environment

Environment
3:02 pm
Mon December 12, 2011

Kennecott mine opponents to appeal judge's go-ahead ruling

Drilling began at the Eagle Mine this past September. This aerial photo was taken in September of 2011.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

Four groups are planning to appeal a recent court ruling that cleared the way for Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. to go ahead with mining operations in the U.P., the Associated Press reports:

The opposition coalition was filing paperwork Monday asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to overturn a decision last month by Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield. She ruled that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality acted properly by issuing Kennecott a permit for the project in northwestern Marquette County.

Last month, Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams explored some of the possible environmental effects the mine could create and spoke with  opponents and representatives of the mining company:

Michelle Halley is an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. It’s one of the groups that challenged (the initial) permit. She says they’re concerned about the type of mining that will happen in the Eagle Mine. It’s sometimes called sulfide mining.

“The rock at Eagle is extremely acid producing, very high in sulfides and so once that rock is exposed to air and water, there’s really no debate it will begin producing acid.”

That acid is sulfuric acid. According to the Environmental Protection Agency... that acid can cause heavy metals to leach from rocks. The resulting fluid can be highly toxic to people and wildlife.

This is called acid mine drainage. On its website, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company says there is a risk that it can happen. But the company says it’s taking a number of steps to reduce that risk.

Matt Johnson is with Kennecott. He says the company will use a state of the art water treatment plant to purify the mine water using reverse osmosis.

“The entire mine site is designed to control water with water protection in mind. Which is why it’s the company’s commitment not to discharge any water back into the environment until it meets safe drinking quality water (sic) standards.”

And he says the state is also requiring them to do that.

Michigan Radio's Mark Brush followed up with an examination of what the state might gain financially from the project.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment
3:56 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Signs of a bigger deer harvest in 2011

Deer populations appear to be increasing slowly in the UP and the northern lower peninsula, according to Michigan DNR officials.
USDA.gov

Officials from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources say the harvest from the 2011 firearm deer season "appears to have increased slightly compared to the 2010 season."

From a Michigan DNR press release:

Experiences can differ widely even within regions, but DNR biologists estimate the harvest compared to 2010 was unchanged to up perhaps 10 percent across the Upper Peninsula, likely increased in the Northern Lower Peninsula by as much as 10 percent, and the southern Lower Peninsula appeared down 5 to 10 percent.

The statement said deer populations in the Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula are not as abundant as they were in the 1990's, but they seem to be increasing.

Environment
10:24 am
Thu December 8, 2011

Legislative mistake and a court decision put low-income heating fund in jeopardy

Michigan lawmakers are debating this week how to help low-income families pay their heating bills. It’s turned into an urgent problem because of federal budget cuts... and a court decision that has tied up millions of dollars. Here’s how it works: there’s a program called the Low-Income Energy Efficiency Fund. If you get your power from DTE or Consumers Energy, you pay into that fund when you pay your energy bills... somewhere between one and two dollars a month. There’s been about $90 million dollars in that fund annually.

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Environment
9:50 am
Thu December 8, 2011

New DNR advisory council weighted toward timber interests

There’s a shakeup in managing Michigan’s forests.

A new advisory council is heavily weighted with voices from the timber industry, and there will be more emphasis on developing forest products to boost the state’s economy.

Governor Rick Snyder says there’s a lot of potential to use natural resources to bring in more revenue.

The head of the Department of Natural Resources has just appointed a new ten member forest advisory council. Eight of the ten members are connected to the timber industry.

The new council will focus on developing logging and lumber, pulp and paper, and biofuels. An existing forest management advisory group includes other interests such as wildlife, recreation and conservation as well as logging.

Marvin Roberson with the Sierra Club says those other voices largely will be gone from the new council.

“I think this is going to mean a lack of management for natural conservation values and an increase in management for timber-only values,” said Roberson.

The DNR also is reorganizing its forestry division so that come January it will no longer deal with oil, gas and minerals or recreation on state forestland.

-Bob Allen for The Environment Report

Environment
10:43 am
Tue December 6, 2011

Black bears moving south

A hungry black bear left its paw print in a frame of Terry Klein's beehive.
Photo by Terry Klein

Black bears have been doing well in northern Michigan for a while. There are somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 bears in the state, mostly in the U.P. and the northern lower peninsula, but in recent years, bears have been on the move.

Some people are already getting a little closer to bears than they’d like to.

“There’s one coming up to inspect...”

Terry Klein is a commercial beekeeper and he’s checking on the hives in his backyard.

“These are in good shape if they’re that far down and there’s that much honey on them,” said Klein.

He lives in St. Charles. It’s about 20 miles southwest of Saginaw.

“This spring is the most recent fun we had with the bear, if you want to call it that.”

Klein had 20 hives set up near the Saginaw-Midland county line. Only two of them survived the winter. And those last two hives were the ones the bear decided to eat. He left behind a calling card.

“There was one very definite paw print in one of the frames that had fallen or got knocked out of the hive, and there were several other frames that you could see claw marks.”

Bears do love honey, but they also love to eat the bee larvae. So they can devour the entire hive.

Black bears are not just wandering into the Saginaw area. They’ve been showing up all over southern Michigan.

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Environment
12:04 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

What's the use? State cuts back on salmon stocking in Lake Huron

Juvenile Chinook salmon. Populations of the popular sport fish have collapse in Lake Huron.
USFWS

The sport fishery has been on the rocks in Lake Huron for quite some time.

We first reported on the collapse in Lake Huron back in 2006.

That's when Jim Johnson with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Alpena Fisheries Research Station explained to Lester Graham what was going on:

"There was a huge decline in the amount of nutrients available to zooplankton and phytoplankton in the middle of Lake Huron. These are the basic nutrient bits that fish eat. And it appears now to most of us in the scientific community that a large portion of the nutrients that used enter Lake Huron are now being trapped by zebra and quagga mussels and not finding their way to alewives and other prey fish."

Now we hear news that the state plans to cut salmon stocking in Lake Huron.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan plans a sharp cutback in Chinook stocking in Lake Huron next year, further evidence of the collapse of the lake's salmon fishery.

The state Department of Natural Resources said Friday it will place 693,000 spring Chinook fingerlings in Lake Huron in 2012. That's down from the nearly 1.5 million fed to the lake this year.

Acting DNR fisheries chief Jim Dexter says recreational harvest of Chinook has all but disappeared in the southern two-thirds of Lake Huron. The lake's only productive recreational fishery is in the northern section, where salmon are proving able to reproduce on their own.

Fish biologists blame Huron's Chinook drop-off on the unraveling of the food chain likely caused by invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which have gobbled up plankton needed by forage fish.

Environment
11:21 am
Thu December 1, 2011

Less money for cities to fix water systems?

Water at the Senior Citizens' Housing Center in Louisville, NY before it is filtered.
Julie Grant/The Environment Report

by Julie Grant for The Environment Report

When Ernie Runions took the job as maintenance manager at the Senior Citizens Housing Center in Louisville, New York, he didn’t realize how much time he’d be spending in this small room. The water room. It’s filled with water tanks and filters. Runions says the equipment cost about $25,000 and the price tag keeps rising.

“It’s in terrible shape. It keeps falling apart. Every time we fix it, it’s $5,000, $3,000. This place is right in the hole because of that.”

We fill a bucket with the nursing home’s water – before it’s gone through the extensive filtering.

It smells bad, like eggs and iron. It’s got a blackish tint, and it’s got black particles floating in it.

Runions says even after the filtering, the elderly residents don’t want to drink it. It’s high in sodium, which can be bad for their health. And it smells like chlorine, which Runions uses to kill bacteria.

“And they complain. They say the chlorine is making me itch, all the extra chlorine. I’ve got red blotches all over my body, and my doctor says it’s the chlorine from the building.”

Town leaders say that until a few years ago, everyone used well water. And most people had some kind of problem with it. Nearly half the wells tested had coliform bacteria contamination – some suspected sewage was seeping into the wells.

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Environment
1:41 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

Mining in the UP, what does the state get in return?

Drilling began at the Eagle Mine this past September. This aerial photo was taken in September of 2011. The mine is 25 miles northwest of Marquette, Michigan.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

Drilling continues in Michigan's Upper Peninsula for potentially valuable ore deposits after a judge turned down a request from environmental groups to stop the mine's development.

Kennecott Eagle Minerals is drilling 25 miles northwest of Marquette primarily for nickel and copper, but palladium, gold, and silver could also turn up in the deposit.

Kennecott, a subsidiary of the London-based Rio Tinto Group, began drilling in September.

The ore deposit the company is after is about a mile away from the mine's opening (and about 1,000 to 1,500 feet underground). They're not expected to reach the deposit until sometime in 2013.

Around 50 percent of the deposit is under state-owned land, so it belongs to the collective "we" - the citizens of Michigan.

So what are we getting in return?

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Environment
10:17 am
Tue November 29, 2011

Upper Peninsula nickel-copper mine moves ahead

The Eagle Mine (aerial photo from October 2010).
Photo courtesy of Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co.

For ten years, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company has been pushing to mine nickel and copper near Marquette. The company started underground blasting of the mine in September.

The Department of Environmental Quality issued permits for the mine in 2007. But several of those permits have been challenged in court.

A circuit court judge in Ingham County recently upheld the mining permit.

Michelle Halley is an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. It’s one of the groups that challenged that permit. She says they’re concerned about the type of mining that will happen in the Eagle Mine. It’s sometimes called sulfide mining.

“The rock at Eagle is extremely acid producing, very high in sulfides and so once that rock is exposed to air and water, there’s really no debate it will begin producing acid.”

That acid is sulfuric acid. According to the Environmental Protection Agency... that acid can cause heavy metals to leach from rocks. The resulting fluid can be highly toxic to people and wildlife.

This is called acid mine drainage. On its website, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company says there is a risk that it can happen. But the company says it’s taking a number of steps to reduce that risk.

Read more
What's Working
9:59 am
Mon November 28, 2011

Michigan's State Park System

The Michigan State Park System won the gold medal award this year for the top state park system in the nation. People use the parks for swimming and boating during the summer, and hunting and downhill skiing during the winter, among a host of other activities.  We wanted to find out more about how the parks system affects our lives.  So, as part of our series, "What's Working," we called Ron Olson, the Chief of Parks and Recreation.

Environment
3:18 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

1 in 4 in Michigan buy optional state park pass, $6 million extra raised

The little "P" on your license plate sticker means you paid the extra $10 to get into Michigan's parks. The new system raised extra money for the parks this year.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The new system to help fund Michigan state parks was a success in its first year.

Before the "Recreation Passport" system was put in place, park visitors had to buy annual or daily window stickers.

Now, people can get access to the parks by paying an extra $10 when registering their motor vehicle at the Michigan Secretary of State (window stickers and daily passes are still an option if you didn't pay extra at the Secretary of State).

The $10 annual fee is a lot less than the $24 people used to pay for an annual window sticker, but because more people participated, more money was raised.

From the MDNR:

In 2011, the program's first year, the DNR set a goal of 24.3 percent participation by Michigan motorists. Final tallies for the first year show that the goal was met and exceeded, with 24.7 percent of Michigan motorists checking "Yes" to support the Recreation Passport when renewing their motor vehicle registration. In total, the revenue generated by the sale of the Recreation Passport was $18,816,500.

Those who paid extra for access to Michigan's state parks have a tiny "P" printed on their license plate renewal sticker (the rectangular sticker on the upper-right part of the Michigan license plate).

Michigan DNR spokesperson Mary Dettloff says park rangers have gotten really good at spotting that tiny "P" from a distance.

For 2011, that little "P" signifies $6 million in extra revenue for the park system.

When lawmakers set up the new program, they anticipated the extra revenue. The $6 million will be be broken up according to a formula in the law:

  • State Parks - Capital Outlay (50 percent): $3,043,250
  • State Parks - Maintenance (30 percent): $1,825,950
  • Local Park Grants (10 percent): $608,650
  • State Forest Recreation (7 percent): $426,055
  • Cultural/Historical Facilities in State Parks (2.75 percent): $167,379
  • Marketing (0.25 percent): $15,216


The MDNR recently announced the recipients for local park grants. The local grants range from a minimum of $7,500 to a maximum of $30,000. MDNR officials say if revenues increase with the new "Recreation Passport" program, the maximum grant amount will increase as well.

24.7 percent participated in the program this year. Next year's goal is 30 percent.

Culture of Class
10:17 am
Thu November 17, 2011

Detroit residents consider Marathon buyout offers (part 2)

Linda Chernowas says she has health problems related to living in her polluted industrial neighborhood. But she says Marathon's offer isn't enough for her to get a comparable house elsewhere.
Sarah Hulett/Michigan Radio

Michigan’s only oil refinery is in the middle of a $2 billion dollar expansion project. Marathon Petroleum is expanding its refinery in southwest Detroit to process more heavy crude oil from Canada.

That expansion project is moving the footprint of Marathon’s refinery closer to people’s homes, especially the Oakwood Heights neighborhood in Southwest Detroit. A couple weeks ago, the company made a big announcement. Marathon is offering to buy about 350 homes in Oakwood Heights. The company is offering a minimum of $40,000 dollars plus half of what the home appraises for. There’s also money to help people relocate.

“We think it’s a very generous program. We think the neighborhood is going to be very happy with it.”

Tracy Case is with Marathon. He says the company is planning to demolish the homes it buys and create about a hundred acres of green space next to its refinery.

“You know, I think if you asked anybody in industry, or if you asked anybody that lives next to industry, they’d say yeah, that’s a good thing to have, to have the green space.”

He says the program is voluntary and no one will be forced to move.

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Environment
4:40 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

EPA revises estimate for oil collected in Enbridge pipeline break

Enbridge's broken pipeline. When this part of oil pipeline 6b burst near Talmadge Creek in July 2010, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of gallons of diluted bitumen oil spilled into the creek and into the Kalamazoo River.
NTSB

There’s a new estimate of the amount of oil that’s been sucked out of the  Kalamazoo River.  And it’s higher than the amount of oil Enbridge Energy claims leaked from its pipeline 16 months ago.  

Enbridge Energy claims a little more than 843 thousand gallons of crude oil leaked from its pipeline near Marshall in July, 2010. But the Environmental Protection Agency says it has recovered more than 1.1 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River during the 16 month cleanup. The EPA says it’s still investigating how much oil leaked from Enbridge’s pipeline.  

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Culture of Class
12:18 am
Tue November 15, 2011

Living next to heavy industry, pt. 1

The playground at the Salina Elementary school in Dearborn with the Severstal steel plant in the background.
Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

A little more than 50 years ago, Delores Leonard and her husband moved into their red brick ranch in Detroit.

“I selected it because the sun comes up over there in the morning and I was thinking about my flowers.”

They’ve raised their two kids here and now they have four grandchildren and five great-grandkids and they all live nearby.

But she says on any given day... she doesn’t know what she’ll smell when she steps outside.

“Sometimes it’s a kerosene odor. Sometimes it’s a horrible stench, like at a slaughterhouse. Sometimes, you’re out in public and people will say, ‘where do you live?’ And they’ll say,’ oh yes, I know that area, that stench, I don’t see how those people live there.’”

“There” is zip code 48217. It’s a corner of Southwest Detroit packed with heavy industry.

There’s the state’s only oil refinery, owned by Marathon Petroleum. The salt mine. The city’s wastewater treatment plant. DTE’s coal-burning power plant. Severstal Steel. And many more.

Delores Leonard grew up just a few streets over, in River Rouge. She remembers asking her dad why people were covering their cars with tarps.

“And he said it was because of the fallout, the pollution. Well, if they’re covering their cars so the paint pigmentation won’t peel, then what happens to the person who lives and who’s breathing all this stuff?”

Like Delores Leonard, a lot of people have lived here their whole lives.

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Environment
9:00 am
Thu November 10, 2011

States ban lead wheel weights

A collection of lead wheel weights that have fallen off cars and trucks.
Photo by Jeff Gearhart

By Julie Grant for The Environment Report

The U.S. has worked to get lead out of gas and out of paint, but the biggest source of lead in a consumer product is still on roadways. It’s in the form of wheel weights, used to balance the tires on our cars. The Environmental Protection Agency says about 1.6 million pounds of lead fall off of vehicles each year, and it winds up in the environment. A handful of states is leading the effort to ban lead wheel weights.

If you notice a wobble or vibration when you’re driving, it could mean you’ve lost a wheel weight. Jeff Gearhart is a researcher with the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor. He says wheel weights are about the size of your pinky finger, and there are usually one or two of them for each tire.

“If you look at the rubber part of the wheel, then there’s a metal part, and if you look carefully, then you’ll see a clip-on weight.”

Gearhart isn’t a traditional car guy. He cares about wheel weights because in most states, they’re made with lead. Gearhart says it’s easy to bump a curb, and lose a wheel weight. The EPA says 13% of them fall off. On the roads, the weights get crushed into dust. He says the lead winds up in the soil, in drinking water and ground water.

“Lead’s a neurotoxin, leads to learning disabilities, lower IQ. We don’t know of any safe level of lead exposure in the environment.”

Read more
News Roundup
11:01 am
Mon November 7, 2011

In this morning's news...

Republican candidates to debate in Michigan this Wednesday

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reports the nationally televised Republican presidential debate will be held at Oakland University this Wednesday. The debate will begin at 8 p.m. and coverage on CNBC will start at 7 p.m. The economy is expected to be a major focus of the debate.

The University has a series of events planned around the debate.

UM nurses approves 3-year contract

Nurses working at the University of Michigan Health System have been working without a contract since July 1. Now they've agreed to a three year deal with UMHS.

From the Detroit News:

The University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council's membership this past weekend approved a new contract that includes a phasing in of health insurance premium increases and includes 3 percent wage increases the first and second years and 4 percent the third year of the contract, plus step increases, said Katie Oppenheim , president of the nurse council.

New Visitor Center for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Representative John Dingell's dream of an international wildlife refuge along the Detroit River flyway became a reality in 2001. And the Refuge continues to receive investments.

The Associated Press reports the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is getting almost $1.4 million for work next year at the site of a future visitor's center. Officials plan to announce the funding in Trenton today. They are also marking the completion of $1.2 million in cleanup and restoration at the Refuge Gateway.

Environment
11:11 am
Fri November 4, 2011

Landslide leads to coal ash spill in Lake Michigan

Earlier this week, there was a landslide at a coal-burning power plant in Wisconsin. We Energies operates the plant. On their property, there’s a ravine next to a bluff on the shore of Lake Michigan. That ravine is filled with coal ash.

Coal ash is what’s left over when coal is burned to create electricity and it can contain toxic substances like arsenic, mercury and lead.

When the bluff collapsed on Monday, mud, soil, and coal ash spilled into Lake Michigan.

Barry McNulty is with We Energies.

“The vast majority of the debris including the soils and even coal ash, remain on land today. But a portion of that debris certainly spilled into Lake Michigan, which includes three vehicles, we believe, some coal ash, different soil from the bluff,” McNulty said.

McNulty said they don’t know how much coal ash got into the lake, but he said they are installing booms and using skimmers to clean up the spill.

The cause of the spill is under investigation.

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Offbeat
11:10 am
Wed November 2, 2011

Squirrel blamed in Grand Rapids for power outage

A red squirrel in Michigan.
Steve Burt Flickr

Colder weather means squirrels are looking for indoor homes and places to cache their food. Some are more aggressive in establishing their indoor domiciles than others.

From the Associated Press:

Officials at Consumers Energy are blaming a squirrel for knocking out electrical service to about 10,000 customers yesterday in the Grand Rapids area. The critter managed to get into a piece of equipment at a substation, briefly knocking out power.

Transportation
11:26 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Does it make sense to invest more in Michigan's rail system?

The miles of railroad track in Michigan today matches the miles of track we had back in 1880.
Draft Michigan Rail Plan MDOT

This was an interesting graph I came across in MDOT's draft report, Michigan State Rail Plan.

The miles of railroad we have in the state today, match what we had back in 1880.

The state went from a peak of 9,059 miles in 1909, to 3,900 miles today - a decline of almost 60%.

It makes sense.

The internal combustion engine began competing with rail at the turn of the last century. Trucks and cars began moving more freight and people.

Read more
Environment
4:35 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

States seek action on Asian carp from U.S. Supreme Court

Some states want the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Asian carp fight.
US Supreme Court

Five Great Lakes states are waiting to find out if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case calling for more decisive measures to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania filed the request this week.

The states want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to quickly wrap up its study of how to keep Asian carp from escaping the Mississippi River system through Chicago-area shipping canals. The corps is one of the main agencies responsible for the locks.

John Sellek is the spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

“What we really want is to have the Army Corps of Engineers speed up their study,” said Sellek.

“They are taking up to five years or longer to look at this and every minute that goes by could be another fish that’s getting through those canals in Chicago, so what we’re requesting is they speed that up to 18 months at the longest.”

The Great Lakes states also want the high court to order the corps to string nets across smaller waterways that could be escape points for the carp.

At the same time, Michigan and 17 states along the Great Lakes or the Mississippi want a total physical separation of the water systems.

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