Environment & Science

Environment
8:49 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Invasive species success story: Purple Loosestrife

Jacqueline Bilello points out the tiny beetle to volunteers hunting it.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Purple Loosestrife is a widespread invasive plant. It’s taken over wetlands in every state in the US except Florida. But now, scientists consider Purple Loostrife an invasive species success story.

Purple Loosestrife are the tall bright purple flowering plants you see mixed in with cattails lining the edge of many lakes and wetlands.

A long road before success

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Environment
10:57 am
Tue May 1, 2012

Michigan DNR wants to resolve encroachment conflicts on public land

The Department of Natural Resources has started a program to help people resolve issues of encroachment on public land.

MDNR officials say they want to work with people who are trespassing, by having either a permanent-structure or historical-encroachment.

They say they're writing to property owners with known encroachments on public land, telling them they're eligible to resolve their cases without penalty.

Applications will be accepted through December 31.

Environment
9:00 am
Tue May 1, 2012

Report: Pipeline laws inadequate to protect Great Lakes

The pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy that ruptured in July 2010.
NTSB

A new report argues that our current laws are not strong enough to protect the Great Lakes from major oil spills. 

The National Wildlife Federation wanted to look at pipeline oversight after the massive tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.  The spill was the result of a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy.  (The official cause of the spill is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board)

Sara Gosman is an attorney who wrote the report for the National Wildlife Federation.

"Federal laws are inadequate and states have not passed their own laws to fill in the gaps."

We’ve previously reported the spill ran through some of the highest quality wetlands in Michigan.

Sara Gosman says federal laws on oil pipelines do not protect all environmentally sensitive areas.  Instead, the laws cover something called high consequence areas.

"It’s a term of art used by the federal pipeline agency.  It’s a bunch of different areas.  For environmental purposes, it’s commercially navigable waterways, areas with threatened and endangered species and drinking water sources."

Gosman says federal government data show 44% of hazardous liquid pipelines in the country run through places that could affect high consequence areas.  She says that means companies have to do special inspections on those segments of pipelines... but not necessarily on the rest of the pipelines.

"This means 56% of hazardous liquid pipeline miles do not have to be continually assessed, have leak detection systems or be repaired on set timelines."

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Environment
1:32 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Michigan DEQ okays copper and silver mine in the UP

Mineral deposits Orvana hopes to target
Orvana Minerals Corp.

IRONWOOD, Mich. (AP) - Michigan environmental regulators say they've approved plans for a copper and silver mine in the far western Upper Peninsula.

The Department of Environmental Quality said Monday it had determined that Orvana Resources U.S. Corp.'s application for a mining permit meets state mining standards.

The department in March gave tentative approval. The DEQ says it's still reviewing other related permits for the project including air emissions and water discharges.

Orvana is targeting 798 million pounds of copper and 3.5 million ounces of silver in an underground deposit near Ironwood.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about the company's plans to withdraw large volumes of Lake Superior water and discharge treated wastewater into a creek that feeds the lake. Company officials say a buffer zone will provide adequate protection.

Energy
11:54 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Reactor no. 2 back online at Michigan's Cook Nuclear Power Plant

Exterior of the Donald C. Cook nuclear plant, located north of Bridgman, Michigan. Image is looking towards Unit 1.
Tom Remick wikimedia commons

American Electric Power officials say reactor no. 2 at the Cook Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan came back online Saturday after a 38-day refueling and maintenance shutdown.

Cook Nuclear Plant is located north of Bridgman, Michigan.  

From an AEP press release:

Indiana Michigan Power’s Cook Nuclear Plant Unit 2 returned to service today at 4:47 p.m. following a refueling outage that began March 21. In addition to refueling the reactor and performing regular maintenance and testing work, the 38-day, 16-hour outage also included the installation of new main output transformers.

ABC 57 reports reactor no. 1 will be refueled next year.

Environment
4:01 pm
Sat April 28, 2012

Wind turbines to add power to Lansing city hall

Three wind turbines sit in front of Lansing city hall. In the coming weeks, the turbines will be installed on building's roof, as part of a test of their ability to economically generate electricity.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The city of Lansing is turning to a new source for its electric power.

"Thank you all for joining us on this breezy, lovely day in downtown Lansing…perfect for the announcement that we’re here to make," [Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero joked, as high winds spun three small scale wind turbines on the plaza in front of Lansing city hall.    The turbines are part of a one year trial.

John DeGray is with Windstream Technologies, an Indiana company developing  small corkscrew shaped wind turbines for residential and business use.

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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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Environment
9:00 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Lawmakers debate future of "fracking" in Michigan

A gas drilling rig in Appalachia.
User Meridithw / Wikimedia Commons

Hydraulic fracturing is getting some attention this week in Lansing.  You’ve probably heard it called fracking.  It’s a method of drilling for natural gas.

Drillers use fracking to get to the gas that’s trapped in tight shale rock formations below the water table.

Fracking pumps a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and extract the gas.

In Michigan, drillers have used the fracking method for more than 50 years and the state regulates the industry. 

But what’s new... is that drillers want to turn their drills and dig horizontally along the shale rock.  That makes the well site much more productive.  But it also uses a larger amount of chemicals and much more water - anywhere from a few million gallons of water to as much as eight million gallons of water per well.  After it’s used, that water is usually disposed of in deep injection wells.

Right now in Michigan, there are two experimental wells that are using the horizontal fracking method.

This week the Michigan House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Natural Gas put out a report encouraging more natural gas production in the state.

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Environment
5:40 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Former oil spill clean-up employee settles lawsuit, says Enbridge is next

John Bolenbaugh on the banks of the Kalamazoo River. He claims Enbridge Energy is not doing enough to clean up the oil it spilled.
screen grab Vimeo Video

In 2010, John Bolenbaugh worked for clean-up contractor SET Environmental Inc. The company was one of many to come in and start the clean-up process after an Enbridge Energy pipeline broke and spilled more than 840,000 gallons of thick, tar sands oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

Bolenbaugh was fired after several weeks on the job. He claimed he was wrongfully terminated after he complained the oil was not being cleaned up properly.

SET Environmental Inc. said Bolenbaugh broke company policy by speaking to the news media without approval.

This week, the Battle Creek Enquirer reports Bolenbaugh settled the case, which according to his attorneys, clears the way for a lawsuit against Enbridge Energy.

Testimony began last week in Bolenbaugh’s civil suit against SET Environmental but his attorney, Thomas Warnicke of Southfield and the attorney for SET, Van Essen, said they reached a settlement agreement Sunday.“It is the only legal way to go after Enbridge,” Bolenbaugh said about the settlement moments after Calhoun County Circuit Judge James Kingsley approved and sealed the confidential agreement.

The amount Bolenbaugh was awarded was not disclosed, but he stated he now has enough money to "fund what I am doing now."

What he is doing now is to continue his fight against Enbridge Energy.

From MLive:

"It gives him the resources and means to allow him to continue his efforts on behalf of the community," said Bolenbaugh's lawyer, Tom Warnicke of Fieger Law. 

Warnicke would not comment on any future lawsuit against Enbridge. "At this time, he is exploring any and all alternative legal claims he may have," he said of Bolenbaugh.

Since he was fired in October of 2010, Bolenbaugh has posted videos which he says prove the company is not cleaning up remaining oil.

A lawyer for representing SET Environmental Inc. quoted in the Battle Creek Enquirer said  testimony given last week, and testimony that would have been given had the case continued, "would have explained how oil was being removed and why Bolenbaugh is mistaken that the oil spill is being hidden from the government and the community."

Bolenbaugh came up in one of our  "Your Story" segments last year. Activist, social worker, and Kalamazoo College grad student Sasha Acker went down to the Kalamazoo River's edge with Bolenbaugh. You can read about her account here.

Environment
5:44 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Island added to Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

Maumee Bay wetlands in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
user notorius4life wikimedia commons

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge was established in 2001 and it includes shoreline, wetlands, and shoals along 48 miles of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.

The refuge system has now added a 30-acre island to the system.

From the Associated Press:

Officials say Sugar Island is part of conservation area surrounding the southern end of Grosse Ile in the Detroit River. It's located in Wayne County's Grosse Ile Township.

The island once was a destination for picnicking and had other attractions. It's near Boblo Island, which once was home to a well-known amusement park.

Sugar Island was bought by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding and it's now part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The refuge includes roughly 5,700 acres along 48 miles of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.

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.

Environment
10:25 am
Tue April 24, 2012

Study finds large majority of Americans connect extreme weather events to climate change

A mesocyclone tornado
Photo courtesy of NOAA

You’ve probably noticed we’ve had a strange spring.

This March – the warm temperatures broke 15,292 weather records across the country.   And last year... there were 14 weather-related disasters that each caused $1 billion – or more – in damages.

A new study finds a large majority of Americans are now connecting specific extreme weather events to climate change.

The study is part of a long-term project called Climate Change in the American Mind.  It’s by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication.

Here's an excerpt:

A majority of Americans say the weather in the United States is getting worse and many report that extreme weather in their own local area has become more frequent and damaging. Further, large majorities believe that global warming made a number of recent extreme weather events worse. Only about a third of Americans, however, have either a disaster emergency plan or an emergency supply kit in their homes.

Ed Maibach directs George Mason’s climate change center.  He and his colleagues found that 82 percent of Americans personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather or natural disaster in the past year.  I asked him how these experiences are affecting people’s understanding of climate change.

"We know that most Americans believe the climate is changing, and now, this latest survey shows us that a lot of people are connecting the experience of the extreme weather they’re experiencing to the fact that the climate is changing."

But he says not too many people understand the difference between weather and climate.

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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):

energy
8:09 pm
Sun April 22, 2012

PHOTOS: Tour the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant

The nuclear reactor is inside the containment building. The building is made of a half-inch thick steel with 3-and-a-half feet thick steel reinforced concrete wrapped around. It’s made to withstand earthquakes, tornadoes, and an airplane crash.
Mark Savage Entergy

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country. That’s after the plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year.

This year federal regulators are keeping an even closer eye on the plant. It’s tucked in between tall sand dunes at the southern edge of Van Buren State Park in Covert Township.

Palisades "extremely important" to area economy

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Earth Day
9:09 am
Sun April 22, 2012

How has your local climate changed? The Weather Underground shows you

On the Weather Underground's climate page, you can select a weather station near you to see how things have changed.
Wunderground.com

A popular Ann Arbor-based online weather service is offering a new feature on its website. At the Weather Underground’s “Climate Change Center,” you can see how your local climate has changed over the years.

Detailed graphs display historical information for temperature, precipitation, and snowfall. The data goes back to the 1700s in some cases.

It also shows how your local climate is expected to change in the future based on current climate models.

Co-founder of the Weather Underground Jeff Masters said they launched the new tool in honor of Earth Day. One of the goals of the site, he said, is to help people understand the differences between climate and weather.

“Climate is what you expect based on past history of weather,” Masters says, “but weather is what you get. It’s got lots of random variations. You see a lot of extremes both on cold and hot sides, but they average out over a period of time. And to really understand where the weather of the future might fall, you have to look at how the climate, the long-term statistics over a period of 30 years or more, might be changing.”

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Environment
2:13 pm
Sat April 21, 2012

EPA accepting Great Lakes grant applications

Flickr user/I'm Such a Child

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will award $20 million in grants this year for projects to help the Great Lakes.

EPA officials recently invited states, cities, Indian tribes, universities and nonprofit groups to apply for the grants, which will come from money Congress appropriated under the Obama administration's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The projects will focus on issues such as invasive species, toxic pollution and runoff from farms and cities.

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energy
9:45 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

Floating wind farm in the Great Lakes?

An underwater simulation of a PellaStar offshore wind turbine.
The Glosten Associates

One major investor could make all the difference for a group hoping to test a prototype of a floating offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes. The group needs about $3 million to apply for a federal matching grant to support testing the floating wind farm concept.

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Science
5:11 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

UM professor consults on Disney film "Chimpanzee"

John Mitani, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

The movie Chimpanzee from Disney Nature opens in theaters today.

It follows a young chimp, Oscar, who is separated from his troop, and is adopted by an alpha male named Freddie.

John Mitani was a scientific consultant on the film. He's a primate behavioral ecologist and University of Michigan Professor of Anthropology. Mitani’s research centers on the behavior of male chimps and why males co-operate.

According to Mitani, it's not uncommon for young chimps to be separated from their parents. Often they are adopted by close relatives. But what's unusual in this story is that Oscar was adopted by an adult male chimp "which rarely or never has been seen," Mitani says.

“It’s not as if male animals, male primates, male chimps are generally helpful to others. Why he should go out of his way to help this poor little helpless infant who was not obviously his own is really the thing that is quite interesting and unusual in this.”

The film took three years to make, and actually follows two main groups of chimps, one filmed in west Africa and one filmed in east Africa. Through the magic of movie making we get one story. Mitani recognizes the film has two qualities. One scientific and the other purely entertaining.

You can see the movie trailer here:

Changing Gears
11:39 am
Fri April 20, 2012

On Earth Day, turning the Motor City into "Cycle City"

The Tigers' mascot, Paws, with cyclists who rode to Opening Day 2012.
courtesy Detroit Tigers

Let’s face it: Detroit’s reputation as the Motor City is unshakeable. But it’s gaining ground as a city for cyclists.

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Environment
4:14 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

No time to dawdle on Asian carp plan, lawmakers push for quicker plan

Asian carp leaping out of a river.
glfc.org

Last month, we spoke with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) about plans about a permanent solution for keeping Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

“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.

Now, we hear about legislation introduced in Congress by Senator Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up their analysis.

More from the Associated Press:

Legislation introduced in Congress would force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a study of how to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes.

The corps has identified 18 locations where fish and other organisms could migrate between the lakes and other watersheds, including an artificial linkage between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin in the Chicago area.

Corps officials say they'll release their recommendations by late 2015.

Michigan's U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp say that isn't soon enough. They're sponsoring bills to require the corps to submit a progress report within 90 days of the legislation's enactment and a full plan within 18 months.

Scientists say Asian carp could starve out native Great Lakes fish.

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