Environment & Science

Environment
1:39 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Judge approves permit for Kennecott mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Resistance to the Kennecott mine project has been going on since the project was first proposed. n 500) near the area. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Chris McCarus Environment Report

A judge has allowed a controversial mining project in the Upper Peninsula to go forward.

From the Associated Press:

A judge has upheld state regulators' decision to let Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. build a nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield of Ingham County on Wednesday sided against the National Wildlife Federation and other opponents of the mine being constructed in northwestern Marquette County. She ruled the Department of Environmental Quality acted lawfully when it issued a permit allowing the company to build and operate the mine.

An attorney for the wildlife federation says the group hasn't decided whether to appeal.

Kennecott Eagle is targeting an underground ore deposit that is expected to yield up to 300 million pounds of nickel and about 200 million pounds of copper, plus smaller amounts of other metals.

The company began blasting the mine entrance in September.

The controversy around the mine comes from fears of water pollution in the UP.

Mining operations in the U.S. haven't had the best environmental track record. Some old mining operations have left behind some pretty nasty legacy pollution problems (look up the "Berkeley Pit" in Butte, Montana for an example).

Back in 2005, Chris McCarus looked at the controversy surrounding the then proposed nickel mine in the UP for The Environment Report. McCarus reported:

Michelle Halle is a lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation and a local resident. She's got one question.

"I’m always interested in the answer to the question about whether he believes that a mine can exist with 100% perfect track record."

It’s a rhetorical question. She’s confident that the company won’t be able to meet the newer, stricter standards for getting a permit to mine.

"No human error, no design flaws, no natural disasters that are going to cause an impact... I don’t think that any company can say yes to that honestly."

Halle's 2005 hunch was wrong. Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. did get the permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and now a judge says development of the mine can go forward.

Environment
5:06 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Trash that closed Michigan beaches in 2008, 2010 from Wisconsin

A toothbrush is one piece of trash that traveled from Wisconsin to a beach in West Michigan.
Alliance for The Great Lakes

A couple of summers ago piles of trash washed up on the beaches of Lake Michigan from Pentwater to Portage. A federal investigation confirms the trash came all the way from Wisconsin.

The trash included medical supplies, small plastic pieces, chunks of wood; even whiskey bottles. Many beaches were closed at the time because of the trash.

Volunteers with the Alliance for The Great Lakes first reported the trash in 2008 and 2010 when they were out doing normal cleanup work.

"We’ve had many people in Michigan contacting us and asking ‘what ever happened about that?’ said Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program Manager for the Alliance.

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Environment
9:56 am
Tue November 22, 2011

Yoga retreat & trout fishermen at odds over dam removal

Dave Smethurst of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited says the dam at Golden Lotus Yoga Retreat is ruining the fishing in certain stretches of the Pigeon River.
Photo by Bob Allen

A small but notorious dam on one of northern Michigan's prettiest trout streams might soon come down. But what fishermen value about the Pigeon River is at odds with how the owners of the dam view it.

Owners at Golden Lotus yoga retreat have twice made big mistakes operating their dam over the last quarter century. And each time, muck from the pond behind the dam surged downstream. It smothered river life, and killed tens of thousands of trout.

Dave Smethurst has been fishing, hunting and hiking in the Pigeon River State Forest for the last 40 years. And both times the dam failed, he was there to witness the destruction.

"To see my river, and for trout fishermen rivers are very personal, to see my river devoid of life for several miles, it just wrenches your gut.”

Smethurst is on the board of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. T.U. is party to a lawsuit by the state of Michigan against Golden Lotus. The organization has been pushing for the entire dam to come out.

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Environment
5:00 am
Thu November 17, 2011

U.S. House bill would weaken Michigan's invasive species law

The invasive sea lamprey preys on all species of Great Lakes fish.
USFWS

Michigan’s fight to control invasive species in the Great Lakes could be weakened by a bill passed by the U.S. House this week.

Michigan put a ballast water law into effect in 2007 to keep ships from releasing new invasive species into the Great Lakes.

But the standard would be lowered by a Coast Guard funding bill that’s on its way to the U.S. Senate.

Patty Birkholz is director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes. She says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard had plenty of time to come up with recommendations, but failed to do so.

Now, Birkholz  says, Michigan has the most to lose.

"We know the dangers that we're under with invasive species, both from water and land, and we have to protect ourselves even if the federal government won't standup to the invasive threat out there," Birkholz says.

Birkholz says no new invasive species have been found since Michigan tightened its ballast water standards.

The U.S. House bill also allows the SS Badger car ferry in Ludington to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan. The operator says it can’t yet afford to convert to natural gas.

Environment
4:40 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

EPA revises estimate for oil collected in Enbridge pipeline break

Enbridge's broken pipeline. When this part of oil pipeline 6b burst near Talmadge Creek in July 2010, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of gallons of diluted bitumen oil spilled into the creek and into the Kalamazoo River.
NTSB

There’s a new estimate of the amount of oil that’s been sucked out of the  Kalamazoo River.  And it’s higher than the amount of oil Enbridge Energy claims leaked from its pipeline 16 months ago.  

Enbridge Energy claims a little more than 843 thousand gallons of crude oil leaked from its pipeline near Marshall in July, 2010. But the Environmental Protection Agency says it has recovered more than 1.1 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River during the 16 month cleanup. The EPA says it’s still investigating how much oil leaked from Enbridge’s pipeline.  

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Environment
6:15 am
Wed November 16, 2011

House OKs bill setting national ballast standard

The U.S. House has approved a bill that would set a national policy for cleansing ship ballast water to kill invasive species while prohibiting states from imposing tougher requirements.

The measure that passed the Republican-controlled chamber Tuesday would adopt an international standard limiting the number of live organisms in ballast water. Vessel operators would have to install technology to comply.

The shipping industry says an existing patchwork of more than two dozen state and tribal policies is unworkable because vessels move constantly from one jurisdiction to another. New York rules scheduled to take effect in 2013 would be 100 times tougher than the House standards.

Environmentalists say the House measure isn't strong enough to prevent more invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes. They say they hope to derail it in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Environment
5:06 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

Deer season kicks off with no reported safety incidents

This year's firearm deer hunting season is off to a safe start. That's according to state officials who said no incidents related to injury or safety have been reported so far.

MLive.com reports:

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Environment
3:45 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

As seasons change, so do cleanup efforts in Kalamazoo River

Recovery of submerged oil on Morrow Lake in June of 2011.
EPA Region 5

Enbridge Energy says it’s done cleaning up oil that sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River until next spring.

“That doesn’t mean cleanup is done for the year it’s just going from one phase into another,” company spokemans Jason Manshum said.

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Environment
3:17 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

Is there something missing in the latest plan to cleanup the Kalamazoo River oil spill?

The Kalamazoo River has been the site of a massive cleanup operation ever since a ruptured pipeline spewed more than 840 thousand gallons of Canadian oil sands crude near Marshall in July of 2010.
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A Michigan State University professor says he’s concerned a revised plan for cleaning up an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River is missing details in one important area.      

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Environment
9:00 am
Thu November 10, 2011

States ban lead wheel weights

A collection of lead wheel weights that have fallen off cars and trucks.
Photo by Jeff Gearhart

By Julie Grant for The Environment Report

The U.S. has worked to get lead out of gas and out of paint, but the biggest source of lead in a consumer product is still on roadways. It’s in the form of wheel weights, used to balance the tires on our cars. The Environmental Protection Agency says about 1.6 million pounds of lead fall off of vehicles each year, and it winds up in the environment. A handful of states is leading the effort to ban lead wheel weights.

If you notice a wobble or vibration when you’re driving, it could mean you’ve lost a wheel weight. Jeff Gearhart is a researcher with the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor. He says wheel weights are about the size of your pinky finger, and there are usually one or two of them for each tire.

“If you look at the rubber part of the wheel, then there’s a metal part, and if you look carefully, then you’ll see a clip-on weight.”

Gearhart isn’t a traditional car guy. He cares about wheel weights because in most states, they’re made with lead. Gearhart says it’s easy to bump a curb, and lose a wheel weight. The EPA says 13% of them fall off. On the roads, the weights get crushed into dust. He says the lead winds up in the soil, in drinking water and ground water.

“Lead’s a neurotoxin, leads to learning disabilities, lower IQ. We don’t know of any safe level of lead exposure in the environment.”

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Environment
5:39 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

One more project in Dow's long cleanup of Tittabawassee

Dow Chemical will begin removing pollution from a three-mile stretch of the Tittabawassee River near its Midland plant.

Dow already removed dioxin and furan contamination in the area; but there are five other chemicals that remain that can be harmful to wildlife.

The company just finished removing a dioxin-laced island in the river.

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Environment
1:21 pm
Tue November 8, 2011

New fly ash regulations for Michigan power plants?

A worker cleans fly ash from one of the containers inside the silo at the Eckert power plant.
Photo by Steve Carmody

Coal burning power plants are often scrutinized for what they emit from smokestacks. But now a by-product of burning coal for electricity is getting a closer look. Steve Carmody reports:

For the past few days… Dennis Brabant and his crew have been vacuuming up tons of fly ash trapped in the silo at the Lansing Board of Water and Light ‘s Eckert Power Plant.

“That’s what we’re dealing with right there… it’s part of electricity.”

Brabant lets the fine power pour through his fingers. It spreads like water on the silo floor… and coats everything.

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Environment
1:17 pm
Tue November 8, 2011

Oil spill cleanup crews back on Talmadge Creek

There’s new cleanup work underway along Talmadge Creek near Marshall…near the site of 2010’s Enbridge oil spill.

The area was already the site of a massive cleanup effort. But now… work crews are back. The first round was supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency. This time… the state Department of Environmental Quality is overseeing the work.

Mark DuCharme is with the DEQ. He says the initial EPA-supervised cleanup focused on removing visible oil and sheen from Talmadge Creek.

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Recreation
10:20 am
Tue November 8, 2011

Snowmobile permits rising $10 to $45 in Michigan

A snowmobile trail near Cadillac, Michigan.
user harrisMI Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The state is increasing snowmobile permit fees for the 2011 season.

 The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday that this season the price for a permit is $45, an increase of $10 over last year's price. The fee will be $45 through the 2015 snowmobile season. A state law signed in 2008 provided for the incremental increase in snowmobile trail fees, which support maintenance and grooming of the state's snowmobile trail network.

Environment
2:23 pm
Mon November 7, 2011

Michigan turtles still feeling effects of oil spill

A rescued oiled turtle ready for cleaning
Herpetological Resource and Management

According to an article in the Battle Creek Enquirer, turtles are still suffering negative effects from last year's oil spill in west Michigan's Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River.

Scientists including Bob Doherty have been working to rehabilitate affected turtles and document the extent of the damage to turtle populations caused by remaining submerged oil.

Doherty is under contract with Enbridge Inc., the company responsible for the spill.

Doherty and his staff will administer care to some 30 rescued turtles in the coming months who are not healthy enough to return to the wild for winter hibernation.

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Environment
11:11 am
Fri November 4, 2011

Landslide leads to coal ash spill in Lake Michigan

Earlier this week, there was a landslide at a coal-burning power plant in Wisconsin. We Energies operates the plant. On their property, there’s a ravine next to a bluff on the shore of Lake Michigan. That ravine is filled with coal ash.

Coal ash is what’s left over when coal is burned to create electricity and it can contain toxic substances like arsenic, mercury and lead.

When the bluff collapsed on Monday, mud, soil, and coal ash spilled into Lake Michigan.

Barry McNulty is with We Energies.

“The vast majority of the debris including the soils and even coal ash, remain on land today. But a portion of that debris certainly spilled into Lake Michigan, which includes three vehicles, we believe, some coal ash, different soil from the bluff,” McNulty said.

McNulty said they don’t know how much coal ash got into the lake, but he said they are installing booms and using skimmers to clean up the spill.

The cause of the spill is under investigation.

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Environment
11:40 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Federal judge rejects proposed settlement for Saugatuck Dunes

This story has been updated: An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that development was prohibited on all 300 acres of the property. The story below has been updated to make the requirement for special permits more clear.

A federal judge has thrown out a proposed legal settlement between Saugatuck Township and a private developer looking to build near Lake Michigan coastal dunes.

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Environment
3:54 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Two Michigan pollution hotspots show signs of improvement

Great Lakes Areas of Concern
EPA website

Two of Michigan's "Areas of Concern," heavily polluted sites around the Great Lakes region, have seen recent progress in terms of cleanup. This according to state environmental regulators.

The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. and Canada designated 43 toxic hot spots in the region in the late 1980s. Among them are Muskegon Lake and the Upper Peninsula's Deer Lake.

Among the problems that put Deer Lake on the list were deformities or reproductive problems for wildlife. Another was excessive algae.

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Environment
8:37 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

Muskegon County moves on plans to build large-scale wind farm

Part of Muskegon County's Wastewater Treatment System where the wind farm is proposed.
co.Muskegon .mi.us

Muskegon County has reached an agreement with developers to build a large-scale wind farm at its waste water treatment plant. The 11,000 acre site sits less than 15 miles away from the Lake Michigan shoreline. The county also rotates growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa on the land. This week the county board agreed to lease the plot to add wind farming to the mix.

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Environment
4:35 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

States seek action on Asian carp from U.S. Supreme Court

Some states want the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Asian carp fight.
US Supreme Court

Five Great Lakes states are waiting to find out if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case calling for more decisive measures to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania filed the request this week.

The states want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to quickly wrap up its study of how to keep Asian carp from escaping the Mississippi River system through Chicago-area shipping canals. The corps is one of the main agencies responsible for the locks.

John Sellek is the spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

“What we really want is to have the Army Corps of Engineers speed up their study,” said Sellek.

“They are taking up to five years or longer to look at this and every minute that goes by could be another fish that’s getting through those canals in Chicago, so what we’re requesting is they speed that up to 18 months at the longest.”

The Great Lakes states also want the high court to order the corps to string nets across smaller waterways that could be escape points for the carp.

At the same time, Michigan and 17 states along the Great Lakes or the Mississippi want a total physical separation of the water systems.

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