Environment & Science

(Flickr Senor Codo)

Air quality is getting better in Michigan, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.  The association’s annual ‘State of the Air’ report says ozone and particle pollution rates have eased in Michigan during the past decade.    Lansing and Saginaw have some of the cleanest air among U.S. cities.  

Shelly Kiser is with the American Lung Association.     She says the report’s not all good news. 

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service has issued a "Tornado Watch" for much of Michigan until 10 p.m. tonight. A "tornado watch" means conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area.

The Michigan Counties included in the watch are:

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It's a case that has turned into a political football for the conservative and liberal incarnations of the Michigan Supreme Court.

In an order released today, the Michigan Supreme Court's conservative majority reversed a major decision that allowed Michigan citizens to sue the state over pollution concerns.

From the Associated Press:

The case involved the discharge of partially contaminated water to a popular trout stream. In December, the court's liberal majority used the case to give more rights to people to challenge
state regulators over certain environmental permits.

At issue is whether people have the right to sue the state over pollution concerns when the state issues things like pollution discharge permits.

The case that was argued involved the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Merit Energy, and the Anglers of the AuSable.

Photo courtesy of USFWS

There’s a decision looming for Lake Huron that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. The state must decide whether it should keep putting chinook salmon in the lake. The fish has been the driving force behind sport fishing in the Great Lakes. But the salmon’s future in the Upper Lakes is now questionable.

It’s hard to overstate how drastically salmon transformed the Great Lakes after they were introduced more than 40 years ago.

Ed Retherford is a charter boat captain on Lake Huron. He says in the old days on a weekend in Rockport he’d see cars with boat trailers backed up for a mile or two waiting to launch. But that’s all gone now.

“You’d be lucky, except maybe for the brown trout festival, you’d be lucky to see twenty boats there on a weekend. It just decimated that area. You can imagine the economics involved.”

Chinook or king salmon practically disappeared from Lake Huron about seven years ago. Most of the charter boats are gone now because the kinds of fish that remain are just not as exciting to catch as salmon.

State officials figure little towns like Rockport lose upwards of a million dollars in tourism business every year without the fishery.

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From the Associated Press:

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy has canceled an Earth Day program scheduled for Saturday after more than 600,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into wetlands near the event's Kalamazoo-area location.

Conservancy workers discovered the leak Thursday and a cleanup was under way Friday. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that vandals caused the spill by blocking a sewer line with several logs.

Sue Foune of Kalamazoo's Public Services Department says lime has been scattered to destroy bacteria. She says the wetlands will absorb and treat the sewage and there should be no long-term
effects.

But conservancy stewardship director Nate Fuller says nutrients in the sewage will boost invasive cattails that the group has been trying to remove.

The vandalism was reported to police.

Image courtesy of the DOE

If you’ve ever been lost in the lightbulb aisle... things are getting a little easier. There’s a new label the federal government is requiring on lightbulb packages. It's modeled after the Nutrition Facts label on food.

But the label still needs some deciphering. Greenovation dot tv’s Matt Grocoff knows a thing or two about lightbulbs. I met up with Matt so he could show me how to read the new labels.

Business owners and politicians are trying to figure out how to make Michigan a manufacturing hub for things like advanced batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels.

They’re gathering at the Clean Energy Manufacturing Workshop in Ann Arbor today and tomorrow. The workshop is being put on by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy along with Ann Arbor SPARK.

Steven Busch will be paying pretty close attention.

He’s with Energetx Composites Company in Holland. It’s a spin-off company of Tiara Yacht. Before the economy went south, their main business was building high end yachts. Now, they make blades for wind turbines.

“The basic manufacturing process is very similar. We have the expertise on how to handle large, big, bulky things.”

He says they’re planning to stay in Michigan.

“Michigan offers the best engineering and manufacturing skill set probably in the world. Geographically, the Great Lakes are a great opportunity as a place to be able to ship products over the water.”

Busch says he’d like to see more training programs at universities and community colleges – and more retraining programs for former auto workers who want to get into the business.

Chris Broadbent

Protesters rallied at an energy forum hosted by the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce today. They’re calling on the Kalamazoo Chamber to cut its ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

(Photo by Scott Bauer - USDA)

Baiting deer is the subject of lots of debate in Lansing this month. There’s a ban on feeding deer in the Lower Peninsula that could be lifted in June. The restriction was a response to the discovery of chronic wasting disease in one deer in 2008. But as Peter Payette reported for The Environment Report no more sick animals have been found and the pressure is growing to let hunters bait wild deer.

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Update 2:03 p.m.

Officials say the gasoline leak has been stopped. Still no word on how much fuel leaked from the storage tank.

From the Associated Press:

Officials say they've stopped a gasoline leak in Michigan and confirmed the source as a storage tank in the area.

Ingham County emergency officials said in a statement Monday that the tank and a related filling system in White Oak Township, about 55 miles west of Detroit, are owned by Marathon Pipe Line LLC.

A message seeking comment was left Monday by The Associated Press at Marathon's offices.

Wolverine Pipe Line Co., which also owns some tanks at the same storage site, has been working with the county on response to the leak since it was reported Wednesday.

The county says Marathon will take over work dealing with the leak from Wolverine. The amount of the spill remains unknown. There's no evidence of health hazards in the area.

9:07 a.m.

Authorities say they've found the source of the gasoline leak in Ingham County.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan authorities say they've traced a gasoline leak to the area of a storage tank holding 14,700 barrels of fuel. Ingham County Emergency officials said in a statement Sunday that they've found higher levels of spilled gasoline as their monitoring equipment approaches the Wolverine Pipeline Co. facility.

The large gasoline storage tank site is in White Oak Township, about 55 miles west of Detroit.

Some of the gas flowed about a mile down an open drain by the time a farmer reported the leak Wednesday.

The county says the suspected source of the leak is a tank that can hold up to 180,000 barrels of fuel. It says that while the amount of the spill remains unknown, it's nowhere near the capacity of the tank, which was mostly empty when the leak started.

Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris reported yesterday that officials from the Wolverine Pipeline Company were searching for the gasoline leak.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is holding a forum on pipeline safety today in Washington, DC.

Last summer’s massive oil spill in the Kalamazoo River and two fatal gas line explosions in California and Pennsylvania triggered the review of pipeline safety.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced a pipeline safety action plan.  The plan calls for pipeline operators to review their pipelines and quickly repair sections that are in bad condition.

Andy Black is the President and CEO of the Association of Oil Pipelines.  It’s a trade group that represents pipeline operators. 

“The industry strives for no accidents but I cannot assure you there will be none.”

He says despite the recent accidents, the industry’s safety record is improving.  The Transportation Department backs up that claim... saying accidents have decreased nearly 50% over the past 20 years.

You can find out what kind of pipelines run near your home, school or office on a new website from the DOT.

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With the spread and advancement of home technology such as televisions, computers, cell phones, and video games, American children are spending less and less time outdoors. A baseball glove has been traded in for a remote control, and parents have gone from fretting over grass-stained jeans to fretting over their child’s apparent reclusiveness. Most kids today are more comfortable walking a parent through setting up Facebook account than they are walking through a forest. But the Udall Foundation, based in Arizona, is trying to reacquaint kids with the joys of exploring the natural world with their Parks in Focus program.

Parks in Focus is all about bridging the gap between technology and nature. Children, mostly middle school aged, are put in touch with Parks in Focus through the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters. After providing each child with a digital camera to document their explorations, Parks in Focus program leaders take the children on camping and hiking trips in some of America’s most scenic parks. While trips originally went only to the Grand Canyon, Parks in Focus has expanded to several other states, including Michigan.

Bret Muter is the Michigan Program Coordinator for Parks in Focus. He says digital cameras act as security blankets for the kids, allowing them to have a familiar piece of technology in an unfamiliar world of mountains, streams, and creepy crawlies.

“If kids aren’t comfortable with nature, they’re typically comfortable with technology such as a camera, even if they don’t own one. So cameras serve as that safety net for exploring the environment, which may otherwise be unfamiliar or even scary to some kids.”

On top of just making the children more comfortable with the initial shock of being out in the middle of the woods, Muter says the cameras allow the kids to interact with their surroundings more than they normally would.

Flickr user nbonzey

The company that owns a pipeline that's leaking gasoline in Michigan is still searching for the source of the leak.   

Ingham County Emergency officials said in a statement Saturday that Wolverine Pipeline Company crews hope to find the leak within the next 24 hours and repair it. The Portage, Michigan-based company has contained the leak near a farm and a large gasoline storage tank facility about 55 miles west of Detroit.   

Some of the gas flowed about a mile down an open drain by the time the leak was reported Wednesday by a farmer. 

Crews continued digging temporary ditches Saturday near the storage tank to keep it out of the drain.   

Wolverine Pipeline says tests on wells in the area show that they pose no threat to human health.

Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan

Until last July, many people in Marshall had no idea an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ran underneath their town.

Then, it broke. More than 840,000 gallons of thick, black oil from the Canadian tar sands poured into the Kalamazoo River.

“I think I can sum it up in one word and that is nightmare."

Deb Miller lives just 50 feet from the Kalamazoo River.

“The smell, I don’t even know how to describe the smell, there are no words. You could not be outside."

United States Geological Survey

Ecologists from the University of Michigan say invasive zebra and quagga mussels are causing dramatic changes to the ecosystems in northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Their report says action must come soon to stop the spread of the mussels in the Great Lakes.

Donald Scavia  is the Director of the University of Michigan Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute. He's one of the authors of a new report that says the changes are happening quickly and require more attention than they are getting now:

“Our management strategies need to be able to be reviewed and modified every couple of years rather than every couple of decades.”

Scavia said the zebra mussels make it difficult to predict the conditions of the Great Lakes from year to year.

Tim Wang / Flickr

DTE Energy has announced it will build three wind farms in Michigan's Sanilac and Huron counties.

The company expects to build around 50 wind turbines in total.

Legislators in Michigan set a renewable energy standard in 2008 that requires energy companies get 10% of their energy from renewable sources by 2015.

Right now, DTE energy says it gets "nearly four percent" of its energy from renewable sources.

These three new wind farms are part of DTE's plan to achieve the 10% goal.

DTE officials say they have acquired easements on 80,000 acres in Huron County and have completed wind and wildlife studies where the three wind farms will be sited.

From DTE's press release:

The Minden, Sigel and McKinley wind farms – which together will generate approximately 110 megawatts (MW) of electricity – will be sited on nearly 15,000 acres in Bloomfield, Sigel and McKinley townships in Huron County, and Minden and Delaware townships in Sanilac County.

The total cost of the wind farms is expected to be around $225 million. DTE is seeking contractors to start building the farms next year.

Michigan currently has wind projects in Cheboygan, Grand Traverse, Huron, and Missaukee counties.

Combined, these wind farms provide enough energy to power around 40,000 homes in Michigan, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

AWEA says Michigan's wind potential ranks 17th in the country - much of that wind potential is in the state's thumb area.

Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan/EPA

It was one of the largest oil spills in the Midwest... and it’s not over yet.

Crews are still cleaning up from last July’s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ruptured... and spilled more than 840,000 gallons of heavy crude. The oil polluted Talmadge Creek and more than 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency say most of that oil has been sucked out of the river... and tens of thousands of cubic yards of contaminated soil have been removed.

But the work is far from done.

The EPA granted me access to one of the contaminated sites on the Kalamazoo River.  I met with Mark Durno, the Deputy Incident Commander with the EPA. He’s overseeing the cleanup teams.  We stood on the bank of the river as dump trucks and loaders rumbled over a bridge out to an island in the river.

“The islands were heavily contaminated, we didn’t expect to see as much oil as we did. If you’d shovel down into the islands you’d see oil pool into the holes we’d dig."

Workers scooped out contaminated soil... hauled it to a staging area and shipped it off site.

Mark Durno says the weather will dictate what happens next. He says heavy rainstorms will probably move oil around. They won’t know how much more cleanup work they’ll have to do until they finish their spring assessment.

“Once the heavy rains recede, we’ll do an assessment over the entire stretch of river to determine whether there are substantial amounts of submerged oil in sediments that still exist in the system.”

He says if they find a lot of oil at the bottom of the river... the crews will have to remove it.

Reports that Enbridge submitted to the EPA and the state of Michigan show the type of oil spilled in the Kalamazoo River was diluted bitumen. Bitumen is a type of oil that comes from tar sands. It’s a very thick oil, and it has to be diluted in order to move through pipelines.

3rd Party/Flickr

Twelve Republican legislators from northern Michigan are proposing a plan that would keep some forest campgrounds in the state open.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced last week that the state will be closing twenty-three state forest campgrounds beginning in May.

The DNR says they’re closing the campgrounds because they’re not heavily used and the state doesn’t have the money to maintain them.

The GOP lawmakers detailed plans on Monday that would give local governments the option to take over the campgrounds that would otherwise be closed.

user brianhef / flickr

This week’s guest for “What’s Working” is Julie Powers, the Director of the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council. Ms. Powers has been involved in the planning and organizing of a day of community service in Lansing, set to happen this year on May 14th. The event is entitled, “Adopt-Your-Place.”

Volunteers will be led by event organizers in such tasks as water testing and clean-up along the Grand River, planting and mulching public gardens throughout the area, clearing trails, repairing eyesores, and generally giving some TLC to local sites in need.

Phault / Creative Commons

A bill introduced in the state house would ban wind farms in the Michigan’s portions of the Great Lakes.

The bill was co-signed by Republican State Representative Jon Bumstead. His district includes communities along the Lake Michigan shore, north of Muskegon.

One year ago tonight, mine rescuers discovered the remains of the last four missing coal miners deep inside Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

There had been hope that the four had made it to refuge chambers and were still alive. Optimistic rescuers carried four sets of breathing apparatus with them, hoping they would be used to bring the miners safely to the surface. The bodies of 25 other miners were found four days earlier.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Earlier this week, I joined a bus tour organized to bring community leaders from Grand Rapids to visit Detroit. One of the many cool places we visited that hasn’t made it into my writing so far is Earthworks Urban Farm. I didn’t want to overlook it – so here’s the second installation of what Detroit can teach other cities in Michigan about urban farming.

bigmikesndtech / flickr

The clean-up of industrial waste in Muskegon Lake will start next month. The lake is contaminated with mercury and other pollutants that get into fish and wildlife. The Muskegon River flows through the lake on its way to Lake Michigan.

Kathy Evans is with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

“U.S EPA and the state of Michigan entered into the agreement to clean up Muskegon Lake and the community sees this as very beneficial to the local economy, to the environment to the fish and wildlife habitat and the water quality here in Muskegon Lake and to Lake Michigan.”

The clean-up is being paid for by the state and federal governments and is expected to cost twelve-million dollars.

user 3rdParty / flickr

The state will be closing twenty-three state forest campgrounds beginning in May. The campgrounds are not state parks. They’re camping sites along rivers, lakes or trails. Most of the sites to be closed are in the Upper Peninsula.

Mary Dettloff is with the state Department of Natural Resources.

"These are primarily rustic camping sites. There’s no electrical hook up like there is at a state park. State Forest campgrounds tend to cater to people who are into more of just a tent camping experience."

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is closing the campgrounds because they’re not heavily used and the state doesn’t have money to maintain them. Dettloff continues:

"Not only did we pick the ones that are underperforming in terms of bringing in revenue but they’re also ones that are close to other state forest campgrounds. So we’re not going to be denying the opportunity to use the state forest campgrounds to people because there will be other ones nearby that will remain open."

The trails and land around the campgrounds will still be available to visitors after the campsites are removed.

Photo courtesy of isleroyalewolf.org

The wolves of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior could be in trouble.

For 53 years, researchers from Michigan Tech have been studying the island’s wolf and moose populations.

This year... they found there are fewer wolves – just 16. And only a couple of females that can still have babies. Rolf Peterson has been studying the wolves for more than four decades.

He says it's not clear why some of the wolves are dying.

"In late 2009, six of the ten females we had in the population died. That was just an unusual, presumably a fluke. Only one of the females was radio collared and she died in a very unusual way, she died giving birth."

He says the outlook for the existence of wolves on Isle Royale is uncertain.

"It could be just a little hurdle they have to jump through. It also could mean the beginning of the end if those one or two females should die without giving birth to a female. And if neither of the two pups we thought we saw this year are female, then that's it. The population would go extinct because there are no females."

At this point, he doesn't think people should intervene. But he says there could come a point where the National Park Service might introduce new female wolves from the mainland. Peterson says the males on the island would readily accept new females if the existing females die.

The wolves keep the island's moose in check. The research team has found that the moose population is currently around 500 animals. If the wolves go extinct, Peterson says the moose would be in trouble too.

"They'd increase to the point where they'd starve to death catastrophically."

Peterson has spent most of every year for four decades living among the wolves and moose on the island with his wife Candy.  But he says there's still plenty to be discovered.

"Almost everything that happens there surprises me. We're almost unable to predict the short term future. I guess the resiliency of wolves in general does usually surprise me. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they pulled out of this one. But exactly how they're going to do it is what's fascinating."

You can learn more about the research team and the wildlife here.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI, is the "richest" member of Congress from Michigan, according to CQ Roll Call.
Republican Conference / Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate planet-warming greenhouse gasses... if the agency found those gasses are a threat to human health and safety. In 2009, the EPA found greenhouse gasses are a threat... and the agency started taking steps to regulate emissions from industries such as coal-burning power plants and automobiles.

For months now, many members of Congress have been trying to block the EPA from doing that. The latest people to climb on board are from Michigan: Republican Representative Fred Upton and Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Fred Upton chairs the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. He not only wants to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses... he wants to repeal the EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gasses are harmful.

Ryan Werder is the political director for the nonpartisan group Michigan League of Conservation Voters. He says since he was appointed Chair, Congressman Upton has shifted to the right politically.

“He was always a good, moderate, reliable voice. Before, when he said climate change was a reality and something we had to consider. He suddenly removed that from this website and acts as if climate change is non-existent.”

Jeffrey Simms Photography / Flickr

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, will co-chair the U.S. Senate’s Great Lakes Task Force for the next two years, the Associated Press reports.

Levin has been on the task force since 1999. Kirk is taking over the position for fellow Republican Senator George Voinovich who retired earlier this year. The AP explains:

The bipartisan group deals with Great Lakes issues that involve the federal government. It has supported an interstate compact to protect water supplies and funding for programs such as invasive species control and cleanup of contaminated sediments.

Kirk said Tuesday he hoped the panel also would develop legislation to crack down on dumping raw sewage into the lakes.

In a statement released on Senator Levin's website yesterday, Levin said:

“I am pleased that Senator Kirk will serve as co-chair of the task force, and I’m excited about our prospects to protect and enhance our Great Lakes. The task force has led the way to passage for legislation to clean up contaminated sediments, fight invasive species and prevent the diversion of precious fresh water from the Great Lakes basin. I look forward to working with Senator Kirk and I am confident that he will help add to that important legacy.”

Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency

Enbridge Energy says last July's oil spill of at least 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan cost the company $550 million in 2010, according to the Associated Press. The figure comes from an Enbridge report. The $550 million does not include insurance recoveries, fines and penalties. From the AP:

Public officials say they don't know when the Kalamazoo River will reopen for public use as the cleanup continues. Oil flow through the 286-mile-long pipeline resumed in September.

The Enbridge pipeline runs from Indiana to Ontario.

The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that, in addition to the oil spill in Marshall, the company spent $45 million on a spill in Romeoville, Illionis in September:

The report shows that Enbridge lost $16 million in revenue from the transfer of oil while the pipelines were shut down. Both spill cleanups and pipeline repairs contributed to an overall operating loss of $24.7 million, according to the report. Enbridge had a net loss of $137.9 million at the end of the year, compared with net incomes between $250 and $400 million in previous years. This was the first time the company reported a loss in at least five years.

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

Last May, oil and gas companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying up rights to drill in Michigan. By summer, private landowners in northern Michigan had signed leases promising record payments to drill on their land. But by the end of the year, the frenzy over the new gas play had fizzled. And, as Bob Allen found out, hundreds of people were claiming they’d been cheated.

The first person to file suit against the gas companies in Emmet County is Mildred Lutz.

A sturdy 92 years old, she still keeps a garden and cans her own vegetables.

Last summer, a man knocked on her door and offered to pay her almost a hundred thousand dollars for the oil and gas deep underground beneath her farm.

Mildred had just lost her husband of sixty-nine years, Carl. And she thought the money would come in handy for a whole list of expenses, including funeral costs. So after talking it over with her five children, she signed a lease and took the document to the bank in Alanson to be notarized.

She never heard another word from the oil and gas developers and she never got paid.

And how does she feel about that?

“Well, not very good. I don’t know, I’ve always kind of had the feeling of trusting a lot of people, I guess. I hate to see people being dishonest. When you do that, you’re just really hurting a lot of people that were depending on this.”

Attorney Bill Rolinski says he’s heard from a lot of people who ended up in the same boat as Mildred Lutz.

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Land and groundwater in the city of St. Louis, Michigan has been contaminated with chemicals from the Velsicol Chemical Company.

Now the city will get $26.5 million to help set up a new water supply  system.

According to the EPA, Velsicol (formerly known as the Michigan Chemical Corporation) "produced various chemical compounds and products at its fifty-four acre main plant site in St. Louis, Michigan, such as hexabromobenzene (HBB), 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl) ethane (DDT), polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (tris)."

The EPA says the company produced these chemicals from 1936 until 1978.

From the Associated Press:

ST. LOUIS, Mich. — A federal judge has approved a $26.5 million settlement for a central Michigan community whose water supply was contaminated by a chemical company in the 1950s and 1960s.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Ludington in Bay City signed an order approving the deal on Thursday.

The city of St. Louis, Mich., hopes the settlement with Rosemont, Ill.-based Velsicol Chemical Co. will help pay to replace the water system that serves the area, which is contaminated with a byproduct of the pesticide DDT.

The settlement of the 2007 lawsuit was approved this week by the City Council.

The city says money for the settlement includes $20.5 million from an insurance company for Velsicol and $6 million from a trust related to a former parent company.

The EPA lists the threats and contaminants in the community:

On-site groundwater is contaminated with DDT, chlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene (TCE), and other chlorinated compounds. On site soil samples revealed contamination with PBBs, copper, chromium, zinc, and magnesium. The sediments of the Pine River were also contaminated with similar contaminants through direct discharges from the site; however, surface waters do not show any significant impacts. Potential risks exist for people who eat contaminated fish and wildlife in the vicinity of the site.

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