Environment & Science

Environment
2:14 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

New outdoor burning law limits what can be torched

A tool often used to burn refuse in rural areas. A new law puts limits on what can be burned.
joelk75 Flickr

A new law will soon limit the types of waste that can be thrown into pits and barrels to be burned. Plastics, chemically treated wood, and electronics are among the types of trash that cannot be burned.

The new rules don’t go as far as some people wanted, which was to ban outdoor burning altogether.

There were fights between neighbors about drifting smoke  -- in some cases, causing or aggravating asthma attacks.

But burning waste is so common in parts of rural Michigan that a compromise was struck. Some of the most toxic materials are banned, but grass, leaves and other yard waste can still be burned.

The director of the state Department of Environmental Quality Dan Wyant said he hopes this is the beginning of a culture change in rural Michigan.

“We’ll go out, and we’re trying to educate,” said Wyant. “We’re not trying to be heavy-handed in our enforcement, but we will communicate about the law, and we do want to move away from outdoor burning.”

The new rules become enforceable in six months.

Environment
11:03 am
Thu April 19, 2012

Stopping hitchhikers in ballast tanks

Entry to a ballast tank in a ship's cargo hold
Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes NOBOB Team

Ships entering the Great Lakes can carry water from foreign ports. That water is held in their ballast tanks. It helps stabilize the ship.

Now, anytime you hear the term ballast water... do your eyes glaze over? Maybe you start thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner? Okay, so it’s not the sexiest topic. But it matters because sneaky little invasive species can hide in the ballast water... and catch a ride across the ocean.

“Invasive species, scientists think, are the worst problem facing the Great Lakes. They threaten the Great Lakes health, they threaten to crash the ecosystem, they threaten our economy.”

That’s Andy Buchsbaum. He directs the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation. He says when ships dump their ballast water in the Great Lakes, the invaders can get out.

“And if they find each other and fall in love, you have families of those critters and you actually have some real population problems like zebra mussels going wild in the Great Lakes.”

Zebra mussels have caused all kinds of havoc with Great Lakes ecosystems. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 30 percent of the invasive species in the Great Lakes have come in through ballast water.

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Environment
8:09 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Part of Kalamazoo River opens Wednesday, first time since oil spill

People had a chance to ask representatives from at least a dozen government agencies and other groups about the oil spill. The meeting was Tuesday night at Marshall High School.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Calhoun County Health officials will open up a three mile section of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall Wednesday at 8 a.m. It’s the first time the river has opened to the public since a major oil spill July 26th, 2010. 

It’s just a tiny portion of the 37 total miles of the river that have been closed since the underground Enbridge pipeline ruptured. Crews have recovered more than a million gallons of oil from the river. 

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Environment
3:44 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Americans less concerned about environmental problems

A graph showing the decline in concern over air and water pollution.
Gallup

A recent Gallup poll finds Americans are less concerned about environmental problems today than they were twelve years ago.

From Gallup:

The trends are part of a broader decline in worry about environmental threats documented in the poll.

Gallup asked Americans to say how much they worry about each of seven environmental problems. All show significantly less worry today than in 2000, when worry was at or near its high point for each item. The declines in concern about drinking-water pollution and air pollution are the largest for the problems included in this year's poll.

Here's a breakdown of those concerned "a great deal" about the following problems:

Pollution of drinking water

  • 2000 - 72 percent
  • 2012 - 48 percent

Air pollution

  • 2000 - 59 percent
  • 2012 - 36 percent

Pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs

  • 2000 - 66 percent
  • 2012 - 48 percent

Contamination of soil and water by toxic waste

  • 2000 - 64 percent
  • 2012 - 50 percent

The loss of tropical rain forests

  • 2000 - 51 percent
  • 2012 - 37 percent

Global warming

  • 2000 - 40 percent
  • 2012 - 30 percent

Extinction of plant and animal species

  • 2000 - 45 percent
  • 2012 - 36 percent

Thoughts? Is this a sign of a perceived improvement in environmental conditions? A shift in perception because a Democrat occupies the White House vs. a Republican? Or another sign of hard economic times as more people shift their worries to just making a living?

Environment
12:48 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

One death blamed on yesterday's winds, crews work to restore power

A downed tree in Ann Arbor.
Mike Perini Michigan Radio

Winds whipping across the state yesterday with gusts of up to 55 mph brought down big trees and downed power lines.

The Associated Press reports the winds caused the death of a women in Van Buren County when a tree hit her van.

And the Lansing State Journal reports on an injury to a second grader:

Strong winds knocked a tree down onto a second-grader during recess at DeWitt’s Schavey Road Elementary Monday, school officials confirmed today.The student was taken to the hospital and is recovering, said Superintendent John Deiter.

Today, crews are working to bring power back to homes and businesses. An estimated 38,000 customers are without power.

More from the Associated Press:

DTE Energy Co. says that about 31,000 of its 106,000 electrical customers that lost power due to Monday's winds are without service early Tuesday. And CMS Energy Corp. says that about 7,000 of its
96,000 affected Consumers Energy customers are powerless as of Tuesday morning.

The winds caused the death of a woman when a tree hit her van in Van Buren County's Bloomingdale Township.

Environment
9:00 am
Tue April 17, 2012

Northern Michigan man clones ancient trees

Clones of the Buckley elm - the first tree that David Milarch cloned.
Peter Payette/Interlochen Public Radio

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

There’s a new book out today about an unusual conservation project based in northern Michigan.  For most of the last two decades, a man from Copemish has been cloning old trees around the world.  David Milarch believes the genetics of these trees are superior and could be useful in the era of climate change.  The author of the book says he might have a point. 

Back in the year 2000, an elm tree not far from David Milarch’s home was diagnosed with Dutch elm disease.

It was not just any elm.

It was the National Champion American elm at the time. That means it was the largest known elm in the country. Milarch tried to heal the tree with a soil treatment but it died. He did manage to clone the Buckley elm.

Today at the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, there are about a dozen copies of the tree.

"Here’s the Buckley elm, the greatest elm in America.  And it’s living on and it can be utilized. That’s really what it’s all about."

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Environment
9:00 am
Tue April 17, 2012

Study: Electric cars produce fewer emissions than hybrids... sometimes

A new study says electric cars produce fewer global warming emissions than hybrids - in some regions. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists says electricity in California and New York isn't as reliant on older, coal-burning power plants as other regions.

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Environment
4:07 pm
Mon April 16, 2012

Winds whipping up big waves, causing power outages in Michigan

Waves are reaching up to ten feet in parts of Lake Michigan today.
NOAA

Today's real-time Wind Map is showing some strong northeasterly winds flowing across Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and southeasterly winds across the U.P.

There's a gale warning in effect until midnight in the open water forecast for Lake Michigan where waves of 8 to 12 feet are a possible. The map above is showing waves of around 9 to 10 feet.

The Associated Press reports on winds gusts topping 50 mph in parts of the state "knocking down some trees and threatening the possibility of other damage."

The National Weather Service issued wind advisories for the Lower Peninsula and parts of the Upper Peninsula. Temperatures were expected to drop in northern Michigan, bringing with it the possibility of snow and ice. Snow accumulations of a few inches are possible in the western Upper Peninsula.

The Grand Rapids Press reports on power outages in West Michigan:

More than 10,300 Consumers Energy customers in West Michigan are without power this afternoon because of strong winds, according to a spokesman for the utility.

And the winds coming off of Lake Michigan near Ludington caused damage. The Ludington Daily News reported on power outages with winds that gusted to 49 mph.

Consumers Energy reported 116 customers without power in Mason County and 236 customers without power in Oceana County. Consumers Energy spokesman Tim Pietryga said there were about 5,600 customers without power at 9 a.m. today, most of them along Lake Michigan.

Environment
12:14 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

Michigan State University commits to green energy (but not enough for some)

Not going anywhere soon. MSU's T.B. Simon power plant will continue to provide electricity for the East Lansing campus for years to come
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has approved a plan that will increase the East Lansing campus’ reliance on renewable energy sources.

The plan approved this morning will require MSU to get 40 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and other alternative energy sources by 2030. Renewables account for about two percent of MSU’s power right now.

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Environment
11:39 am
Thu April 12, 2012

Michigan State University Trustees expected to vote on energy plan

MSU's T.B. Simon Power Plant
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan State University is in the midst of a debate over how much the school  can rely on alternative energy sources to power its East Lansing campus.   

The university’s Board of Trustees meets Friday to vote on an energy plan for MSU. 

Earlier this week, MSU students used a giant inflatable inhaler to dramatize their concerns about the university’s large coal fired power plant located just south of campus. 

The students want MSU to commit to turning completely to wind, solar and other alternative energy sources for the university’s electricity needs.

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Environment
9:53 am
Thu April 12, 2012

Crews continue to search for oil on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River

This is a stretch of Talmadge Creek that's about a half mile downstream from where the Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured in 2010. Enbridge diverted the creek, excavated the contaminated creek bed, and reconstructed the creek.
Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

We’re coming up on two years since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured. More than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The Environmental Protection Agency says most of the oil has been removed from the creek and the river. But there’s still oil at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. This spring, the company, the state and the EPA will be figuring out how much oil is left... and where it is.

“The pipeline break location was approximately a half mile upstream from here.”

Mark DuCharme is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. We’re standing on a two-lane road looking out at Talmadge Creek.

“Shortly after the spill, you couldn’t actually even see the creek. If you were down at this location, all you could see is oil. These banks were heavily oiled as well, so just catastrophic damage.”

He says things have come a long way at this site. Enbridge moved the creek out of its normal path... they actually diverted it and ran it through a pipeline. Then, they dug up the contaminated creek bed. Now, the creek is back in place. Enbridge put in clean soil, and then added seeds from native wetland plants.

Little green shoots are pushing up through the ground.

But there’s still a long road ahead. Mark DuCharme says Enbridge has more restoration work to do at Talmadge Creek... and then the DEQ will require long-term monitoring.

“Can we replace it to the exact condition it was prior? Probably not. Can we go back and put something back that will be an acceptable ecosystem? That’s the expectation.”

DuCharme says tar sands oil is very heavy, and very thick - and that has made the cleanup more difficult.

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Environment
5:00 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Ann Arbor pollution cleanup plan, public meeting tonight

DTE Energy owns the site where an old manufactured gas plant once operated in Ann Arbor. The site is polluted by by-products from producing coal gas.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Tonight at Cobblestone Farm in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting to discuss a plan to clean up toxic pollution along the banks of the Huron River.

The soil near the Huron River just downriver of Argo Dam has been contaminated with substances leftover from an old manufactured gas plant that operated from around the 1900s to the 1940s.

Manufactured gas plants converted coal to gas for street lamps, cooking, and heating prior to the widespread use of natural gas.

But back in those days, converting coal to gas left behind some nasty pollution. And the tarry, oily-like pollution can bubble up decades later - as it has in Ann Arbor.

The site in Ann Arbor is owned by the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (MichCon), a subsidiary of DTE Energy.

You can get an idea of where the pollution is on the site by clicking through the images above.

In a pollution response plan filed on behalf of MichCon, several pollutants were noted.

  • Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) (associated with petroleum releases);
  • Total polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (associated with MGP tar and/or petroleum releases);
  • Metals (arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, silver, thallium, and vanadium) (some of these metals (e.g., arsenic) may be from natural background);
  • Ammonia; and
  • Available cyanide.

Here's more on tonight's public meeting from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality:

MichCon property owners are proposing to remove sediment, near shore soil, and some contaminated upland soil from the Huron River and its south bank at the MichCon plant site near Broadway Street. This plan requires a construction permit from DEQ.  

The public meeting and hearing will be held at Cobblestone Farm, located at 2781 Packard Road in Ann Arbor. Doors will open in the big barn on the second floor at 6 p.m. for informal discussion with DEQ staff, followed by a public meeting at 7 p.m., and a formal hearing to gather public comment around 8 p.m.  

As part of the permit review process, the DEQ also is accepting written public comment on the plan through April 30, 2012.

DTE Energy is planning several methods to control the pollution on the site, including removing polluted sediment, and capping and collecting other sources of pollution.

AnnArbor.com's Ryan Stanton reports Ann Arbor city officials are anxious to see it cleaned up:

Ann Arbor officials expect the cleanup to take place starting this summer. DTE has vowed to pay for whitewater improvements along the river as part of the project.

Matt Naud, the city's environmental coordinator, expects the cleanup project will go before the Ann Arbor Planning Commission for site plan approval because it will disturb natural features, but he doesn't expect that to be a significant issue.

"We're just glad this significant level of cleanup is happening," Naud said. "It's a big project. They're going to be moving a lot of soil."

Environment
3:19 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Michigan officials take first legal action under recent exotic swine ban

Russian boars at Harvey Haney's farm in Linwood, Michigan.
Peter Payette

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has filed its first legal action under an order that outlaws some breeds of exotic swine.

The Michigan DNR has filed a legal action in Cheboygan County against the Renegade Ranch Hunting Preserve for refusing entry to state inspectors and harboring prohibited breeds.

This is the first legal action taken by the Michigan DNR since the state started enforcing the order on April 1.

*Correction - An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Michigan DNR is banning "some species of exotic swine." The MDNR is banning certain breeds not species.  It has been corrected above.

Environment
9:00 am
Tue April 10, 2012

Hard freeze hurts Michigan cherry crop

Cherry blossoms arrived early this year. To look for damage, researchers cut into the flower parts to look at four fruit buds in each blossom. Each bud is capable of forming a cherry.
Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station

by Bob Allen for The Environment Report

A hard freeze has wiped out a big portion of the cherry crop in Northwest Michigan this spring.  The area produces more than half the state’s cherries that end up in desserts, juice and as dried fruit.

An historic early warm-up in March left fruit trees vulnerable to frost once the weather turned cooler again.

Temperatures broke records for the month of March across the Great Lakes region.

Climate researchers say there’s never been anything like it going back more than a hundred years.

“We’re seeing history made before our eyes at least in terms of climatology.”

Jeff Andresen is the state’s climatologist and professor of geography at Michigan State.

“And in some ways if we look at where our vegetation is and how advanced it is, it’s probably a month ahead of where it typically is.”

Andresen is careful to point out that this year’s early warm-up is an extreme weather event.

He says it far outpaces the previous warmest March on record in 1945.

He can’t say it’s a direct result of climate change.

But it fits the predicted long term pattern of change that includes extreme fluctuations.

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Environment
5:21 pm
Mon April 9, 2012

The way the wind blows

screencap of Michigan's current surface winds hint.fm/wind/index.html

Looking for a strong visual argument for the untapped potential of wind power in the Great Lakes? Wondering why it's been rather blustery the last few days?

NPR science correspondent and Radiolab co-host Robert Krulwich might have found just the thing you're looking for (or at least something guaranteed to keep you mesmerized by your internet browser for a while).

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energy
2:03 pm
Mon April 9, 2012

Palisades offline...this time for planned shutdown to refuel

Workers were already preparing for the planned outage in late March. More than 1,000 extra workers are on site for the shutdown.
Mark Savage Entergy Nuclear Operations

Workers have shut down the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven to refuel.

Palisades had five unplanned shutdowns in 2011. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission downgraded the plant’s safety rating because of a series of problems – including one “significant” issue when the plant’s control room lost half its indicators. The power plant now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country.

There are more inspectors on site because of the planned outage, but they will not be addressing last year’s safety problems at this time.

“(The NRC) can only conduct those inspections after the company tells us 'we have done the work that we need to do to fix the issues that we have,” said NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mytling.

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Environment
1:42 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

Cold weather in northern Michigan threatens cherry crops

Blooms on a cherry tree.
William Schmitt Flickr

After a highly unusual prolonged warm spell in the state, cold weather returned to northern Michigan putting Michigan's cherry crop at risk.

More from the Associated Press:

Phil Korson of the Cherry Marketing Institute says it probably will take another few weeks to determine the extent of the damage. But he says every time temperatures drop into the 20s, there will be crop damage.

Temperatures shot into the 80s for five consecutive March days in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. That caused trees to bloom early. But things quickly returned to normal. The National Weather Service says Leelanau County has had six nights below freezing and three nights in the 20s since the warmup.

The Michigan Farm Bureau says millions of buds froze at their most vulnerable development stage.

Growers say they hope to salvage a decent crop.

This past February, Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen reported on concerns about the changing climate and its effect on fruit trees in northern Michigan.

In his report, Northern Michigan fruit growers brace for a changing climate, Allen spoke with Duke Elsner. As an agricultural extension agent for more than 20 years in the Traverse City area, Elsner told Allen this past winter has been the "most bizarre winter weather he’s ever seen."

Growers were worried back in February about what happened this week, a frost after cherry trees blossomed.

Allen spoke with Jeff Andresen, the state’s climatologist and a professor of geology at Michigan State:

Andresen’s research shows an overall increase in temperatures of two degrees statewide in the last thirty years.

That’s pushing fruit trees to blossom earlier by as much as a week to ten days.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the last date of spring frost also was shifting earlier to keep pace. But it’s not.

That means the buds that produce the fruit are more exposed to the kind of freeze that wiped out the cherry crop in 2002.

Growers are tallying up the damage after the recent hard freeze.

We'll have more on how the cherry crop is doing in a story from Bob Allen on next week's Environment Report.

energy
3:56 pm
Thu April 5, 2012

Michigan scientists support federal rules limiting mercury emissions

The James De Young coal is operated by the City of Holland's Board of Public Works.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

More than a hundred scientists from Michigan are supporting a federal standard that would limit the amount of mercury coal plants could emit.

The State of Michigan already has set some limits. But a major portion of the mercury that ends up in Michigan comes from coal plants in other states.

There are some U.S. Senators trying to stop federal regulators from implementing the rules. They say the regulations will hurt the economy.

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Environment
10:53 am
Thu April 5, 2012

Designing buildings for a changing climate in the Great Lakes region

U.S. Forest Service

A group of planners and designers is arguing that we need to rethink the way we make our buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council and the University of Michigan recently put out a report: Green Building and Climate Resilience.

It says design teams should start making buildings that are better suited to a changing climate. That could mean redesigning heating and cooling and storm water systems, and it could mean changing the kind of landscaping we do.

Larissa Larsen is the lead author of the report. I met up with her on a corner in Ann Arbor to take a look at a new high rise apartment building that’s going up.

“This looks like a fairly traditional apartment building and that’s completely fine. We want to start thinking that this building is going to be inhabiting conditions that are different than what has been in Michigan for a long time.”

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Environment
4:11 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Michigan Hemlock trees infested by woolly adelgids

Woolly adelgids inhabit the underside of hemlock tree branch.
USGS

Flip over a branch of a hemlock tree, and you might spot them.

Nasty little critters in their cute woolly homes.

They're woolly adelgids (pronounced "ah-DELL'-jids").

They're native to Asia and have been spreading around the U.S. since 1924, and the bugs have infested forests along the east coast and the Smoky Mountain range.

They were spotted here in Michigan back in 2006, and again in 2010.

And today we have news that the sap-suckers have turned up in Michigan's southwestern corner.

More from the Associated Press:

The state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced Wednesday that hemlock woolly adelgid has been spotted in the New Buffalo area of Berrien County. One site had 41 infested trees and a second site had eight.

Authorities are surveying the area. All infested trees will be cut down, and nearby hemlocks will be treated with an insecticide.

The hemlock woolly adelgid has attacked trees in Emmet, Macomb and Ottawa counties since 2006. In each case, the infested trees were destroyed and there's been no evidence that the parasite has
spread.

The Michigan DNR says the invasive insect harms hemlocks by "sucking plant juices and by injecting a toxic saliva while feeding." Eventually, if left unchecked, the bugs will kill the tree.

In 2010, Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra spoke with Kelly Goward of the Ottawa Conservation District after the insect was found in that county.

She says the woolly adelgid can be spread through firewood or landscape nursery stock that gets moved around. She says HWA can also "be trasnferred naturally in the environment...they are kind of sticky, so they'll grab hold on a bird or as a deer brushes by a tree that's infected."

If you're concerned about your hemlock trees, you can inspect them by looking for a white cottony substance under the trees' branches.

The University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture says there are three common treatment options:

  1. insecticidal soap,
  2. imidacloprid soil injections,
  3. and biological control using tiny beetles native to the Pacific Northwest that feed on hemlock woolly adelgid. 

And the Michigan DNR has these suggestions for curbing the spread of woolly adelgids:

  • Carefully monitor your hemlock trees and report any infestation immediately, early detection is critical.

  • Since Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is primarily spread to native trees from planted stock, carefully inspect any purchased trees prior to planting.

  • Do not bring hemlock trees into Michigan from infested areas

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