the environment report

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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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