mean there are people, workers that are here looking for jobs.”

But there also are people in the area opposed to this project.

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Energy
4:26 pm
Fri January 7, 2011

Holland city and Michigan officials to discuss coal plant expansion outside of court

James De Young coal plant near Lake Macatawa in Holland.
Holland BPW

The state is challenging a lower court’s ruling that would’ve allowed Holland to expand a coal-fired power plant. But  its unclear whether or not state officials will follow through on the legal battle.

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A Clean Slate for the State?
11:19 am
Thu November 4, 2010

Michigan's environment & a new administration

Rick Snyder will be sworn in as Governor on January 1st, 2011 at noon.
Snyder's campaign website

There wasn’t a lot of talk about environment during the race for governor, but Governor-elect Rick Snyder made it clear during the campaign that he thinks the state’s regulatory system is broken and said he wants fewer regulations on businesses. That has some people wondering whether that means there will also be fewer of the regulations that prevent pollution in the state.  I talked with James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, to get his take on this.

Protest
11:28 am
Tue September 28, 2010

NASA scientist arrested in D.C.

NASA scientist James Hansen being arrested in front of the White House
Rainforest Action Network Creative Commons

NASA Scientist James Hansen has been arrested in front of the White House. Hansen was participating in a protest against mountaintop removal coal mining. The Associated Press covered Hansen's arrest. The article said Hansen issued a statement saying mountaintop removal...

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Documentary
12:00 pm
Fri January 22, 2010

Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future - A Radio Documentary

Surface miners in West Virginia.
Erika Celeste Environment Report

This documentary is an in-depth look at the future of coal in this country.

The Environment Report explores the role that coal plays in our lives and in the lives of those who depend on coal mining for a living.

Can coal truly be a viable option in the new green economy?

Listen to the Documentary:

Open

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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