environment

Environment
9:01 am
Thu July 26, 2012

Measuring wind energy off the Lake Michigan shore

Buoy on July 9, 2012
Leah Zuber Grand Valley State University's Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center

Scientists are analyzing new data that’ll determine whether offshore wind farms are viable in Lake Michigan and the data is more detailed than any available from the Great Lakes so far.

A floating eight-ton research buoy is collecting the data. There are only three such vessels in the world and this is the first one launched in the United States.

The buoy has been anchored about 37 miles off shore for about two months now. Recently crews retrieved the first set of data cards – with information about wind conditions and any bats and birds that fly by. Scientists are now analyzing that data.

Arn Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that’s operating the buoy. "I think we are getting data at this point that will be very useful and will validate the fact that the wind conditions at mid-lake are very promising for potential future use as a commercially viable wind source," Boezaart says.

But right now there is no clear path to proposing an offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes inside the Michigan border.

Environment
9:00 am
Thu July 26, 2012

Just how much land should the state of Michigan own?

Bug Girl Flickr

Of all the land in Michigan, the state owns a little less than 7 and a half percent.  That’s about four and a half million acres. And, some people think that’s too much. Some people think it’s not enough. Regardless, every few years, there’s a new call to take a look at how much land is owned by the state, and how it’s being used.

Governor Snyder signed a law recently that limits how much land the state can acquire while the state Department of Natural Resources conducts a study of what the state has and how it’s used.

“The state itself owns millions of acres of land, let alone cooperating with the private sector and there’s no cohesive strategy on how we manage our resources for both terrestrial things like – land-based things, but also aquatic. So one of the things I’d like to see in the special message is setting the framework of how we’re going to evolve over the next few years to have comprehensive strategy for how we’re going to manage land and aquatic resources in the state of Michigan," the Governor said recently.

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10:58 am
Tue July 24, 2012

Price fixing in Michigan land deals? Lawmakers call for action in investigation

Lead in text: 
A news investigation found two natural gas companies might have colluded when bidding on drilling rights in Michigan. Reuters obtained e-mails exchanged between officials from Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Encana Corp. The paper says the e-mails show "that top executives of the two rivals plotted in 2010 to avoid bidding against each other in a state auction and in at least nine prospective deals with private land owners." State lawmakers are pushing for resolution with an investigation.
Tue Jul 24, 2012 7:03am EDT (Reuters) - Two Michigan state representatives have called on officials there to step up their investigations into possible collusion between Chesapeake Energy Corp and Encana Corp, following a Reuters report that the energy rivals plotted to avoid bidding against each other in Michigan land deals.
State Parks
4:21 pm
Mon July 23, 2012

State parks could see record summer attendance

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153--167532--,00.html

If you're planning a trip to Michigan's state parks this summer, expect some company.

The parks are on track to break attendance records this year, with more than 25 million visits expected.  

It’s mostly thanks to hot weather, lowers gas prices, and cheaper park passes, says Harold Herta of the Department of Natural Resources.  "We've seen a lot of people coming out to the parks this year that said, I haven't been to a state park in years, and I thought I'd try it out. Especially in the metro-Detroit area."

Environment & Science
9:31 am
Fri July 20, 2012

U.S. Coast Guard says diesel fuel contained on sunken barge in Lake Huron (PHOTOS)

The dredge, the Arthur J, sinking on Lake Huron. The boat is owned by MCM Marine.
U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a press release this morning saying all the fuel valves and vents connected to the fuel tank on the sunken barge, the Arthur J, have been plugged.

Crews continue to work on salvaging the 110-foot dredge barge and 38-foot tug that sank yesterday morning one mile off the coast of Lakeport, Michigan.

From their release:

The Arthur J has ten vents to its fuel tank and responders where able to plug four of them early Thursday afternoon, but six remained open until responders were able to plug them late Thursday night.

The impact to the shoreline has been minimal; however there is visible sheening along the shores of Lakeport, but there has been no report of a thick product wash ashore. However, there is still a strong diesel odor in the air, so residents and visitors of the lower Lake Huron area are encouraged to avoid areas where there is an odor in the air. Those who live in the area should remain inside with doors and windows closed as much as possible. 

The Coast Guard says the Michigan State Health Department has closed beaches from the Blue Water Bridge north to Lakeport State Park.

The diesel fuel that did spill remains on the lake. No wildlife impacts have been reported yet. The Coast Guard says "weather and lake conditions are not optimal for product clean up, but the clean-up efforts continue vigilantly."

The sunken dredge barge and tug were owned and operated by MCM Marine.

Early reports indicated the barge and tug began taking on water around 4 a.m. yesterday. The Coast Guard reports the cause of the accident at this time is still unknown.

Environment
12:26 pm
Thu July 19, 2012

Diesel fuel spills into Lake Huron after tug and barge sink

The oil spill site is reported to be two miles off the coast of Lakeport.
Google Maps

Friday, July 20, 9:06 a.m.

The U.S. Coast Guard released a statement this morning declaring that the diesel fuel tanks onboard the sunken dredge, the Arthur J, have been secured and that no more diesel fuel is spilling into Lake Huron:

All the fuel valves and vents on the Arthur J have been plugged. 

The Arthur J has ten vents to its fuel tank and responders where able to plug four of them early Thursday afternoon, but six remained open until responders were able to plug them late Thursday night.

The impact to the shoreline has been minimal; however there is visible sheening along the shores of Lakeport, but there has been no report of a thick product wash ashore. However, there is still a strong diesel odor in the air, so residents and visitors of the lower Lake Huron area are encouraged to avoid areas where there is an odor in the air.

Thursday, July 19, 12:26 p.m.

Mlive.com reports that if storms do not let up, all 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel will get into Lake Huron.

The Michigan Department of Enviromental Quality is monitoring the situation from the periphery, and spokesman Brad Wurfel said ongoing storms may limit the effectiveness of the containment boom.

"We're hoping to recover all we can," he said. "But it's anticipated that if the storms do not let up, it's best to plan on the idea that all 1,500 gallons will get into the lake."

The weather, the weight of the fuel, wind direction and underwater currents make it difficult to predict where the fuel may head. Some local beaches may see a sheen, Wurfel said, but the "environmental impact is not expected to be catastrophic."

"The upside is, it's a big lake. A lot of this will dissipate."

St. Clair County officials have closed all public beaches on Lake Huron as a precautionary measure, according to health education and planning director Jennifer Michalul.

A local hazmat team and fire crew are aiding the Coast Guard, which has established 100-yard safety zone around the periphery of the oil sheen.

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Thu July 5, 2012

Q & A: Filmmaker talks about a night sky without stars

The Milky Way above an AZ observatory.
Wicked Delicate Films, LLC.

When was the last time you were someplace so dark that you could look up at the night sky and actually see the stars? Not just a handful, but hundreds or thousands?

“The Milky Way when it rises here looks like a thunderstorm coming toward you.  And you think, oh my god, it’s going to cloud over and it’s not, it’s the Milky Way rising, it’s the edge of our galaxy coming up.”

That’s a scene from a new documentary. It’s called The City Dark and it airs on PBS stations starting tonight (check your local listings).

The film takes a look at our love affair with artificial light – and why humans and wildlife need the night sky.  Ian Cheney directed and produced The City Dark and we spoke with him for today's Environment Report.  Cheney grew up in rural Maine but has been working in New York City. I asked him why he wanted to make this film.

Ian Cheney: Well, when I moved to New York City, one of the first things I realized was that I was missing the night sky, and that launched me on a journey to explore this broader topic of light pollution and how artificial light affects our world.

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Environment & Science
8:55 am
Thu July 5, 2012

Researchers measure role of urban greenery in carbon dioxide exchange

Emily Peters measures photosynthesis on trees in a suburban neighborhood from an aerial lift truck.
University of California-Santa Barbara

Scientists know a lot about how natural places process carbon dioxide.  But there hasn’t been a lot of research into what happens throughout the year in the green spaces in cities and suburbs.

Emily Peters is an author of a paper out this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research.  She’s been looking at how plants and trees in one suburban neighborhood take in carbon dioxide during the year... and how they offset the carbon dioxide people in the neighborhood emit – by say, driving their cars.

“In the summer we found the uptake of carbon dioxide from the vegetation is enough to offset fossil fuel emissions – just in the summer.”

She says evergreen and leafy trees took in more CO2 during the middle of the summer. Lawns did the best job of taking in CO2 during the spring and fall.  But Peters says those plants did NOT balance out the total amount of carbon dioxide released in the suburban neighborhood by burning fossil fuels over the year. 

If you're wondering: do certain species of trees do a better job than others?

"That is the question everybody wants answered - we can’t go out with this study and tell city foresters they should plant more of this kind of tree vs. this kind of tree."

Lessons from Isle Royale
2:51 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Extinction of wolves could lead to extinction of study on Isle Royale

Rolf Peterson holds up the song sheet for the evening. Candy Peterson loves to get people singing. She says "people shouldn't say, 'I can't sing,' they should say 'I don't sing very often.'"
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

We've been posting radio pieces, videos, and blog posts all week as part of our series Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Researchers like Durwood Allen, and Michigan Tech's John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson have been keeping a close eye on the animals on the island for more than five decades.

Peterson has been doing it the longest. He's been watching and documenting things on Isle Royale for 42 years.

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Mon June 4, 2012

What's so special about Isle Royale?

The Isle Royale Queen IV docked at Rock Harbor on Isle Royale.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

For some, the magic of Isle Royale doesn't necessarily reside in the boat trip to the island.

Two days before Rebecca Williams and I left on our reporting trip, a friend and I were having lunch together.

"You're not riding on the 'Barf Barge' are you?!"

"The boat from Copper Harbor?"

"Yeah, I took that trip. We were on Isle Royale for a week. The first half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip over. And the second half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip back!"

On her trip, as the ship pulled out of Copper Harbor, the captain came on the loudspeaker.

"O.k., folks," the captain started. "We have the forecast for our crossing. And I just want to say... we're all in this together. We can get through this."

The snack bar was not open on that crossing.

But the snack bar was open for our trip.

The seas got a little rough (I saw a few eight footers roll by). And a trip to the restroom wasn't a straight walk to the door. You had to ping-pong yourself from table, to wall, to other passenger (excuse me), to the door.

Emergency cups and plastic grocery bags were deployed by some, but their "green-around-the-gills" condition didn't spread throughout the cabin.

The owners of the Isle Royale Line from Copper Harbor tell me the round-bottomed "Barf Barge" was retired in 2004. Their new boat, the Isle Royale Queen IV, rolls a lot less in heavy seas, and the new boat cut an hour off the trip.

What once took around four hours, now takes around three.

To get a sense of the crossing, I mounted a time lapse camera near the bridge. So here's the 54 mile crossing in less than two minutes.

Cell phones don't work on the island. Senses that can be overwhelmed by a connected, electric lifestyle are freed to look up, and take in the wind, waves, rock, and soil.

What makes the Isle Royale so special? We asked the Isle Royale Line's retired Captain Donald Kilpela that question:

Kilpela first made the trip to Isle Royale in 1945. And he and his family have been running the ferry service in Copper Harbor since 1971. His sons Ben and Don Jr. now run the boat. The family has been crossing Lake Superior to Isle Royale every summer since they started the business.

Two other people who know the island well have spent a good part of their lives here.

Rolf Peterson has been studying the interactions of wolves and moose on Isle Royale for more than 40 years. He and his wife Candy spend around eight months of each year on the island, and they raised their two kids on Isle Royale while living in the tiny Bangsund Cabin.

Isle Royale became a National Park in 1940, and was designated as a wilderness area in 1976. Humans are not in control here. It's an ideal laboratory for Peterson and the other researchers studying wolves and moose here.

Much of what scientists around the globe know about wolves and their behavior comes from Michigan's Isle Royale. The research project here is the longest running continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.

All this week, we'll bring you stories about this research and about the people who make it happen - online and on-air.

You can find all the stories we produce on our series page Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Isle Royale is the least visited National Park, but as Captain Kilpela pointed out, it's the most re-visited one.

Many of you have had your own personal experiences with the island. We invite you to share your experiences about Isle Royale in the comment section below. In six words or less - tell us - what's so special about Isle Royale?

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Environment & Science
10:27 am
Wed May 30, 2012

Invasive species hit your pocketbook

Sea lamprey cost taxpayers millions every year to control.
user drow_male wikimedia commons

The Nature Conservancy has released an analysis saying that invasive species such as zebra mussels and sea lamprey cost businesses and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, besides damaging the environment in the Great Lakes region.

Power companies spend $130 million annually removing mussels from electric plants.

The report out yesterday said tourism and other industries lose $50 million a year in reduced demand because of invasive species.

The study conducted by Anderson Economic Group of East Lansing says the situation will get worse if Asian carp reach the Great Lakes.

Environment & Science
3:47 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Michigan business group opposes new mandate for renewable energy

user vaxomatic flickr

Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce officials said today they opposed a ballot initiative aimed at creating a new renewable electric energy standard for the state, according to MLive. The state is currently working toward a standard that calls for generating 10 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

The ballot initiative seeks to bump up that mandate to 25 percent by 2025. From MLive:

Chamber officials said any changes to Michigan’s renewable energy standard should wait until the current standard has been fully evaluated in three years.

“Michigan is already on an intelligent and affordable clean energy path because of the 2008 energy law, which passed the Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, said Chamber president and CEO Sandy K. Baruah in a statement.

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs campaign is still seeking to collect enough signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot.

Last week, during a segment for the Environment Report, James Clift, Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), said Michigan currently gets around 3.5 percent of its energy from renewable resources.

The MEC supports the ballot initiative. Clift said a new standard would continue the progress made after the 2015 standard is met (adding about 1.5 to 2 percent of renewable energy each year).

"The Michigan Environmental Council commissioned a report last year looking at the nine oldest coal plants in Michigan, said Clift. "That report found that Michigan residents have health care costs and damages of about $1.5 billion a year – just from those nine oldest coal plants. So, transitioning away from coal to clean more renewable energy, we hope will put a significant dent in those health costs that we are currently occurring. "

Utility companies oppose increasing the renewable electric energy standard saying such a standard should not be set by amending the state constitution, which the ballot proposal calls for.

Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark spoke with Brad Williams of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce about the issue:

"We’re looking at this as a protection of the constitution," said Williams. "There are legislators who can serve their full fourteen years in Lansing without having a good grasp of energy policy. And, so, to ask voters to make this decision and embed it into the constitution really isn’t fair to voters."

Farming
12:06 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Financial help could be coming for Michigan's fruit farmers

Blooms on a cherry tree.
William Schmitt Flickr

Fruit growers and processors in Michigan might get some help in the form of low interest loans if an expected package of bills moves through the legislature.

The loans are aimed at providing relief to those who lost most of their fruit crops after an unusual spring warm spell was followed by extended freezing temperatures.

MLive reports Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Keith Creagh said today the bills would create "five-year low interest loans":

The loans, which will be administered by banks and agricultural lenders, will meet an estimated total economic need of some $300 million in the state’s fruit growing and processing industry, Creagh said while attending the Michigan Food Processing and Agribusiness Summit.

Securing the loan guarantees at a low interest rate of 1 percent or 2 percent could cost the state about $15 million, Creagh said. The 5-year loans would be structured so borrowers would only pay interest in the first two years, he said.

Creagh says he'll also seek federal financial support for Michigan fruit growers and processors.

Environment & Science
9:00 am
Thu May 17, 2012

Neighbors feel pressured by Enbridge's new pipeline plans

Beth Duman with one of her four dogs.
Logan Chadde/Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy operates the pipeline that ruptured in Marshall almost two years ago.  The Environmental Protection Agency says more than one million gallons of thick tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River.  The oil spill is still being cleaned up.

Since the spill, Enbridge has been making repairs on that pipeline. It’s known as Line 6B.

Now, the company plans to replace the entire pipeline from Griffith, Indiana to Marysville, Michigan. 

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Economy
2:13 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Officials assessing flood damage near Flint, Michigan

A stranded trucked on southbound I-75 near Flint. He was recued by a boat from the roof of his cab.
WDIV Video YouTube

More than five inches of rain fell in parts of Genesee County near Flint, Michigan on May 3 and 4, leading to major flooding and damage to homes and businesses in the area.

Last Friday, Gov. Snyder declared a "state of emergency" in Genesee County, which made state resources available. The next step is to see if federal emergency resources will be made available.

Roger Fonger of the Flint Journal reports:

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are joining state and local officials this afternoon to assess damage to homes and businesses in the hardest-hit areas of the county.

"They will be out for the next few days -- until it's done," said Nicole Lisabeth, a spokeswoman for Michigan State Police's Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.

"This is for officials to get a really good idea whether the damages might qualify for federal aid and whether we (will) proceed with asking for a presidential (disaster) declaration," Lisabeth said.

Lisabeth said homeowners and businesses that suffered damage might qualify for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Energy
11:16 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Fracking for natural gas, the benefits and the risks

A gas drilling rig in Wyoming.
Wyoming Upper Green River Valley Flickr

This is a speech I recently gave to a Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism meeting in Detroit on the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing.

BENEFITS

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, we are seeing an unprecedented drop in the price of natural gas in comparison to oil prices.

Oil is hovering around $100 a barrel. In 2002, oil was about $20 a barrel.

Natural gas is currently at 2002 prices. In fact, the price of natural gas is half of what it was one year ago.

Why? Because of abundant supplies of natural gas, what the U.S. Energy Information Administration calls “robust inshore production.”

There is a glut of gas.

This increased supply is mostly due to hydraulic fracturing. More importantly, a newer way to use the drilling method, horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Horizontal ‘fracking’ has made it easier and cheaper to extract natural gas from shale deposits in the U.S. and other sites around the globe.

Horizontal fracking has meant a boom in gas drilling and production. It’s meant more jobs in certain areas of the country. It’s meant greater dependence on domestic energy, and less dependence on foreign energy.

Because burning natural gas emits about half of the CO2 emissions of coal or oil, it means less of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

It’s meant families can heat their homes more cheaply.

That all sounds good, right?

Well, it’s not ALL good.

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Politics
3:44 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

"Fracking" debate comes to Lansing

A gas drilling rig in Appalachia.
User Meridithw Wikimedia Commons

Michigan politicians are beginning to wrestle with an issue that's proven to be contentious in other parts of the country.

"Fracking" or hydraulic fracturing is a controversial method of extracting natural gas by pumping water, sand and chemicals into deep underground wells. Both opponents and advocates of the process have started taking action in the state legislature.

The Associated Press writes that "House Democrats on Wednesday plan to discuss a bill that would regulate [fracking]," while "the House's natural gas subcommittee released a report Tuesday encouraging more natural gas production."

An official from Gov. Rick Snyder's administration says the governor is reviewing both the bill and the report.

Some exploratory drilling has already occurred in Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

Take a look at the video below to see an animated view of the fracking process:

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Weather
1:45 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Elevated fire danger in lower Michigan today

USDA

Today's high winds and dry weather are making conditions right for fire.

The National Weather Service's office in Grand Rapids issued a bulletin today warning of "Elevated Fire Danger Today":

Fire danger across all of Lower Michigan will be quite elevated today due to the very dry air in place, and with wind gusts to 40 mph expected to develop today.

If a wildfire was to start today, it would be expected to spread very quickly due to the dry and windy conditions.

So far, the warm dry conditions this year have led to 160 wildfires in Michigan, compared to 36 last year, according to the Michigan DNR.

The Weather Service offers tips to keep wildfires from starting and urge people to call 911 if one is spotted.

Business
11:51 am
Tue April 24, 2012

Marathon Oil offers more money in Detroit neighborhood buyout plan

The Marathon Oil refinery in southwest Detroit is expanding its facility.
Marathon Oil Company

The Marathon Oil refinery in southwest Detroit is in the process of expanding its facility to process heavier crude oil from Canada.

The expansion brings the company's new refining equipment closer to Detroit's Oakwood Heights neighborhood.

Marathon has been offering to buy homes in this neighborhood to create a buffer zone between the refinery and other residential areas.

Some homeowners in Oakwood Heights have signed on with the buyouts, others have stayed put.

The Detroit News' Jim Lynch reports Marathon has upped the amount it's willing to pay:

This month, Marathon officials said 86 percent of the owners have chosen to enroll in the buyout program — meaning they are willing to have their home appraised and see a monetary offer from the company.

Marathon is sweetening the pot, too, as it initially set a minimum appraisal price of $40,000 per home but already has bumped that figure up to $50,000.

The buyout plan is expected to head off lawsuits from those who live in this area. So far, the program has avoided legal entanglements, but it has generated plenty of hard feelings.

Oakwood Heights is an area surrounded by heavy industry. In addition to the refinery, there's the city's sewage treatment plant, a salt mine, a steel factory, and other industries.

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Environment
4:27 pm
Mon April 23, 2012

Michigan CAFO activist Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher

Michigan environmental activist Lynn Henning appears on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher
screenshot HBO

Michigan farmer and environmental activist Lynn Henning appeared on the Earth Day edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher (video below).

Henning is known in Michigan as a thorn in the side of large scale animal farms - also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.

I first met Henning back in 2006 in Hudson, Michigan when I did a story about CAFOs and water pollution.

I drove around with her as we followed trucks laden with liquefied manure and watched as they spread the liquid on nearby farm fields.

It's a practice that can add nutrients back to the land if done right, but with the huge quantities of manure these CAFOs are dealing with year round - doing it right is something they've had trouble with.

And Henning, a "Sierra Club Water Sentinel," has been watching them - reporting them to state officials when they weren't complying with the law.

It's clear from visiting these communities that these large scale farms have caused rifts among neighbors; some like the income they make selling corn and renting land to CAFO operators, but others feel CAFOs threaten their health and the beauty of rural farming life.

Working as an environmental activist in rural Michigan (she formed the group Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan), Henning says she's felt those divisions first-hand - saying she's been harassed and threatened on numerous occasions.

In 2010, Henning was given a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her grassroots activism. From the Goldmand Prize website:

Family farmer and activist Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.

She's also been to the White House to meet President Obama. And now, here she is on Bill Maher. To watch, we have to pull up a chair up to "imnewshound's" television - he has subscription to HBO, after all (and being HBO and Bill Maher, be warned - there is some foul language):

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