environment

Changing Gears
10:57 am
Thu July 7, 2011

Canadian oil is boosting midwest economy, but at what cost?

Marathon is upgrading its Detroit refinery to process more heavy crude from the Canadian oil sands.
Adee Braun Changing Gears

Green energy is often said to be the future of the Midwest economy. But old fashioned fossil fuels could be having a bigger effect on the region’s jobs and corporate bottom lines.

This is not conventional oil, though.

It’s a thick, tar-like crude from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada.

It’s sent here by pipelines, many which cross our rivers and the Great Lakes, and that has some worrying about a bigger risk to the region.

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Changing Gears
1:52 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Who Cares About Great Lakes Dredging? These Guys. (slideshow)

Engineer Tom O'Bryan says dredges like this one are basically big vacuums, chewing up sand.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

We brought the story of the Great Lakes dredging backlog to your radio and computer screen.

But sometimes, you need more of a visual. (Even more than my 18 million ovens post.)

So click through to my slideshow to meet some of the people affected by sediment buildup in regional shipping channels.

Environment
5:01 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Scientists: Enough talk, Great Lakes and Mississippi should be separated

Asian carp DNA detections (red) in the Chicago waterways upstream and downstream of the electric fish barriers in 2009 and 2010, according Jerde et al., 2011.
Jerde et al.

The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin are connected, but it's an artificial connection.

Around the turn of the last century canals and channels were dug that reversed the flow of water.

Waters that used to flow into Lake Michigan now flow into the Des Plaines River and eventually into the Mississippi.

The reversal was a way of separating Chicago's sewage from its drinking water supply.

And with more than 2 billion gallons of water a day flowing out of Lake Michigan, it's the largest diversion of Great Lakes water.

Undoing what was done around a hundred years ago has been considered crazy talk because of the expense involved, but some scientists are now embracing that idea.

In a new paper released in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, four lead scientists (Jerry Rasmussen, Henry Regier, Richard Sparks, and William Taylor) argue that the costs of permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin are worth it.

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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
12:18 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Power plants killing millions of Great Lakes fish every year

The Bay Shore Power Plant on Maumee Bay in Lake Erie. Lake Erie Waterkeeper Sandy Binh says this power plant is "probably the largest fish-killing plant in the Great Lakes."
screen grab from YouTube video sWestern Lake Erie Waterkeepers and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund

Power plants around the region are responsible for killing hundreds of millions of fish each year, according to an investigative report from the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune's environmental reporter, Michael Hawthorne, looked at thousands of pages of industry reports documenting fish kills obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Hawthorne reports that the reports "highlight a threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem that has largely gone unaddressed for years."

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News Roundup
9:16 am
Wed June 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Drama in Detroit

It seems to be a case of "he said, she said."

Rochelle Collins, a former executive assistant to the mayor, says she was wrongfully terminated and is seeking a settlement from the city, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Free Press reports that the city says Collins was not terminated, and now the Mayor's office is speaking out.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Mayor Dave Bing’s office launched an unusual preemptive strike today against a potential lawsuit by a former aide, saying her demand for reinstatement to a high-level position and $750,000 amounted to extortion to avoid the release of “salacious details” designed to embarrass the administration.

“We will not be intimidated by such tactics and will vigorously defend any attempt to raid the treasury of the City of Detroit and get a lottery-style payoff,” attorney Sharon McPhail, who is representing the city, told the Free Press.

Saginaw officials could pass "dangerous dogs" ordinance

On the heels of a debate in the State Legislature about pit bulls comes a city ordinance aimed at breeds deemed "dangerous."

Justin Engel reports in the Saginaw News that city officials say their proposed "dangerous dogs" ordinance could have prevented the mauling of a twelve year old boy.

From the Saginaw News:

The Saginaw ordinance, which the council could approve at its June 20 meeting, addresses both pit bull breeds and tethering.

The proposal requires owners of pit bulls — along with Rottweilers, German shepherds, presa canarios and bull mastiffs — to register their animals with the city for a one-time $20 payment or face fines up to $400.

The measure also forbids tethering dogs to objects outdoors “for extended periods” or face additional fines.

Black Bear wandering in Washtenaw County

From the Associated Press:

WEBSTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Authorities say they've confirmed that a black bear cub is wandering in Washtenaw County.

AnnArbor.com reported Tuesday that the sheriff's department confirmed the bear sighting in Webster Township near Dexter, about 9 miles northwest of Ann Arbor.

The confirmation comes after three bear sightings Saturday, including two at Hudson Mills Metropark and one at a home near the park.

Authorities are asking anyone that spots the bear to call 911. Since a cub was seen, authorities say a mother bear may also be in the area.

Backpack bomb scare

The backpack was left outside the IRS building in Detroit.

From the Detroit Free Press:

A backpack that set off a bomb scare outside the IRS building on Michigan Avenue in Detroit has been detonated by the Detroit Police Bomb Squad.

The backpack was found at about 4:30 a.m. at the corner of Third and Michigan, said Detroit Police Inspector Don Johnson. A power source spotted after an X-ray of the bag, prompted authorities to detonate the bag at the scene, versus remove it and detonate it elsewhere, he said.

Johnson, who would not elaborate on what the power source was, said investigators will review surveillance video to determine whether the bag was left accidentally or intentionally.

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
11:00 am
Tue June 14, 2011

Fish-killing virus rears its head again in mid-Michigan lake

VHS has been found in a mid-Michigan lake. The virus kills fish, and sport fisherman worry it will decrease the stocks of big fish like muskie. (Fishing guide Rich Clarke of Clayton, NY).
Rich Clarke

The fish-killing virus is known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia and it has been found in this region since 2003, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University. Massive fish die-offs were first recorded in the 2005.

Now, another die-off has been found. From the Associated Press:

HARRISON, Mich. (AP) - A fish-killing virus has been detected again in a lake near the mid-Michigan community of Harrison.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday announced that viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, has been confirmed in Budd Lake.

The 175-acre lake in Clare County experienced a die-off of largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegills, and pumpkinseed sunfish in April and May. Test results indicate that largemouth and smallmouth bass were positive for VHS. Other results were pending.

A similar die-off involving bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass and muskellunge occurred in the spring of 2007, and VHS was identified in the lake after those deaths. The state says VHS was undetected through 2010 in testing that took place each year.

Budd Lake is one two Michigan inland lakes where VHS has been confirmed.

The virus is troubling, especially when it attacks 60 pound sport fish like the muskellunge. The Environment Report captured what the virus means to sport fisherman in a piece by David Sommerstein.

Sommerstein reports that fish exposed to the virus can develop immunity, but biologists worry that new generations of fish won't carry that immunity with them, so they're vulnerable when the virus comes around.

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News Roundup
8:47 am
Wed June 8, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Heat and sun cook up pollution today, close schools

Temperatures across the southern part of the state are expected to be in the mid to upper 90s today.

In addition to heat related stress, the hot weather can also lead to more pollution.

The weather has led the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to post "ozone action days" for several cities in the southern part of the state including Ann Arbor, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Ludington.

Smokestack and tailpipe emissions and vapors from gas and chemicals can be turned into ozone pollution on days like today. People are urged to drive less, refrain from using gas-powered lawn equipment, and refuel cars and equipment at a later time.

Ozone pollution can cause chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion, and it can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

The Detroit News reports that several schools in Detroit will be closed because of a lack of air conditioning in those buildings.

Grayling Wildfires contained

Wildfires burned near Grayling yesterday. Now state officials say the blaze has been contained. From the Associated Press:

A state spokeswoman says fire crews have fully contained a blaze that burned 750 to 800 acres of northern Michigan woodlands, destroyed or damaged a number of buildings and forced the evacuation of 100 homes.

Mary Dettloff is a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. She tells The Associated Press Wednesday morning that the fire was 100 percent contained by midnight Tuesday and people who had been evacuated were permitted to return home.

Riders go to Lansing to support repeal of helmet law

Michigan is one of twenty states with a motorcycle helmet law.

Advocates of repealing the law have been successful in the past at getting the legislature to pass repeals of the helmet law, but they ran into vetoes from former Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Now they're hoping Governor Snyder will be on their side.

Motorcycle riders are expected to hold a rally in Lansing today supporting a helmet law repeal.

MPRN's Rick Pluta spoke with a helmet law repeal advocate who said Michigan is losing out on a lot of tourism opportunities as riders avoid Michigan: 

"Every state surrounding Michigan allows adult choice and people do not come from those states to Michigan simply because we have a mandatory helmet law," said Jim Rhoades.

Supporters of the helmet law say it cuts down on medical costs that are often passed onto others. The Detroit Free Press reports :

Many medical and insurance organizations are lobbying to keep the current law, which they say reduces serious injuries and deaths in motorcycle accidents. Medical costs for riders injured without helmets are four times costlier than for those injured while wearing helmets, says the National Transportation Safety Board.

Governor Snyder has not taken a side on this issue, but the Free Press reports Snyder "has said he would support the change if other motorists didn't pay more as a result."

Environment
3:06 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Pollution levels high, Ozone Action Days declared in Michigan

SEMCOG says the Ozone Action Day is the earliest one called since 1999.
deqmiair.org

The sun and heat cooks up the pollution in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says an "Ozone Action Day" has been declared in four Michigan cities today:

  • Benton Harbor
  • Kalamazoo
  • Grand Rapids
  • Ludington

And tomorrow, six cities will be have Ozone Action Days, as the heat is expected to stay with us.

  • Ann Arbor
  • Benton Harbor
  • Detroit
  • Kalamazoo
  • Grand Rapids
  • Ludington

Ground-level ozone pollution is formed on hot, sunny days when emissions from cars and trucks, industrial smokestacks, and vapors from gas and other chemicals are cooked into "bad" ozone.

The EPA says the pollution can have serious health and environmental impacts:

Breathing ozone, a primary component of smog, can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Ground-level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.

Ground-level ozone also damages vegetation and ecosystems. In the United States alone, ozone is responsible for an estimated $500 million in reduced crop production each year.

We're supposed to take action on an Ozone Action Day. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments offers these tips on what to do when an Action Day is declared in your area:

  • Avoid refueling your vehicle. If you must refuel, fill up as late in the day as possible, preferably in the evening when the weather is cooler. Fumes released at the gas pump contribute to ozone formation.
  • Delay mowing your lawn. Emissions from your lawn mower help form ozone.
  • If you plan to barbeque, avoid using lighter fluid. Emissions from the fluid contribute to ozone formation.
  • Take the bus, carpool, bike or walk. You'll reduce traffic congestion and air pollution as well as save money.
Environment
11:44 am
Wed May 25, 2011

Government unveils new fuel economy labels for cars and trucks

The new EPA label will have more information about fuel economy, and will rate cars and trucks on smog and greenhouse gas emissions. The labels will be on model year 2013 vehicles.
epa.gov

It's probably the second sticker you look at (the first being the price sticker).

The new fuel economy and environment labels will take effect with model year 2013 cars and trucks. The EPA is calling the new labels "the most dramatic overhaul to fuel economy labels since the program began more than 30 years ago."

The new labels show more information about fuel economy, such as predicted annual fuel costs (based on $3.70 per gallon), and how much in fuel you would save compared to an average car (an "average" car's mpg is set at 22 mpg). The labels also give a greenhouse gas rating, and a smog rating.

And it wouldn't be an updated label without a way to load it into your smarty-pants phone. Here's a video from the EPA on how that works:

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Politics
4:55 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

House votes to lift age restriction on hunting

The state House has approved a measure that would eliminate the age restriction on children who hunt with an adult.

Currently, the state does not allow children under the age of 10 to hunt.

Republican state Representative Peter Petallia sponsored the bill. The measure would allow a child of any age to hunt, fish, or trap with an adult 21 years or older who has a license and has taken a hunter safety course.

"We spend too much time today behind TVs and computer screens and not enough time monitoring what youth are doing," said Petallia. "This gives us some an opportunity to get them out, spend some time with them and introduce them to our sport."

A handful of lawmakers voted against the bill. Some said children under 10 should not handle firearms. A few said hunting seasons with youth spook deer and other game before the regular season begins.

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Environment
5:02 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

Hazardous waste deep injection wells might reopen

The injection wells in Romulus are considered "Class I" wells by the EPA. The wells can "inject hazardous and non-hazardous wastes into deep, isolated rock formations that are thousands of feet below the lowermost underground sources of drinking water."
epa.gov

It's been five years since the deep injection wells in Romulus, Michigan stopped pumping hazardous waste close to a mile underground.

Now those wells might reopen. From the Detroit News:

The two wells located off Citrin Drive have drawn opposition in the Romulus area long before original owner Environmental Disposal Systems (EDS) began accepting waste there in 2005. Operations were halted when the company ran into financial problems and state inspectors discovered leaks in the above ground apparatus. There was no lasting environmental damage, but the findings fueled opposition from local residents...

This week, EPA officials appear ready to grant tentative approval for Environmental Geo-Technologies' underground injection control permit, which would bring the reopening of the site one step closer to reality.

The deep injection wells in Romulus have been a controversial subject for decades.

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Energy
2:57 pm
Mon May 16, 2011

Canadian company delays Great Lakes nuke shipment

Turbines in the Bruce A power station on the eastern shore of Lake Huron in Ontario.
user pencefn creative commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A Canadian power company is no longer seeking U.S. permission to ship 16 scrapped generators with radioactive contents across three of the Great Lakes, but says it
hasn't abandoned the plan.

Bruce Power Inc. withdrew an application this month for a transport license from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Canada's Nuclear Safety Commission had granted the company permission in February to ship the generators, but U.S. approval was also needed because the vessels would cross into U.S. territory.

The Kincardine, Ontario-based company seeks to send the generators to Sweden for recycling. Environmentalists and other critics say transporting the school bus-sized devices on the Great
Lakes would be risky.

The company says it's delaying the shipment to allow further talks with opponents, including native tribes.

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Environment
8:39 am
Fri May 13, 2011

St. Clair Co. officials expand look into cancers

MARINE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Public health officials in St. Clair County are expanding their investigation into whether environmental or other factors could be responsible for a rare form of kidney cancer diagnosed in children in the Marine City area.

The investigation started this year looking into five cases of Wilms' tumor since 2007 in southeastern St. Clair County. The Times Herald of Port Huron reported Thursday that eight cases now are included, including two in the Port Huron area and one in Richmond.

Officials say another case in the St. Clair Shores area isn't being considered because it's too far away.

Marine City, which is located about 40 miles northeast of Detroit, has industrial plants and is about 10 miles from petrochemical plants in Sarnia, Ontario. But health officials say there's no established link.

Environment
1:51 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Detroiters talk land use and the environment

Greening of Detroit

Detroiters who want a say in how the city manages its land gathered for an environmental summit last week.

Activists and community leaders organized the summit so citizens could provide input on environmental aspects of the Detroit Works Project, an ongoing project to deal with the city’s huge swaths of vacant land.

Jackie Victor lives and owns a small business in Detroit.

She says city planners need to look at Detroit’s land and natural resources as assets rather than liabilities.

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Politics
5:57 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Senate approves measure to rein in environmental rules

The Republican controlled state Senate has approved a measure to rein in the authority of state regulators to enact environmental protection rules.

The bill says Michigan’s environmental protection rules cannot be stricter than federal rules unless a law is passed to allow it.

Republican state Sen. John Proos says environmental policy should reflect the fact that Michigan competes with other states for jobs.

"We can’t operate in a vacuum in Michigan," said Pross. "If it’s more difficult to do business in Michigan than it is in Indiana, businesses and industries who hire Michigan families could just as soon choose the less-expensive option or the more-efficient option. Every day, other states benchmark against us. We should do the same to make sure we put ourselves in the best position to compete."

Republicans and some Democrats have long complained that Michigan’s environmental rules and the people who enforce them are too zealous.

Democrats, like State Senator Rebekah Warren, say the measure would make it harder for experts to address environmental crises that may be unique to the Great Lakes region.

"Federal standards to protect water quality, in particular, are designed to be the floor below which states are not allowed to drop," said Warren. "They are not written by people that feel the special stewardship like we do here in Michigan over one of the world’s most-important freshwater resources."

Opponents of the bill say it would make it more difficult to respond to an environmental crisis and it would make the process of protecting air and water more political.

One Democrat crossed over to join the Republican majority to approve the measure. The bill now goes to the state House.

Environment
11:11 am
Thu April 28, 2011

A predator for the crop-damaging invasive stink bug?

The native ranges of Brown marmorated stink bugs are found in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. But they hitched a ride to the U.S. and are enjoying some tasty crops here.
PSU Dept. of Entomology

The invasive skunk of the insect world has been found in four counties in Michigan.

Here are the counties where the Brown marmorated stink bug has been found:

  • Berrien
  • Eaton
  • Genesee
  • Ingham

If the bug feels threatened, or if you squish it, this stink bug... stinks.

But the damage it can do to crops is what has officials in Michigan worried.

The PSU Department of Entomology says the Brown marmorated stink bug damages fruit and vegetable crops by sucking plant fluids through its beak.

A piece in lansingnoise.com estimated the damage it could do:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture late last year looked at the potential damage to crops. Topping the list was the country's $2.2 billion apple industry. Michigan's share is $115 million worth, or 590 million pounds of apples harvested each year.

"I have these growers telling me that they fear this might be the worst pest in a generation for orchards," said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, which represents the state's apple industry.

The bug has proven it can resist pesticides, so what's to be done?

Sabri Ben-Achour filed a report for NPR on how some researchers are looking into using foreign wasps to fight the bug:

Can wasps squash the stink bug plague?

Trissolcus wasps are from China, Japan and Korea. The same place where the invasive stink bug came from. The wasps are natural enemies of the Brown marmorated stink bug, so researchers want to know if they can release them in the U.S. without harming other native stink bugs that are beneficial.

The researchers say it will take them three years to find out. In the meantime, some farmers will continue to try to fight the bug with pesticides - Ben-Achour reports some farmers are asking the EPA to relax pesticide regulations.

Environment
2:06 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court upends major environmental ruling

The case involved a potential discharge into the AuSable River. The Michigan Supreme Court has limited the ability to sue the state over environmental permits.
wikimedia commons

It's a case that has turned into a political football for the conservative and liberal incarnations of the Michigan Supreme Court.

In an order released today, the Michigan Supreme Court's conservative majority reversed a major decision that allowed Michigan citizens to sue the state over pollution concerns.

From the Associated Press:

The case involved the discharge of partially contaminated water to a popular trout stream. In December, the court's liberal majority used the case to give more rights to people to challenge
state regulators over certain environmental permits.

At issue is whether people have the right to sue the state over pollution concerns when the state issues things like pollution discharge permits.

The case that was argued involved the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Merit Energy, and the Anglers of the AuSable.

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News Roundup
9:19 am
Wed April 20, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Lawsuits challenging emergency manager law start

Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System have filed a lawsuit challenging the new emergency financial manager law.

From the Associated Press:

The City of Detroit's two pension boards have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state's new emergency financial manager law, calling it unconstitutional.

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press report the lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit and names Gov. Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon. The lawsuit claims that emergency financial managers could remove pension board members for no reason.

Snyder's office says the governor believes in the constitutionality of the law, otherwise he wouldn't have signed it.

Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manager, Joe Harris, was the first EFM to use broad new powers granted to him by the state.

Cleaning the lead out of Detroit homes

The federal government and private foundations will help fund a project to help get rid of environmental hazards in Detroit homes. From the Detroit Free Press:

The federal government will kick in $1 million to help make 100 homes in a targeted area of Detroit lead-free and safe from other hazards -- such as mold and radon -- and to train workers in environmental remediation techniques.

Deputy Secretary Ron Sims of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will present the funds to Mayor Dave Bing today.

The Freep reports that a study showed "60% of children in public schools in the city who scored below grade level on standardized state tests had lead poisoning."

Foundations, nonprofit partners, and state agencies are also expected to invest in the project.

Snyder to announce new leader for the Michigan Department of Corrections

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to make the announcement this morning. From the Detroit News:

Snyder selected Jackson County Sheriff Dan Heyns to run the department, which takes the largest share of general fund dollars in the state's budget, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Snyder will make the announcement publically later this morning at a news conference in the governor's press auditorium, across from the Capitol in Lansing.

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