Environment & Science

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says gas stations can now sell gasoline blended with 15% ethanol for all cars built in 2001 or after. Right now, when you fill up in Michigan, your gasoline has 10% ethanol.

The EPA says E15 gasoline will help reduce our need for foreign oil. Ethanol is made from plants like corn. The EPA only tested the effects of E15 on emissions and catalytic converters.

But ethanol is corrosive. Patrick Kelly is with the American Petroleum Institute.

epa.gov

It's been five years since the deep injection wells in Romulus, Michigan stopped pumping hazardous waste close to a mile underground.

Now those wells might reopen. From the Detroit News:

The two wells located off Citrin Drive have drawn opposition in the Romulus area long before original owner Environmental Disposal Systems (EDS) began accepting waste there in 2005. Operations were halted when the company ran into financial problems and state inspectors discovered leaks in the above ground apparatus. There was no lasting environmental damage, but the findings fueled opposition from local residents...

This week, EPA officials appear ready to grant tentative approval for Environmental Geo-Technologies' underground injection control permit, which would bring the reopening of the site one step closer to reality.

The deep injection wells in Romulus have been a controversial subject for decades.

Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

At the moment, the federal government manages the gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But federal officials say the wolves in these states are doing great, and they want to hand management over to the states.

This isn’t the first time federal officials have tried to take wolves off the endangered species list. Wolves were delisted in 2007... but that delisting was challenged in court by some environmental groups. And wolves were put back on the list.

Some members of Congress are trying to make sure these kinds of lawsuits don’t happen again.

Candice Miller represents Michigan’s 10th district. It’s in the Thumb. She just introduced a bill that would amend the Endangered Species Act... and remove wolves from the list. Her bill would make it more difficult for anybody to sue over that decision.

“You have a number of anti-hunting groups and they constantly tie these decisions up in court. I think this legislation is a huge tool to be used so the courts don’t have these things happening.”

She says her office has been approached by sportsmen and farmers worried about wolves preying on deer, moose and livestock.

Michigan’s wolf management plan does not call for a hunting season for wolves. The state legislature would have to decide that.

Consumers Energy is expanding a very popular solar energy program in Michigan. The program allows people with solar panels on their homes or businesses to sell some of the power they generate to the power company. 

State regulators are directing the utility giant to expand the program.

Consumers Energy will double the amount of power it will pay people for. All utility providers in Michigan are investing in more renewable energy. State law requires them to get at least 10% of their power from renewable sources by 2015.

nrc.gov

FRENCHTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant operated safely last year.

The Monroe Evening News reported Monday that a letter from a branch chief for the commission's reactor projects division says no inspections beyond ones that are routine and previously planned are scheduled for this year at the facility in southeastern Michigan's Monroe County.

The letter was to plant operator DTE Energy Co.

Each year, the federal regulatory agency reviews its inspections at plants during the calendar year and issues an assessment letter. The NRC says the plant met all operational standards in 2010 and is working to address some employee issues from recent years.

The 1,200-megawatt Fermi 2 plant began operating in 1988.

@TreyRatcliff / Twitpic

Thirty years ago, the launch of the space shuttle Columbia was big news.

As NASA put more shuttles in orbit, the focus on the launches became much less intense.

Today, NASA's Space Shuttle program is coming to an end. So, in honor of the next to last launch of a space shuttle, here is video of Endeavor's last lift-off (launch number 134 of an orbiting space shuttle) :

The narrator of the video says the Endeavor weighs 4.5 million pounds on the ground. After one minute of flight time, half that weight is gone as it burns up 11,000 pounds of fuel per second.

Endeavor is captained Mark E. Kelly, the husband of Representative Gabrielle Giffords who was severely wounded by an assassin's bullet last January. Giffords watched the liftoff and reportedly said "Good stuff, good stuff."

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to be the last flight for the Space Shuttle program.

It's scheduled to launch this July.

user pencefn / creative commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A Canadian power company is no longer seeking U.S. permission to ship 16 scrapped generators with radioactive contents across three of the Great Lakes, but says it
hasn't abandoned the plan.

Bruce Power Inc. withdrew an application this month for a transport license from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Canada's Nuclear Safety Commission had granted the company permission in February to ship the generators, but U.S. approval was also needed because the vessels would cross into U.S. territory.

The Kincardine, Ontario-based company seeks to send the generators to Sweden for recycling. Environmentalists and other critics say transporting the school bus-sized devices on the Great
Lakes would be risky.

The company says it's delaying the shipment to allow further talks with opponents, including native tribes.

user jdurham / morguefile

It’s morel season in Michigan!

May is morel month in Michigan, and people from all over comb the state for the delectable mushrooms.

Phil Tedeschi is president of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club. He leads folks on more than 50 mushroom hunts throughout the year in southeast Michigan, starting with the first mushroom of the season: black and white morels.

Tedeschi has this advice if you're on the hunt for morels:

Tony Buser / flickr

Community gardeners in Detroit are angry about new permit requirements for gardening on city-owned lots.

Reit Schumack heads an organization on the city’s west side called Neighbors Building Brightmoor, which puts in gardens, wildflower stands and pocket parks on dozens of city lots. Schumack says the new rules include a ban on bringing in new soil or compost, unless the city grants lot-by-lot permission:

MARINE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Public health officials in St. Clair County are expanding their investigation into whether environmental or other factors could be responsible for a rare form of kidney cancer diagnosed in children in the Marine City area.

The investigation started this year looking into five cases of Wilms' tumor since 2007 in southeastern St. Clair County. The Times Herald of Port Huron reported Thursday that eight cases now are included, including two in the Port Huron area and one in Richmond.

Officials say another case in the St. Clair Shores area isn't being considered because it's too far away.

Marine City, which is located about 40 miles northeast of Detroit, has industrial plants and is about 10 miles from petrochemical plants in Sarnia, Ontario. But health officials say there's no established link.

Enbridge Inc. says it will spend $286 million to replace 75 miles of pipeline in Indiana and Michigan after a 2010 break that spilled at least 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River system.

The Houston-based company said Thursday the work is planned next year on the pipeline, which runs from Griffin, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

The company says it's already replaced 14 segments covering 1.7 miles in southeastern Michigan and has installed a new line under the St. Clair River.

The new work includes five miles of pipeline downstream from each of two pump stations in Indiana and three in Michigan, as well as 50 miles of pipeline downstream from the Stockbridge station and terminal, about 55 miles west of Detroit.

Holland Board of Public Works.

The legal battle over a proposed expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Holland is not over yet. The State of Michigan granted the city the necessary air quality permit in February, following years of delays. But now a number of environmental groups are teaming up and bringing the issue back to court.

A new University of Michigan study in the journal Health Affairs finds 62% of public schools in the state are located in places with high levels of air pollution from industries.

Paul Mohai is one of the study’s authors.

“Often schools are located in more polluted parts of their respective school districts.”

He says schools need a lot of land... and land is expensive but money is tight.

“There’s probably quite an economic pressure to put schools where land values are low, and those may be near highways or industrial facilities or that otherwise are polluted.”

Mohai says Michigan has no formal policy that requires school boards to consider the environmental quality of an area for a new school.

William Mayes is the executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. He says school boards do consider pollution when they’re finding new sites for schools.

“You know, intelligent people are thinking about this. The bottom line is you look at where your community is expanding, where your community is growing, and you seek the most economical and safe property you can to build a school.”

Mayes says people are drawn to where the jobs are, and that’s often near industries, and industries pollute.

Leaders in Michigan’s farm community are urging Senator Debbie Stabenow and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change the rules for a land conservation program on farms. They say the current program could lead to higher food prices.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The city of Grand Rapids is joining efforts to help victims of major flooding and deadly tornados in the Southern United States.

Mayor George Heartwell urged people to give whatever they’re able to afford.

 “I feel so strongly that the suffering of any people anywhere needs to be our suffering. As long as there are people in need and we have the ability and the capacity to help address that need, it’s critical for us to do that.”

Greening of Detroit

Detroiters who want a say in how the city manages its land gathered for an environmental summit last week.

Activists and community leaders organized the summit so citizens could provide input on environmental aspects of the Detroit Works Project, an ongoing project to deal with the city’s huge swaths of vacant land.

Jackie Victor lives and owns a small business in Detroit.

She says city planners need to look at Detroit’s land and natural resources as assets rather than liabilities.

Flickr user JadeXJustice

Two black belts have combined karate and urban farming, in a push to revitalize a Flint-area neighborhood, and they’ve just won the Small Farmer of the Year award for Michigan.

The award goes to husband and wife, Jacky and Dora King. They run the King  Karate school and the Harvesting Earth Educational Farm.

On their website, the King's say they employ local youth to help out on the farm.

"We have had students who did not know that potatoes grow in the ground, but thought instead they grew in trees!"

The Flint Journal reports the couple beat out farmers in Isabella and Ionia counties for the award.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the award recognizes farmers based on their conservation efforts, such as preventing erosion and water contamination, and community involvement. The farm also has been nominated for the national Lloyd Wright Small Black Farmer Award.

user thebridge / Michigan Radio

We’ve been waiting and waiting for spring to arrive, some of us less patiently than others.  April was a soggy, cold month; we even got a little snow dumped on us as Old Man Winter delivered his final hurrah.

The National Weather Service tells us not to expect miracles in May, either, and lays the blame firmly at the feet of La Nina. That’s El Nino’s little sister, which visits us periodically to unleash some nasty storms to our south and keep things chilly and clammy up here.

But in defiance of all that, spring did arrive in the last few days, in full regalia.

Photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Summer recreation may return to parts of the Kalamazoo River. Michigan health officials are studying the effects of an oil spill last summer. The spill dumped more than 800-thousand gallons into the river near Marshall.  If reports are positive, the no-contact order on areas of the Kalamazoo River may be lifted. The order banned swimming, boating and fishing.

Flame retardant chemicals help keep foam and plastics from catching on fire. They’re called PBDEs. That stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

They’re in our couches, our office chairs and the padding under our carpet.

The problem is... they don’t stay put. Scientists have known for a while that the chemicals leach out of products and get into our bodies. Americans have the highest levels of anyone in the world.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies are suggesting links to problems with brain development, changes to thyroid systems, and fertility problems.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

New research finds that fish in the Great Lakes are contaminated with a chemical used in aircraft hydraulic fluids.

Researcher Amila DeSilva works for Environment Canada, which is like the EPA in the U.S.

She says there have been studies on a number of perflourinated chemicals. They’re used to make textiles, upholstery, paper, and many other things. Studies have shown these types of chemicals can have toxic effects in humans. But not much is known about a chemical called perfluoroethylcyclohexanesulfonate - or PFECHS for short.

DeSilva says no one has really studied whether it's toxic.

She wanted to see if PFECHS was in the environment, so she and her colleagues sampled water and fish in the Great Lakes, specifically lake trout and walleye:

“We were really, really surprised to find it in fish. Because, just based on the structure and our chemical intuition we thought, ‘okay, it would be more likely to be in water than in fish’ so when we found it in fish, when you find anything in fish, it’s a whole other ballgame because humans consume fish.”

DeSilva says other perflourinated acids are endocrine disruptors. That means they create hormone imbalances in humans, and they have other toxic effects. She says once these chemicals are released into the environment they don’t degrade, they just build up. That’s why use of some chemicals in this class is highly restricted in the U.S. and Canada.

USFWS

The U.S. Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that it plans to remove the western Great Lakes gray wolf population from the Endangered Species list.

These are wolves found in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and areas adjoining these states.

Acting Service Director Rowan Gould was quoted in today's press release:

“Gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes are recovered and no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. Under this proposed rule, which takes into account the latest taxonomic information about the species, we will return management of gray wolves in the Great Lakes to state wildlife professionals. We are confident that wolves will continue to thrive under the approved state management plans.”

There will be a sixty-day comment period before the rule is finalized.

Mary Detloff, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, says the state supports the decision and is ready to take over management of the species:

"The most recent estimate that we have of the minimum winter population for wolves in Michigan is around 687 animals which far exceeds our recovery goal here in the state. Our recovery goal was around 200-300 wolves."

Detloff says delisting the wolf would allow the state to deal with problem wolves.

emilydryden.wordpress.com

There’s good news for people who enjoy cold, damp weather.  For the rest of you,  don’t put away your sweaters just yet. 

Remember how it snowed in early December and just kept on snowing – for months?

Remember how the calendar said spring had arrived, but we just got more snow -- and then lots of cold, rainy days?

Rich Pollman is with the National Weather Service in Detroit. He says things probably won’t improve much in May.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Have you ever seen those plastic forks or spoons made from corn or potatoes? It’s a big trend right now.

They’re compostable. So in theory... this tableware breaks down into a dark, rich material that’s really good for gardening.

So you get the convenience of disposable plastic... without adding to the big pile of plastic trash.

But here’s where things get tricky.

Liz Shoch is with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. She's working with companies to rethink the way they package their products.

“One of the things we say a lot currently is there is no sustainable package and that goes for compostable packaging too. There’s always tradeoffs.”

The federal budget left many groups wanting more money, but those lobbying to restore Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes are actually pretty pleased with the President and Congress.

Andy Buchsbaum co-chairs a group that’s trying to get enough funding over five years to restore the Great Lakes. He says the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative didn’t get all the money it wanted in the 2011 federal budget. But Buchsbaum says given the tight economic times, the $300 million they did get will keep the program on track.

“The Great Lakes did remarkably well this year in the federal budget, and the people in this region will benefit from it.”

In Michigan, Buchsbaum says the money is being used to restore wetlands. It’s also being used to get rid of toxic hot spots, such as the so-called black lagoon in the Detroit River area. And it’s being used to prevent Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan.

Buchsbaum says both parties supported Great Lakes restoration because of the economic benefits, and everyone wants their children to be able to swim at the beaches and drink the water.

-Julie Grant for The Environment Report

Rodney Burton / creative commons

There's long been a tug of war between corn growers and sugar refiners over who can get their sweetener into more products. Reuters reports that high fructose corn syrup has been gaining on sugar lately because of higher sugar prices.

Now, sugar growers are suing over a ad campaign that is trying to change the image of high fructose corn syrup.

Michigan Sugar Company has joined a lawsuit against corn processors who are trying to rebrand high-fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar."

Photo by d.boyd, Flickr

The American Lung Association released its State of the Air Report this week.

More than a dozen Michigan cities made the list of the most polluted cities in the country for ozone pollution – also known as smog – and particle pollution – also called soot. The major sources of this pollution are factories and power plants... and our cars and trucks and even our lawnmowers.

The report has three separate lists of the most polluted cities.  There are lists for ozone pollution, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution.  Detroit ranked 17th most polluted for year-round particle pollution. Grand Rapids tied for 43rd worst ozone pollution.

Shelly Kiser is the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Michigan. 

"Ozone is created in the atmosphere with a couple chemicals that need heat and light, so it's usually something we see in the summer. It increases your risk of early death, you're more likely to have asthma attacks. Particle pollution, on the other hand, is what we think of as soot, so it's tiny pieces of something that can blow in the wind, and they are so tiny that they can go way down in the deepest part of your lungs and really wreak havoc there. It increases your risk of death during high levels over a short period of time, or at low levels over a long period of time."

There is some good news in the report. Many Michigan communities have improved air quality over previous years and some Michigan cities actually made the list of the cleanest cities in the country.  The cleanest cities for particle pollution were the greater Lansing area and Saginaw.

Brown marmorated stink bug.
PSU Dept. of Entomology

The invasive skunk of the insect world has been found in four counties in Michigan.

Here are the counties where the Brown marmorated stink bug has been found:

  • Berrien
  • Eaton
  • Genesee
  • Ingham

If the bug feels threatened, or if you squish it, this stink bug... stinks.

But the damage it can do to crops is what has officials in Michigan worried.

The PSU Department of Entomology says the Brown marmorated stink bug damages fruit and vegetable crops by sucking plant fluids through its beak.

A piece in lansingnoise.com estimated the damage it could do:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture late last year looked at the potential damage to crops. Topping the list was the country's $2.2 billion apple industry. Michigan's share is $115 million worth, or 590 million pounds of apples harvested each year.

"I have these growers telling me that they fear this might be the worst pest in a generation for orchards," said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, which represents the state's apple industry.

The bug has proven it can resist pesticides, so what's to be done?

Sabri Ben-Achour filed a report for NPR on how some researchers are looking into using foreign wasps to fight the bug:

Can wasps squash the stink bug plague?

Trissolcus wasps are from China, Japan and Korea. The same place where the invasive stink bug came from. The wasps are natural enemies of the Brown marmorated stink bug, so researchers want to know if they can release them in the U.S. without harming other native stink bugs that are beneficial.

The researchers say it will take them three years to find out. In the meantime, some farmers will continue to try to fight the bug with pesticides - Ben-Achour reports some farmers are asking the EPA to relax pesticide regulations.

This week, the Michigan Supreme Court's conservative majority reversed a major decision that allowed Michigan citizens to sue the state over pollution concerns.

In December, the high court ruled that state agencies that issue permits that result in harm can be named in a citizen suit. At the time, there was a liberal majority in the Court.

The office of Attorney General Bill Schuette asked the Court to rehear the case.

The newly conservative Court did that this week... and with an order reversed the December ruling.

Nick Schroeck is the executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

“What the Court did is it basically potentially rolled back a layer of environmental protection by calling into question whether or not the state can be liable for its permitting decisions. So if the state permits something that goes on to harm the environment, arguably the state should be liable if they made a bad decision. And what the Court did is they’ve kinda called that into question.”

Schroeck says he expects this new decision will be challenged.

Can wasps squash the stink bug plague?

Apr 28, 2011

Home is where the heart is. It's also probably where a lot of stink bugs are right now, crawling out from cracks and crevices. They were introduced into Allentown, Pa., from Asia in the 1990s and have been spreading ever since, reaching seemingly plaguelike proportions in the mid-Atlantic states. But an experiment is under way to reintroduce the stink bug to its mortal enemy: a parasitic Asian wasp.

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