Environment & Science

Environment
9:58 am
Tue January 24, 2012

Breaking through to climate change skeptics

Photo courtesy USFWS

Anthony Leiserowitz directs the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. He says the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real. It’s mostly caused by people. And it’s serious.

“We know through multiple studies that over 95% of scientists agree about this.”

But... he says his studies and others show the number of Americans who believe climate change is happening has declined. 

Leiserowitz says there are a lot of reasons for that. A tough economy... declining media coverage...

“Then there’s actually been a very active campaign to discredit the science, to put out disinformation about the science. And that really kicked into gear in 2008 and 2009 because Congress was about to pass climate legislation. Forces that are perfectly happy with the status quo worked very, very hard to stop that effort and they were successful.”

So as a result of these factors and others... he says many Americans are confused about what to believe... or downright skeptical.

This was the topic of a conference put on by the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the Union of Concerned Scientists at the University of Michigan last week. There were social scientists and climate scientists, religious leaders and members of the business community. They were here to talk about how the public climate change debate has become more about personal values and how you see the world than about the science.

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energy
10:45 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Wind farm in Mason County taking shape despite legal challenge

Consumers Energy map of the Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County. Construction of access roads and turbine bases began in November 2011.
Consumers Energy lakewindsenergypark.com

Consumers Energy is wrapping up the initial phase of its first wind farm. Construction of the 100 mega-watt farm began last fall. Consumers plans to have the wind farm operating by the end of this year.

The project is known as the Lake Winds Energy Park. Since construction began last fall, workers have built about half of the large bases for 58 utility sized wind turbines.

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Environment
10:04 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Environment nearly absent in State of the State

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
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In his second State of the State address, Governor Rick Snyder did not spend a lot of time talking about the environment. But he did say that agriculture, tourism, mining and the timber industry are key to the state’s future.

He also talked about his push to overhaul the state’s regulatory system.

“So far we’ve rescinded nearly 400 obsolete, confusing and burdensome regulations.”

Now... those 400 regulations are not all environmental. But Governor Snyder did call out one set of rules that was on the books.

“The Department of Environmental Quality has 28 separate requirements for outhouses, including a requirement that the seat not be left up.”

The governor got big laughs - it was the best punch line of the evening. But of course, there’s a serious undertone to the Governor’s plans for overhauling the way the state regulates businesses.

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Environment
10:57 am
Tue January 17, 2012

Strange winter weather affects some parts of tourist economy

It's been wet enough, just not cold enough.
Patrick Feller Flickr

The arrival of winter in Michigan is not supposed to last long.

The cold snap earlier this week is expected to give way early next week to temperatures back in the forties.

The lack of snow is taking a toll on some parts of the state’s tourism economy.

Forecaster Mike Boguth says northern Michigan might set a record this year for the least amount of snowfall ever. Boguth works at the National Weather Service office in Gaylord.

He says what little snow there is now could melt next week when temperatures rise.

“We don’t see any signs of cold weather coming back after we get by this week.”

Most ski resorts up north opened in December. That’s because nighttime temperatures have been cold enough to make snow.

But for businesses that depend on snowmobile traffic this time of year, things couldn’t be much worse. They’ve had just one weekend of business all winter. That was this past weekend which included the Martin Luther King holiday.

Dave Ramsey owns Beaver Creek Resort near Gaylord. He says just enough snow fell late last week to open the trails.

Still, more than half his cabins were empty this weekend when he would usually have a waiting list.

“Every hotel in Gaylord every motel and little cabin cluster will just about fill to capacity on every major holiday if we have good snow.”

The weather could also create problems for the North America Vasa. The cross-country ski race near Traverse City could draw 1,000 racers the second weekend in February.

The VASA trail has three inches of base but no snow-making capacity.

-Peter Payette for The Environment Report

So what's up with this weather? Wunderground.com's Dr. Jeff Masters explains.

Environment
10:35 am
Tue January 17, 2012

Asian carp could find a good home in Lake Erie

Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

There’s been a lot of focus on keeping carp out of Lake Michigan.

But a new study finds carp might do well in Lake Erie and some of the rivers that feed the lake.

Patrick Kocovsky is a research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He says it’s believed Asian carp need specific conditions to make babies.

“What’s currently believed is Asian carp require some kind of flood event in a tributary.”

He says the carp need just the right temperature... a river that’s flowing fast enough and a stretch of river long enough to reproduce.

Kocovsky and his team studied the major tributaries of Lake Erie. They found that the Maumee River is highly suitable for Asian carp to lay eggs.

The researchers found the Sandusky and Grand Rivers to be moderately suitable for carp.

Patrick Kocovsky says if carp can get into Lake Erie, the western side of the lake is likely to be the most hospitable.

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Environment
5:06 pm
Mon January 16, 2012

Blown bulb behind Palisades shutdown

NRC

How many nuclear power plant employees does it take to screw in a light bulb? Evidently more than were on hand last September at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in western Michigan. According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, an unplanned reactor shutdown at Palisades last fall can be attributed to a plant worker improperly replacing a light bulb.

From the Freep:

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Environment
12:49 pm
Mon January 16, 2012

Feds delay report on Kalamazoo oil spill

USEPA

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - The release of a federal report detailing the cause of a 2010 pipeline rupture that spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil in southern Michigan has been delayed.

The Kalamazoo Gazette says  the report is expected to be released this fall, about six months later than expected. The National Transportation Safety Board attributed the delay to other investigations into separate pipeline incidents.

The report also is expected to offer future safety recommendations for the pipeline industry.

The July 2010 spill from Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc.'s pipeline sent oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge says it will be able to finish its internal investigation after the report is released.

Cleanup efforts continue this year. The pipeline runs from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

Environment
8:42 am
Mon January 16, 2012

Proposed amendment would ratchet up renewable power mandate

user vaxomatic flickr

A coalition of business, labor and agriculture groups is backing a ballot campaign to boost the state’s renewable energy mandate.

Michigan utilities are already required to get 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2015. The proposed constitutional amendment would boost that to 25 percent, by 2025.

"There’s 20 other states that include and Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa that have already adopted measures similar to the initiative, without significant increase in utility costs for consumers," said campaign spokesman Mark Fisk.

A spokesman for DTE Energy says it would be difficult to comply with the 25 percent mandate without a significant increase in rates. The proposed ballot language says utilities could not increase rates by more than one percent a year to comply with the mandate.

A state elections board is expected to decide whether to approve the ballot language this week.

Winter Weather
6:26 am
Fri January 13, 2012

Storm warnings in effect in Mich. as snow falls

LisaW123 Flickr

A winter storm brought at least 7 inches of snow to parts of Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula and could bring more than a foot to parts of the Upper Peninsula.

The National Weather Service says winter storm warnings were in effect Friday for much of the western Lower Peninsula along Lake Michigan and the northwestern Upper Peninsula along Lake Superior.

The storm moved in Thursday. Forecasters say 1 to 3 inches could fall Friday in areas including Detroit.

The weather service says areas around Grayling and Houghton Lake reported 7 inches by Friday morning, while snow totals in other parts of the northern Lower Peninsula ranged from 3 to 6 inches.

In West Michigan, 2 to 6 inches fell. Ironwood in the northwestern Upper Peninsula got at least 8 inches.

Environment
3:40 pm
Thu January 12, 2012

Dow Chemical Co. ranked second-largest toxic waste producer in the nation

Imerman Park sits on the flood plain of the Tittabawassee River. Signs along the trail warn walkers about dioxin contamination in some of the park's soil.
Photo by Shawn Allee

The Dow Chemical Company is the second-largest producer of toxic chemical waste in the nation. That’s according to a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report shows that Dow produced more than 600 million pounds of toxic chemical waste in the reporting year 2010.

Ben Morlock is a spokesperson for Dow.

Morlock says 97% of that toxic chemical waste was treated, recycled or reused.

“We have on-site wastewater treatment plants, we have air pollution control equipment that incinerates contaminants so they’re not released into the air, we have equipment used in our manufacturing processes that captures chemicals and recycles them back into the process for reuse.”

He says the rest of that waste – the remaining three percent – was disposed of in accordance with the company’s state and federal permits.

“It is safe to say that most of that three percent is handled through land disposal, so for instance, it might go to a licensed secured landfill that is equipped to properly handle certain types of waste. So, I can tell you we audit the facilities we use for disposal and we make sure our waste is being handled properly if it leaves the site.”

He says Dow’s ranking on the EPA list reflects the size of the company. Dow is the nation’s largest chemical manufacturer.

The EPA’s report analyzes data from the Toxics Release Inventory. Industries in certain sectors are required by federal law to report their toxic chemical releases each year. This includes chemical manufacturers, metal mining, electric power companies and hazardous waste treatment.

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Commentary
11:28 am
Thu January 12, 2012

Physics and Politics

The scientific and political communities in this state and country often live in largely separate worlds. Former Congressman Vernon Ehlers, a physicist from Grand Rapids and a classy gentleman, was one of the few who managed to bridge that gap.

Smart scientists know that they usually don’t want to focus political attention on what they are doing. Smart politicians, a somewhat rarer breed, know enough to mostly leave scientists alone.

But there was a development yesterday that united both Michigan’s scientists and politicians in concern.

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Environment
10:51 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

Palisades acknowledges mistakes; insists less risk than regulators think

The Palisades nuclear power plant on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
NRC.gov

Officials from Entergy Corporation, the company that operates the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven, appeared in front of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday.

The company is hoping to avoid getting another safety violation; it was issued one already this month. “We’ve lost the trust of our neighbors. We’ve lost the trust of our corporation and we’re going to fix that,” said David Hamilton, general manager of plant operations. The hearing was about two separate incidents at the plant last year.

Entergy Corporation “concurs” with NRC’s findings

The more serious of the two incidents was a week-long shutdown of the power plant last September. It went offline because of an electrical outage at the plant that happened because a worker didn’t follow proper procedures during routine maintenance.  “This was an event that allowed my electricians to feel that they could put themselves at such risk; I apologize if I get emotional but I could’ve killed somebody on the weekend of September 25th,” Hamilton said.

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Environment
11:57 am
Wed January 11, 2012

Saugatuck Township board to discuss federal case over dune land

Hundreds of people packed a high school gym the night Saugatuck Township's board agreed to accept the proposed settlement.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Officials in Saugatuck tonight will discuss their options in a federal case between the township and a private developer who wants to build on 300 acres near Lake Michigan coastal dunes.

Last July Saugatuck Township voted to accept a settlement with the billionaire developer. The settlement would have allowed a 25-suite hotel, limited retail space and other development plans on his 300 acres along the Lake Michigan shore.

But in November a federal judge in Grand Rapids rejected the settlement because he said it violated state zoning laws. The judge also ruled it didn’t resolve any of the developer’s claims that the township unfairly re-zoned his property.

Tonight the township board will meet with its attorney for the first time since the last federal court action in November. The meeting is not open to the public and it’s unclear if the board will make any decisions tonight.

Environment
1:30 am
Wed January 11, 2012

Operators of Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in front of federal regulators today

Wednesday officials from the company that operates the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven will appear in front of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. An NRC investigation found a week-long shut-down of the power plant last September was of “substantial safety significance”.

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Environment
9:47 pm
Mon January 9, 2012

High-tech research buoy gathers lots of offshore wind data, but future funding is uncertain

The yellow research buoy pictured by NOAA's live webcam on January 9th, 2012. The buoy will still collect wind data from this location before heading back out to the middle of Lake Michigan in early March.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

An 8-ton research buoy that’s been floating around Lake Michigan collecting detailed data about wind conditions offshore has been brought back on land for the winter.  With the mild winter the buoy stayed about four miles offshore for twice as long as researchers expected; 58 days instead of 30. 

Turning data over to researchers

Arn Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that’s operating the buoy from Muskegon. He’s been able to see 10 minute averages of wind conditions in real time. But now that the buoy is back on land, he’s got data cards with wind data for every second the buoy was out there; plus data on bats and birds that flew by.

 “I literally keep looking at this plastic bag in my brief case with this data card sitting in it and thinking ‘people don’t realize how valuable this is,” Boezaart said. “I sort of feel like I’m carrying gold bars in my case here. This is really first of its kind data.”

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Energy
9:32 am
Fri January 6, 2012

Palisades plant goes offline for maintenance work

The Palisades nuclear power plant is on the shore of Lake Michigan six miles south of South Haven.
wikimedia commons

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan is being shut down temporarily for maintenance.

Spokesman Mark Savage said in a statement that control room operators removed the plant from service Thursday night. The plant is near Lake Michigan in Van Buren County's Covert Township.

Savage says the plant was being cooled down Friday morning.

The maintenance work involves the system that controls the nuclear reactor's power level.

There are 45 seals that form a boundary between the cooling system and the atmosphere inside the building that houses the reactor. Officials say one of the seals is showing signs of wear and will be replaced.

Savage says the plant will return to service when the job is finished. Palisades is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

Environment
11:25 am
Thu January 5, 2012

NRC issues violation notice to Palisades nuclear power plant

The Palisades nuclear power plant on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
nrc.org

The Palisades nuclear power plant is six miles south of South Haven on the shore of Lake Michigan.

The plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year. Four of those were unplanned reactor shutdowns. The fifth was a problem with the plant’s water pumps that did not affect the reactor.

Viktoria Mitlyng is a spokesperson with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  She says the Palisades plant is under scrutiny.

“There are so many issues in one year that have come up, you know, there’s certainly a concern. And we recognize that as a regulatory agency and are keeping a very close eye at what’s happening at the plant.”

The NRC has just issued a violation notice to the company that owns the Palisades plant - Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. -  for a separate incident that happened in May.  A water pump at the plant failed - and regulators concluded that’s because one of the components was lubricated when it shouldn’t have been.

NRC says violation is of "low to moderate significance"

The NRC says this violation falls into a risk category of "low to moderate significance." But there’s a regulatory hearing expected next week to address two additional safety issues – one of which is what the NRC calls substantial safety significance.

That’s a much bigger deal than the water pump investigation finalized this week. In the more serious situation, the plant was offline for about a week last September because of a power outage. An electrical circuit at the plant broke when a worker was doing routine maintenance. The worker did not follow procedures for doing the work. When Lindsey Smith talked to NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng in November, she said the worker had actually gotten permission from his managers not to follow procedures.

“Nobody stopped in their tracks and said 'hey, what are we doing here? We need to rethink this.'”

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Energy
12:16 pm
Wed January 4, 2012

DTE cuts power in parts of Detroit and Highland Park for maintenance

user wheat_in_your_hair Flickr

12:16 p.m.

As it turns out, the planned power outage in parts of Detroit and Highland Park were over by the time the post was put up below. The Associated Press reports:

A planned power outage has wrapped up earlier than expected in part of Detroit and Highland Park after crews worked to repair some underground lines.

DTE Energy Co. said Wednesday's outage affected about 3,500 customers in Detroit and the Detroit enclave.

Officials said the power was shut down to the area as planned about 6 a.m. EST. The power was back on before 11 a.m, more than three hours earlier than expected.

11:35 a.m.

Around 3,500 DTE Energy customers in Detroit and the Highland Park area have had their power cut while the utility company performs "routine maintenance."

Some question whether the timing of the routine maintenance was wise given the cold temperatures.

Fox News in Detroit reports the maintenance was originally scheduled for this past fall:

DTE Energy told FOX 2 the routine maintenance was originally slated for late September or early October, but together with city officials and community leaders, they decided January fourth would be better. That way schools aren't impacted.

A video posted by the Detroit Free Press shows at least two customers in the area are taking the outage in stride.

The Free Press reports that three activity centers have been opened as warming centers in the area:

...the City of Detroit has designated three recreation centers as warming centers.

The warming centers are Northwest Activities Center, 18100 Meyers Road; Butzel Family Center, 7737 Kercheval, and Farwell Community Center, 2711 E. Outer Drive.

The power is expected to be turned back on at 2 p.m. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek is following this story as well.

Environment
9:00 am
Tue January 3, 2012

Michigan homeowners improve on energy efficiency

The team installs the blower door test.
Photo by Meg Cramer

by Tanya Ott for The Environment Report

It’s cold outside… and maybe inside, if your house isn’t properly insulated. Home energy efficiency is a big issue and a new study gives Michigan kudos for making it a priority.

Randy Rice has lived in his Southgate, Michigan house for 13 years. He’s lived there – and often shivers there…

“Certainly believe that the air was leaking upstairs. We could feel some breezes. I just saw dollars flying out the window.”

Rice replaced the windows five years ago and it helped… but he still worries about leaks around the windows. So he called in...

“Amanda Godward, with Ecotelligent Homes. I’m the owner and energy auditor.”

Godward’s first step is to interview customers like Randy Rice. She takes house measurements, checks out insulations in the attic and windows. Then…. she goes all high tech with the “thermal infrared scan.”

“We use this to find flaws in the insulation, in the walls, without having to do any destructive testing.”

She turns on a fan that pulls all of the air out of the room. It creates a vacuum so cold air from the outside is pulled inside. She can see, on a scanner, all the little cracks and holes where air is sneaking in.

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Environment
8:03 am
Thu December 29, 2011

How green is your governor?

Rick Snyder was the first Republican running for governor to be endorsed by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (MLCV), a lobbying group that advocates for conservational and environmental laws and protection.

The MLCV has been tracking Governor Snyder’s position on environmental issues through the “How Green is your Governor” scorecard, an online evaluation that rates the administration’s environmental policy decision - green is good, red is bad, and yellow is neutral.

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