the environment report

There’s a new project out of Michigan Technological University in Houghton that involves phone apps.

The idea is to use apps to share information with professional researchers.

So far the team of professors and students have made four web apps.

  1. They help people measure beach safety,
  2. air pollution,
  3. community ethnography,
  4. and mushroom locations.

Alex Mayer is a Professor of Environmental & Geological Engineering at Michigan Technological University and he’s the project’s director.

courtesy: USEPA

It used to be environmentalists did not want to talk about adapting to climate change. They were concerned adapting to the changes meant dodging the big job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

That thinking is changing.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Public Service Commission has submitted a report on renewable energy to Governor Snyder. That report indicates renewable energy is getting cheaper and more varied, ranging from wind and solar to biomass and ground source heat pumps.

But the surprising point in the report was this statement:

“...it is theoretically technically feasible for Michigan to meet increased Renewable Portfolio Standards of as much as 30% from resources located in the state.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The EPA says greenhouse gases are pollution. The Supreme Court has agreed. But Michigan sued the EPA saying you can’t regulate that pollution from smokestack industries because it would hurt the economy.

The Supreme Court has already ruled the EPA has the authority to regulate the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. The agency found CO2 emissions from fossil fuels endanger the public health and the environment. That was regarding a case involving cars and trucks. But whether that pollution comes from a tailpipe or a smokestack, it’s the same pollution.

NCI

Environmental Health Sciences professor Andrew Maynard teaches one of the University of Michigan's only classes focused on blogging.

Here you can listen in on an exchange he has with his students:

Maynard says learning how to communicating online is a skill crucial to his students' professional success.

“I would say very strongly scientists should blog, and they should blog because it forces them to become very familiar with the state of the science in specific areas,” says Maynard.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For some people it’s not geese flying south… or robins… but another much bigger bird that signals winter is on its way.

This past weekend a couple dozen or so people gathered in a remote area near Jackson to watch cranes, the Greater Sandhill Crane to be specific.

“Yeah! I thought it would be beautiful to see several hundred of them coming in at the same time. I think they’re gorgeous,” said Beth King from Durand.

flickr Kate Gardiner

There’s a lot of time, money and effort being spent to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

To keep them out, we first have to know where the carp are.

Biologists often go out and sample water from rivers and lakes to look for carp. They test the water for genetic material, and some of those tests have turned up positive for Asian carp.

Last year, 20 samples turned up positive hits in Lake Erie. The positive DNA hits raise alarm bells that an invasive carp species might be establishing a population in the Great Lakes.

But the presence of carp DNA does not mean an actual fish was swimming in that area.

Allen Chartier / Great Lakes Hummernet

With the chill in the air now, you might guess that most hummingbirds would have ditched Michigan for a more tropical place.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the bird you’re most likely to see in Michigan, and it has flown south, for the most part.

But Allen Chartier still wants you to keep an eye out on your backyard feeders.

He studies hummingbirds and he’s the project director for Great Lakes Hummernet.

“The chances that what you’re looking at is a Ruby-throat is about 50/50, because there are western species that start showing up.”

He says you might get a chance to see a Rufous hummingbird.

“I kind of think of these little birds as each one has certain superpowers, and the Ruby-throat’s superpower is that it’s the smallest bird that can fly across the Gulf of Mexico nonstop. Now the Rufous hummingbird’s superpower is that it’s very cold tolerant. So there are many of these birds that have stayed around in Michigan and Ohio until January and then they move on.”

He says the males are a reddish-brown color with a glowing orange throat and a white breast. But the females look a lot like Ruby-throats.

So if you see one, take a picture of it and e-mail to Chartier. He says he’ll identify the bird and use your sighting in his research.

Here’s his e-mail address: amazilia3 at gmail.com

Algal blooms causing concern in northern lakes

Oct 8, 2013
Flickr

For years Lake Erie has been the poster child in the Great Lakes for the problem of toxic algae.

More recently, though, the problem has been showing up farther north around Lake Michigan.

Figuring out the causes of the algal blooms can be tough since watersheds are complex systems but some environmentalists are pointing the finger at corn. It’s a valuable cash crop today and could be a growing part of the farm landscape in the Great Lakes in the years ahead.

Algal bloom hits Mason County

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) are reappearing in the western basin (and sometimes the central basin) of Lake Erie.

The blooms happen when excess nutrients – mostly phosphorus – run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

Some of these kinds of cyanobacteria produce toxins that are among the most powerful natural poisons on Earth.

Over the past decade, these cyanobacteria blooms have been common in Lake Erie. And scientists predict climate change could make the problem worse.

Making Michigan wine with cheaper solar energy

Sep 3, 2013
Interlochen Public Radio

Crain Hill Vineyards in Leelanau County is touted as the first in Michigan to run 100% on solar power, and a start-up energy business sees an opportunity for homes and farms because of the steep price drops to install solar in the last year.

Robert Brengman owns Crain Hill Vineyards with his two brothers. He says it’s been a goal from the beginning to tread lightly in this place.

“We’re looking at having a zero carbon footprint on this vineyard, in this winery. I mean that to me is exciting,” Bregnman said. “I think it’s a little part. And we’re trying to do our part of keeping this beautiful area the way it is.”

They won’t be buying electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. There are three new solar arrays mounted on steel poles on a south facing slope that are within sight of the winery’s tasting room.

Tom Gallery designed the system for Crain Hill and says the arrays are built to gather as much sunlight as possible.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A new oil pipeline is going underground in Michigan.

Enbridge Energy says this new pipeline will be bigger (36 inches vs. 30 inches) - it will pump more oil to the Marathon refinery in Detroit - and they say the pipeline will be safer. (The map in the slideshow above shows where the new line is going in.)

CDC

On today's Environment Report, we talked about ticks.

Michigan State University entomologist Howard Russell told me that tick season is booming in Michigan this year.

And the boom is happening in areas where ticks were relatively rare a few years ago.

cford3 / Wikipedia

Burning coal in a power plant creates byproducts called fly ash and bottom ash.  That ash contains a lot of bad stuff - mercury, lead, arsenic, to name a few.

While some plants ship the dry ash to landfills that accept hazardous materials, others mix the ash with water to make a slurry, which is moved into holding ponds.

Eventually, the water in those ponds is released into the nearest waterway.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

For the first time in nearly a half century, people will be encouraged to fish along a portion of the Red Cedar River as it winds its way through the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing.

At a ceremony Monday near the campus’s western edge, MSU dignitaries, including Sparty, took turns dumping buckets of Steelhead trout into the meandering Red Cedar River.

Organizers want anglers to start casting their lines into the Red Ceder in hopes of reeling in the sportfish.

That’s a big change.

Mark Savage / Entergy Corporation

This week Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner William Magwood came to South Haven to tour the Palisades nuclear power plant in nearby Covert Township.

Magwood did not respond to requests to comment on how his tour went or why he chose to come.

He’s the second commissioner to visit the plant in less than a year. NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng says that many high-level visits in such a short time is “not necessarily” uncommon.

“You can draw your own conclusions about that because I cannot do that for you,”Mitlyng said.

Kevin Kamps is with the anti-nuclear watchdog group Beyond Nuclear. Unlike the media, he and several others got a chance to sit down with Commissioner Magwood.

“There were some hints around the edges that it’s because of the problem plagued nature of Palisades and he even used the word disappointment for continued problems out there,” Kamps said.

2012 was a crazy year for the Palisades. Get a feel for it in our timeline on Palisades here.

Michigan chefs experiment with Asian carp

Mar 26, 2013
Sarah Payette

One of the strategies to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes is to eat the fish now living in the Mississippi River. But finding a market for millions of pounds of carp is not easy. Peter Payette wondered if people could get excited about Asian carp as a seafood delicacy. So he put some in the hands of chefs in Traverse City:

Asian Carp doesn’t taste like much. In fact, you might describe its taste as neutral.

NWF

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but folks in Washington aren’t exactly getting along these days.

They couldn’t agree on how to cut the deficit, and now we’re facing automatic, across-the-board spending cuts from the federal government.

The cuts are scheduled to start March 1.

$85 billion will have to be stripped out of the federal budget this year alone.

The White House sent a press release detailing how these cuts might affect environmental programs in Michigan.

Here's what they wrote:

Michigan would lose about $5.9 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Michigan could lose another $1.5 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

We heard a lot about about how the sequester might affect things like airports, school funding, and Medicare, but we wanted to know more about the numbers above.

How might environmental programs in the region be affected?

In 2007, Logan's Gas and Deli lost 8,000 gallons of gas underground. The owners walked away, and the state is still cleaning up the mess.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

There are around 4,800 gas stations in Michigan, but at one time, there were a lot more. It seemed like just about every corner had a gas station on it.

Many of those gas stations are closed now, but taxpayers are often on the hook for what’s been left behind.

I visited one of these polluted sites recently with representatives from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The heavy traffic along State Route 89 near Battle Creek makes it a perfect place for a gas station.

And for a long time, things were going well for Logan’s Gas and Deli.

emmetcounty.org

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

For decades, communities in Michigan have been preserving land with help from the Natural Resources Trust Fund.  The Mackinac Headlands, Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area and William Milliken State Park in Detroit were all purchased with the help of these grants.  But now some state senators want to change the way the system works.  Some of the groups that use the trust fund say the changes are radical. 

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.

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.

user Kyle1278 / Wikimedia Commons

It's been two years since a busted pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.

Michigan Radio's  Zoe Clark sat down with reporter Steve Carmody who has covered the spill since July 2010 and spoke about the efforts to clean up with river and how its faring two years on.

Green Energy Futures / Flickr

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition wants to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025.

That would mean that a quarter of all the energy used in Michigan would come from renewable sources like the wind and sun.

The coalition is trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November. They'll need to collect a minimum of 322,609 valid signatures by July 9th, 2012. Organizers say their goal is to turn in 500,000 signatures.

And, interestingly enough, the proposal is getting support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Steve Linder is President of Sterling Corporation, a Republican consulting firm. He says his organization is behind the proposal for business reasons. “While we don’t like government mandates, this allows us to use manufacturing capacity in Michigan rather than bringing in $1.6 billion worth of coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. So, this is really a business to business ballot initiative and we are very comfortable in making the business and economic case that this keeps dollars in our state and it keeps us at the cutting age of new types of manufacturing technology,” Linder says.

Mark Fisk, a Democrat, is co-partner of Byrum & Fisk, a political consulting firm. He says he’s working on behalf of the initiative because of the jobs it’ll bring to the state and the environmental benefits of renewable energy. “This initiative will create thousands of new Michigan jobs and help boost Michigan’s economy by building a clean energy industry right here in our state. And, it gives Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It’ll protect our Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease, and ultimately save lives,” Fisk says.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the Asian Carp.

The invasive species is making its way up the Mississippi River and there’s concern that if the fish are able to get into the Great Lakes that they could drastically change the waters’ eco-system.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Stop the Asian Carp Act last year. The legislation required the Army Corps of Engineers to create a plan to permanently separate the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.

Stopping the Carp

I spoke with Senator Stabenow this week and asked her where things stand with the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan. “The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to give us specific recommendations on how to separate the waters… The problem is they say they won’t have this done until 2015. And, so, what we’re trying to do is push them to get this done much quicker,” Stabenow explains.

The Mississippi River: Not the only entry point for the Carp

A lot of attention has been paid to the Mississippi River as the main entry point where the Carp could get into the Great Lakes. But, Stabenow explains, “We also, now, are looking more broadly than just the Illinois River and the Mississippi River going into Lake Michigan. We’ve found that there have been some fish seen going across Indiana – in the Wabash River. At certain times, during the year, it connects to the Maumee River in Ohio and then actually goes into Lake Erie. And, so, this is a real challenge for us. There is, I believe, nineteen different tributaries and ways to get into the Great Lakes – that’s my biggest worry.”

Chicago shipping interests

Recently, we’ve been hearing more about the idea of permanently separating the waterways rather than a temporary solution. “I believe that we ought to be closing the [Chicago] locks until we get to a permanent solution. But, there is a lot of pushback from Illinois and Chicago,” Stabenow says. Those who work in commercial shipping in Chicago are against the idea of closing the locks. They say it would hurt their multi-million dollar business interests. “Personally, I’d say the other side’s interests are – not that we don’t respect them – but they’re small in terms of economic impact compared to what could happen having the fish go into the Great Lakes.

As the year winds down, we’re spending some time this week on The Environment Report taking a look at the state of our environment. On Thursday, we’ll hear from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters on just how well they think Governor Snyder has been protecting Michigan’s natural resources. But, first, today, we speak with the man whose job it is to keep your environment healthy. That would be Dan Wyant, Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Cutting the DEQ’s Budget

I first asked Wyant about his department’s budget. It’s been cut and cut over the past decade; just this year alone it saw a 15 percent cut. The cuts do have an impact, says Wyant, but, “it’s forced [the department] to prioritize… think about what we want to accomplish. So, we’re focused around air quality and water quality and public health… and I think we can say, with some confidence, that we are seeing more environmental stewardship, not less.”

Economic Development

Governor Snyder has said one of the goals for the DEQ is for the department to be a part of Michigan’s economic development. Both Snyder and Wyant believe the DEQ has a role in the state’s recovery. “We know that it’s our role to ensure good environmental stewardship – that’s why we were created and that’s our job,” notes Wyant. But, he also says he thinks there are certain things the department can do to help businesses grow in the state. “We want to be recognizing permit timing so that businesses can get timely decisions and… we’re looking at old and antiquated, duplicates of regulation... and we want to address culture. We want to be a department of problem solvers. It doesn’t mean that we don’t wear the black hats and that we don’t have to tell people they can’t do things… but we really want to be a full partner with those that do business,” Wyant says.

Working with Lawmakers

Director Wyant was appointed by Republican Governor Snyder but he, also, works closely with the state legislature.  The GOP majorities in both the state House and Senate sometimes disagree with both Wyant and Snyder about certain environmental issues.  One such issue is wetlands protection. Wyant says he and the Governor will continue to push the legislature to keep the wetlands program. “The Snyder Administration and myself have been advocating very strongly to keep the program… We think the resource is really important for water quality, it’s very important for habitat and natural resources." And, he notes, he thinks he and the governor now have a majority of lawmakers believing that the program should be saved.

Looking to 2012

Wyant says the goal for 2012 will be focusing on one of the Governor’s favorite phrases, “Relentless Positive Action.” “We do that”, Wyant says, by, “encouraging more environmental stewardship – not less. We want to see Michigan’s economy recover – we think that’s good for the environment. And, lastly, the governor is very focused on customer service – our customers are the citizens of Michigan.”

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