environment

What's Working
7:05 am
Mon April 18, 2011

Children focus in on nature

Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior
user Rhonda Noren Flickr

With the spread and advancement of home technology such as televisions, computers, cell phones, and video games, American children are spending less and less time outdoors. A baseball glove has been traded in for a remote control, and parents have gone from fretting over grass-stained jeans to fretting over their child’s apparent reclusiveness. Most kids today are more comfortable walking a parent through setting up Facebook account than they are walking through a forest. But the Udall Foundation, based in Arizona, is trying to reacquaint kids with the joys of exploring the natural world with their Parks in Focus program.

Parks in Focus is all about bridging the gap between technology and nature. Children, mostly middle school aged, are put in touch with Parks in Focus through the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters. After providing each child with a digital camera to document their explorations, Parks in Focus program leaders take the children on camping and hiking trips in some of America’s most scenic parks. While trips originally went only to the Grand Canyon, Parks in Focus has expanded to several other states, including Michigan.

Bret Muter is the Michigan Program Coordinator for Parks in Focus. He says digital cameras act as security blankets for the kids, allowing them to have a familiar piece of technology in an unfamiliar world of mountains, streams, and creepy crawlies.

“If kids aren’t comfortable with nature, they’re typically comfortable with technology such as a camera, even if they don’t own one. So cameras serve as that safety net for exploring the environment, which may otherwise be unfamiliar or even scary to some kids.”

On top of just making the children more comfortable with the initial shock of being out in the middle of the woods, Muter says the cameras allow the kids to interact with their surroundings more than they normally would.

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Science/Medicine
4:57 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

No cancer cluster in White Lake

A cancer cluster has not been confirmed in White Lake
White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce

Residents of White Lake gathered this morning to dispute their inclusion on a list of cancer clusters in Michigan. The list was compiled by the National Disease Cluster Coalition.  

Claire Schlaff  started the White Lake Cancer Mapping Project after her son passed away from a rare cancer. She says the National Disease Cluster Coalition misinterpreted information from the White Lake Cancer Mapping project:

“The materials they put out kind of made it look like all of these were confirmed clusters, including ours, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Although we’re looking into it, nothing has been confirmed.”

Schlaff said the White Lake Mapping Project data will not be ready for analysis for at least a year. She says the project was meant to find a link between cancer and the environment:

“I’m not looking for a yes or no answer about whether there’s a cancer cluster here. What I am trying to do and what our group is trying to do is to learn more about the connection between the environment and cancers.”

White Lake was put on a list of toxic hotspots in the mid-1980s because of pollution from the Occidental Chemical Company.

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Environment
3:33 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

Michigan ecologists want new strategies to manage zebra mussels in Great Lakes

Zebra mussels continue to cause problems forecosystems in the Great Lakes
United States Geological Survey

Ecologists from the University of Michigan say invasive zebra and quagga mussels are causing dramatic changes to the ecosystems in northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Their report says action must come soon to stop the spread of the mussels in the Great Lakes.

Donald Scavia  is the Director of the University of Michigan Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute. He's one of the authors of a new report that says the changes are happening quickly and require more attention than they are getting now:

“Our management strategies need to be able to be reviewed and modified every couple of years rather than every couple of decades.”

Scavia said the zebra mussels make it difficult to predict the conditions of the Great Lakes from year to year.

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Environment
7:41 am
Wed April 6, 2011

Levin will continue to co-chair Senate Great Lakes task force

Senator Carl Levin (D - MI) will lead the Great Lakes Task Force along with Republican Senator Senator Mark Kirk
Jeffrey Simms Photography Flickr

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, will co-chair the U.S. Senate’s Great Lakes Task Force for the next two years, the Associated Press reports.

Levin has been on the task force since 1999. Kirk is taking over the position for fellow Republican Senator George Voinovich who retired earlier this year. The AP explains:

The bipartisan group deals with Great Lakes issues that involve the federal government. It has supported an interstate compact to protect water supplies and funding for programs such as invasive species control and cleanup of contaminated sediments.

Kirk said Tuesday he hoped the panel also would develop legislation to crack down on dumping raw sewage into the lakes.

In a statement released on Senator Levin's website yesterday, Levin said:

“I am pleased that Senator Kirk will serve as co-chair of the task force, and I’m excited about our prospects to protect and enhance our Great Lakes. The task force has led the way to passage for legislation to clean up contaminated sediments, fight invasive species and prevent the diversion of precious fresh water from the Great Lakes basin. I look forward to working with Senator Kirk and I am confident that he will help add to that important legacy.”

Kalamazoo River Oil Spill
7:06 am
Wed April 6, 2011

Oil spill cost Enbridge Energy $550 million in 2010

The Kalamazoo River in Southwest Michigan
Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency

Enbridge Energy says last July's oil spill of at least 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan cost the company $550 million in 2010, according to the Associated Press. The figure comes from an Enbridge report. The $550 million does not include insurance recoveries, fines and penalties. From the AP:

Public officials say they don't know when the Kalamazoo River will reopen for public use as the cleanup continues. Oil flow through the 286-mile-long pipeline resumed in September.

The Enbridge pipeline runs from Indiana to Ontario.

The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that, in addition to the oil spill in Marshall, the company spent $45 million on a spill in Romeoville, Illionis in September:

The report shows that Enbridge lost $16 million in revenue from the transfer of oil while the pipelines were shut down. Both spill cleanups and pipeline repairs contributed to an overall operating loss of $24.7 million, according to the report. Enbridge had a net loss of $137.9 million at the end of the year, compared with net incomes between $250 and $400 million in previous years. This was the first time the company reported a loss in at least five years.

Environment
10:50 am
Fri April 1, 2011

$26.5 million goes to central Michigan city polluted by chemical company

St. Louis, Michigan (in central Michigan) was awarded $26.5 million for a new water supply system after a chemical company contaminated their groundwater.
Google Maps

Land and groundwater in the city of St. Louis, Michigan has been contaminated with chemicals from the Velsicol Chemical Company.

Now the city will get $26.5 million to help set up a new water supply  system.

According to the EPA, Velsicol (formerly known as the Michigan Chemical Corporation) "produced various chemical compounds and products at its fifty-four acre main plant site in St. Louis, Michigan, such as hexabromobenzene (HBB), 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl) ethane (DDT), polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (tris)."

The EPA says the company produced these chemicals from 1936 until 1978.

From the Associated Press:

ST. LOUIS, Mich. — A federal judge has approved a $26.5 million settlement for a central Michigan community whose water supply was contaminated by a chemical company in the 1950s and 1960s.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Ludington in Bay City signed an order approving the deal on Thursday.

The city of St. Louis, Mich., hopes the settlement with Rosemont, Ill.-based Velsicol Chemical Co. will help pay to replace the water system that serves the area, which is contaminated with a byproduct of the pesticide DDT.

The settlement of the 2007 lawsuit was approved this week by the City Council.

The city says money for the settlement includes $20.5 million from an insurance company for Velsicol and $6 million from a trust related to a former parent company.

The EPA lists the threats and contaminants in the community:

On-site groundwater is contaminated with DDT, chlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene (TCE), and other chlorinated compounds. On site soil samples revealed contamination with PBBs, copper, chromium, zinc, and magnesium. The sediments of the Pine River were also contaminated with similar contaminants through direct discharges from the site; however, surface waters do not show any significant impacts. Potential risks exist for people who eat contaminated fish and wildlife in the vicinity of the site.

Environment
4:55 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Michigan Senator Stabenow seeks to delay EPA action on greenhouse gases

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (center) is seeking to delay EPA action on greenhouse gas emissions.
stabenow.senate.gov senate.gov

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow is seeking to keep the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions for two years.

According to Grist.org, the Senator's amendment has four elements:

  • A two-year suspension of stationary source greenhouse gas regulations
  • Preventing any future California waiver for tailpipe greenhouse emissions
  • Excluding regulation of biofuel greenhouse emissions related to land-use changes, or of any greenhouse emissions from other agricultural activities
  • Allocating $5 billion to the Advanced Energy Project tax credit

Stabenow says her amendment is aimed at protecting small businesses. A written statement from Stabenow was quoted in the Kalamazoo Gazette:

"My amendment is a common-sense approach that allows protections from carbon pollution, determined by scientists and public health experts, to continue being developed while providing businesses the support and incentives they need as they reduce pollution, generate new clean energy technologies and create jobs."

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What's Working
12:05 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Wind energy takes off in Michigan

user eXtension Ag Energy / flickr

Rick Wilson, the project manager for Heritage Sustainable Energy, is our guest this week as our “What’s Working” series continues. Based in Traverse City, Heritage Sustainable Energy is a wind power company that has been managing the installation of wind turbines in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan. Heritage is in the process of installing and expanding wind farms in the state, and is already producing roughly 40 megawatts of power.

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Economy
11:05 am
Mon March 21, 2011

Invasive insect still biting local budgets

The invasive Emerald Ash Borer was first found in the U.S. in June of 2002. Since its arrival, the bug has wiped out millions of ash trees in Michigan alone.
USDA Forest Service

The emerald ash borer is native to eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea. It turned up in Michigan in June of 2002, most likely from wood used in packing materials in international cargo ships.

Since its arrival, the bug has led to the death of tens of millions of ash trees.

Removing these trees can be expensive and while some cities have seen the financial bite come and go, others are still feeling it.

Eric Dresden writes in the Saginaw News that the city is unsure how it will pay for the removal of hundreds of dead ash trees. From the Saginaw News:

Of the 6,000 ash trees lining the city’s streets, Simeon Martin expects thousands could be dead by the end of this year.

The cause: an emerald ash borer infestation brewing for at least nine years.

“When spring comes out, that will be the tell-tale time,” said Martin, chief foreman of the city’s streets division.

Last year, the city found 400 dead trees, and this year could be a lot worse, he said. Those trees were removed, and the city is continuing to take down infested ashes, Martin said. This year, he said, the infestation is expected to grow faster than crews can take down the trees.

Dresden reports the city has no money set aside for the removal of dead and dying trees, and when the trees are removed, no new trees are being planted because the city doesn't have the budget to maintain them.

Commentary
2:05 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Carping Criticism

Remember the Asian carp, which migrated up the Mississippi, into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and which experts feared were about to get into Lake Michigan?

That’s where things stood when I first talked about this issue here more than fifteen months ago. Since then, traces of carp DNA has been found in Lake Michigan, though there is no evidence that a permanent breeding population has been established there.

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Environment
11:33 am
Fri March 11, 2011

Lake St. Clair fish kills blamed on cold weather

Big fish kills in Lake St. Clair and along the St. Clair river this winter puzzled some residents and scientists in the area. The Detroit News reported that, "the cause of the massive fish die-offs, which began in mid-December, remains a mystery to state investigators...Dead gizzard shad is a common sight this time of year — but not in the tens to hundreds of thousands being reported this winter."

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Politics
4:20 pm
Tue March 8, 2011

Snyder signs first bills, boosts voluntary standards for farmers

A Michigan hog farmer injects liquid manure into his field.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law measures that will enhance a voluntary environmental program for farmers.

From the Associated Press:

The two bills signed by Snyder on Tuesday afternoon in Lansing were his first as governor. The bills that the Legislature approved earlier this month are putting aspects of the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program into state law.

Snyder says the bills are important for the state's agriculture industry.

The program aims to help farmers evaluate their operations to better identify and prevent possible environmental problems. About 1,000 farms have become verified through the program. Thousands
more are in earlier stages of the verification process.

Critics of the bills say they're too much carrot and not enough stick.

They worry large farms could increase pollution without strict state oversight.

Anne Woiwode of the Michigan Sierra Club, a group that has long battled against pollution from large-scale livestock operations, says the new measures protect polluters.

This from the Michigan Messenger:

Opponents say the legislation violates the Clean Water Act and jeopardizes the state’s water quality program.“With just barely 2 months in this new legislature and Governor, it appears the course toward weakening Michiganders’ well-being is off to a jump start here,” Michigan Sierra Club Director Anne Woiwode said via e-mail.

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, reported that Governor Snyder said it was important to him to put the voluntary program into law:

"Because our Ag community is a critical part of our state," said Snyder. "It’s one of our largest industries. It’s one of our greatest opportunities, and it was one of the areas that supported us over this last decade of really tough times."

Asian Carp
6:39 am
Tue March 8, 2011

'Asian carp Czar' to hold meeting in Michigan

Asian Carp jump out of the Wabash River
LouisvilleUSACE Flickr

John Goss, the Obama Administration's so-called "Asian carp Czar" will be in Ypsilanti, Michigan today. Goss, along with federal officials from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, will discuss long-term strategy for keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The Associated Press reports:

The Army Corps is conducting a study of how to stop migrations of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. One option is separating the man-made linkage between the two watersheds in the Chicago area.

The study is scheduled for completion 2015. Legislation introduced in Congress last week calls for a quicker timetable.

Environment
10:42 am
Sun March 6, 2011

Legal battle between Saugatuck Twp and private developer in front of federal judge Monday

Joe Gratz Flickr

Monday a federal judge in Kalamazoo will hear arguments in a case that pits Saugatuck Township against a billionaire looking to develop his property that includes coastal dunes along Lake Michigan.

Aubrey McClendon owns more than 300 acres north of where the Kalamazoo River empties into Lake Michigan. He wants to build a marina, condos, houses, and a golf course there.

Township officials have to approve special zoning for him to develop his property. McClendon’s attorney Jim Bruinsma says the officials are biased against his client.

“We contend that we have been unfairly singled out for unique zoning restrictions and really unfair procedures.”

Bruinsma alleges the township worked illegally with an environmental group to restrict development and fund the township’s legal defense.

Saugatuck Township officials deny they’ve done anything illegal. They’re attorney Craig Noland is asking the judge to dismiss the case, forcing McClendon to go through normal zoning procedures. 

“Our position is that they should be required like any other citizen to file an application and allow the township to consider the application and make a decision.”

Noland says Saugatuck Township’s attorney township officials are prepared to handle McClendon’s zoning request fairly and transparently.

Asian Carp
2:50 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Michigan lawmakers to introduce Asian carp legislation

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Congressman Dave Camp plan to introduce Asian carp legislation
Kate.Gardner Flickr

Update 2:50 p.m.:

Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region say it’s taking too long to come up with an action plan to stop the spread of Asian Carp. They are now calling for work on that plan to speed up. 

Asian Carp have spent the past few decades slowly spreading throughout the Mississippi River watershed.   The invasive carp have destroyed indigenous fish populations from Missouri to Illinois.   One was caught last year just a few miles downstream from Lake Michigan. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes.   Not fast enough for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years…we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”  

Recently, Illinois politicians have fought efforts to close canals linking Lake Michigan to carp infested waters near Chicago.   But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports expediting a carp action plan, making its passage more probable.   Though Durbin’s involvement also hints closing canals will not be part of the plan.  

 Stabenow  says she doesn’t know how much it will cost to ‘separate’ the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed.    But she says Asian Carp could cost the economy of the Great Lakes billions of dollars if they are not stopped.   

11:01 a.m.:

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp plan to introduce legislation to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through Chicago-area waterways, the Associated Press reports. Stabenow and Camp will hold a news conference today to discuss their plans. The AP reports:

Stabenow and Camp previously sponsored bills that would have forced closure of shipping locks near Chicago that could provide access to Lake Michigan for the invasive carp. Those measures failed.

The House recently rejected Camp's effort to attach a lock closure amendment to a federal spending bill.

Michigan and four other states are suing in federal court to close the locks. Chicago business interests say doing so would damage their local economy and probably wouldn't do much to stop the carp anyway.

Environment
12:12 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Enviros want to replace Ohio nuclear plant with wind, solar energy

The edge of the cooling tower at the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ohio.
Kim Phillips Flickr

A coalition of environmental groups wants to stop a nuclear power plant in Ohio from renewing its license.

The operating license for the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio runs out in 2017. By that point, the plant will be 40 years old. First Energy, the company that owns the plant, wants to renew the license for another twenty years.

That’s the last thing Michael Keegan wants. He’s with the environmental group, Don’t Waste Michigan. Keegan and others went before a panel to challenge the license renewal:

"We have solar, wind and in combination we have replacement power available now which can be put in place prior to 2017."

Reporter Tom Henry with the Toledo Blade was at the proceeding and filed a story. Here's an excerpt:

The first half of the proceeding was focused on projections for wind power, solar power, and a combination of the two as possible offsets for nuclear power. The afternoon was devoted to a FirstEnergy document known as a Severe Accident Mitigation Analysis, one in which utilities are obligated to show how they would respond to dangerous nuclear scenarios.

Arguments in favor of renewables appear to rely on the viability of harnessing wind, solar, and other sources for later use through a technology known as compressed air energy storage, judges said. [Adam] Polonsky [of Washington-based Morgan Lewis Counselors at Law, which has represented FirstEnergy on nuclear issues for years]  conceded it has potential and should be explored.

"But that doesn't mean it is a reasonable alternative to a 908-megawatt reactor," he said, referring to Davis-Besse's generating capacity.

The panel now has to decide whether the environmental groups can move forward with their petition to intervene.

To date the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to deny a license renewal, though several applications are still pending.

In Michigan, the license for the Fermi II Nuclear Plant is good through 2025.

What's Working
12:51 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

Helping communities save money and the environment

the yes man / flickr

We continue our What’s Working series today with guest Sarna Salzman. She’s the Executive Director of SEEDS, or Seeking Ecology Education and Design Solutions.

SEEDS is a non-profit based in Traverse City that acts as an energy consultant for local businesses and municipalities. In addition, SEEDS hosts the northwestern Michigan branch of Youth Corps, which gets kids involved in projects such as cleaning up parks, organizing gardens, and spreading awareness about environmental issues. Last but not least, SEEDS works with local school districts to develop after-school programs aimed at ecological awareness.

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Environment
2:23 pm
Fri February 25, 2011

Wayne State, Univ of Windsor create joint environmental law clinic

Detroit skyline seen from Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River.
Bernt Rostad creative commons

About a dozen law students from Detroit and Windsor will have a chance to work together on environmental legal issues.

The law schools at Wayne State University and the University of Windsor will team up this fall to create North America's first  transnational environmental law clinic.

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Environment
2:07 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

EPA establishes new standards for boilers and incinerators

Joe Gratz Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency has established new clean air standards for incinerators and boilers. From the EPA's press release:

"In response to federal court orders requiring the issuance of final standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing final Clean Air Act standards for boilers and certain incinerators that achieve significant public health protections through reductions in toxic air emissions, including mercury and soot, but cut the cost of implementation by about 50 percent from an earlier proposal issued last year."

"Mercury, soot, lead and other harmful pollutants released by boilers and incinerators can lead to developmental disabilities in children, as well as cancer, heart disease, aggravated asthma and premature death in Americans. These standards will avoid between 2,600-6,600 premature deaths, prevent 4,100 heart attacks and avert 42,000 asthma attacks per year in 2014."

An Associated Press article has some background on criticisms that may have prompted the move.

"Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have harshly criticized the EPA recently over the costs of a whole host of regulations, including the first-ever rules to control the gases blamed for global warming. At least a half-dozen bills have been introduced this year to block or curtail agency regulations, and House Republicans succeeded last week in attaching numerous anti-EPA measures to a bill aimed at funding the government for the rest of this fiscal year."

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Environment
5:30 pm
Wed February 16, 2011

Report warns corrosive tar sands oil boosts risks of pipeline spills

A map of oil pipelines carrying tar sands in the U.S. and Canada
From the report "Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks"

Update 5:30 p.m.

The NRDC responded to the ECRB statement saying they "stand by the information provided in the report - which is well documented and reviewed." From the NRDC statement:

The lack of transparency from the oil industry is part of the issue here. A clear accounting of the public health and safety issues associated with these products and the infrastructure associated with them is simply not available. The example of Enbridge’s CEO denying tar sands were involved with the Kalamazoo River disaster until pushed by reporters with undeniable evidence is one example of this lack of transparency.

Update 2:55 p.m.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board of Alberta, Canada, "an agency that regulates the province's energy resources," has issued a response to the report.

They write that the report "contains misleading statements on pipeline safety in Alberta and on the characteristics of diluted bitumen." From ERCB statement:

The report also states that “there are many indications that DilBit is significantly more corrosive to pipeline systems than conventional crude.”  Analysis of pipeline failure statistics in Alberta has not identified any significant differences in failure frequency between pipelines handling conventional crude versus pipelines carrying crude bitumen, crude oil or synthetic crude oil.

1:27 p.m.

This past summer, an oil pipeline in Michigan spilled more than 843,000 gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The spill is still being cleaned up by Enbridge Energy Partners, the company responsible for the spill.

Now, a new report says the type of oil running through the pipeline could lead to more spills.

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