Environment & Science

Environment
1:28 pm
Mon February 27, 2012

New York State backs away from stricter ballast water regulations

Water contained in ship-balancing ballasts can potentially transport invasive species to the Great Lakes.
Jim Bahn Flickr

The Associated Press Reports: New York State will not be imposing stricter regulations on ships potentially carrying invasive species into the Great Lakes.

In the past, ships carrying ballast water for stability have brought invasive species including quagga mussels, spiny water fleas and round gobys to the Great Lakes from Europe.

New York State controls access to the St. Lawrence Waterway, which is the gateway to the Great Lakes.

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energy
5:00 am
Mon February 27, 2012

Nuclear Regulatory Commission to answer questions about Palisades

NRC.gov

This Wednesday the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting to discuss safety violations at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven.

The plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year. As a result, the NRC downgraded the plant’s safety performance rating. Now it’s one of only four plants in the country with such a bad safety rating.

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Winter Weather
6:39 am
Fri February 24, 2012

Storm brings snow, slippery roads to S. Michigan

Sami Flickr

A winter storm is bringing wet snow and slippery roads to southern Michigan, with up to 9 inches
forecast in part of the state.

The National Weather Service says winter storm warnings were in effect for much of the southern Lower Peninsula on Friday. About 5 to 8 inches was expected in areas including Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. Parts of southeast Michigan could get up to 8 inches. The weather service says areas closer to Detroit and southwest of the city toward the Ohio border could get 2 to 5 inches. Crews were on the road early Friday to put down salt.

The storm comes after parts of Michigan, including the Detroit area, haven't seen a lot of snow so far this winter.

Environment
1:30 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

Republican presidential candidates on the environment

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney face off during the Republican debate last night. We look at some of the stances on environmental issues.
YouTube

The Republican candidates for president have taken their messages of energy independence on the road in Michigan. The state’s primary is just a few days away.

Rick Santorum has been the most vocal candidate about energy and environmental issues on his campaign stops in Michigan. He says “radicals” are blocking energy independence and economic growth in the country.

At a campaign stop in west Michigan this week Rick Santorum was asked for his stance on man-made global warming. He responded:

“There is a radical ideology of radical environmentalists, who, in fact, do put the earth above the needs of man, and see them in conflict with each other.”

Santorum says the federal government should focus on the needs of people first – such as the need for more jobs. He says when people have their needs met they are better able to take care of themselves and, in turn, the earth. He says ultimately the responsibility of environmental stewardship is on the individual. But Santorum says radical environmentalists are using global warming to manipulate the federal government.

“And so I never signed on with global warming. I realized…[applause]”

And then Santorum clarified—

“Let me be specific so I’m not taken out of context—manmade global warming. I do believe the Earth warms, I do believe it cools.”

Santorum rejects the science of climate change – though the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real and caused mostly by people.

Santorum also says the federal government needs to stop hoarding and protecting the country’s bountiful natural resources. He says natural gas and coal could be used to enrich the United States, lower fuel costs at the pump, and establish energy independence. His rival, Michigan-native Mitt Romney, agrees.

“Coal, oil, gas, nuclear, solar, wind, ethanol – use all those resources, so we have an ample supply of energy ourselves, and don’t have to send hundreds of billions of dollars buying energy every year. And by the way, put in place that keystone pipeline. That’s a no-brainer.”

But environmentalists in Michigan say the proposal to install an oil pipeline from Canada, through the middle of the U.S., is not a no-brainer for Michiganders. The Enbridge pipeline ruptured in the Kalamazoo River two summers ago.

“Yeah, I think Michigan has seen the dangers firsthand that communities around the country face.”

That’s Jordan Lubetkin with the Michigan chapter of the National Wildlife Federation.

“Pipeline spills are not a rare occurrence. In fact they happen hundreds of time per year.”

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Asian Carp
7:26 am
Thu February 23, 2012

Feds spend $50 million on carp fight

The Obama administration will spend about $50 million this year on protecting the Great Lakes from greedy Asian carp, including first-time testing to see if the fish have reached Lakes Michigan and Erie.

Federal officials tell The Associated Press the government has updated its strategy for battling bighead and silver carp that have infested the Mississippi River watershed and are closing in on the Great Lakes.

Scientists say if the carp take hold in the lakes, they could threaten the $7 billion fishing industry by gobbling up plankton at the base of the food web.

Among new initiatives will be searching southern Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie for signs of carp DNA.

Also planned is stepped-up trapping and netting to remove Asian carp from tributary rivers.

Environment
12:38 pm
Tue February 21, 2012

Environmentalists threaten suit over Great Lakes ballast water changes

Testing a ship's ballast tanks for invasive species
David Sommerstein The Environment Report

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Environmental groups say they may renew a legal battle if the federal government doesn't toughen proposed regulations of ship ballast water that has brought invasive species such as zebra mussels to the Great Lakes.

Groups have gone to court twice to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on ballast water disposal. The agency now requires ships to exchange the water at sea. In November, EPA proposed requiring vessels to install equipment that would kill at least some organisms remaining in the tanks.

The rule is based on an international standard that shippers say is the best they can do with existing technology.

But environmental groups said Tuesday the rules aren't strong enough to prevent more species invasions and they may sue again unless EPA toughens them.

Environment
9:01 am
Tue February 21, 2012

Visiting a black bear den

An 11-year-old male black bear that was just placed back in his den after a checkup by DNR bear experts. He's still under the effects of the tranquilizer in this photo, but the drugs will wear off soon.
Mark Brush/Michigan Radio

Black bears are doing really well in Michigan. The Department of Natural Resources estimates there are somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 black bears in the state. They’re mostly in the U.P. and the northern lower peninsula. But in recent years... bears have been heading south and pushing into new territories.

Bears have been spotted in the Thumb, and around Flint, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek and Lansing.

Dwayne Etter is a bear researcher with the DNR.

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Environment
9:00 am
Tue February 21, 2012

WATCH: Biologists dart hibernating black bear in Michigan

Biologists have been following this black bear in Michigan since 2010. They're tracking him, and other bears to find out how bears are moving southward in the state.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Rebecca Williams and I recently tagged along with biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to watch them tranquilize and re-collar an 11-year-old black bear in Oceana County.

The bear is one of many bears researchers are watching as part of the Southern Michigan Bear Habitat Use and Movements study.

Here's the video we made from that trip:

Environment
5:30 pm
Fri February 17, 2012

EPA releases major health assessment of dioxins

The Environmental Protection Agency has just released a report on dioxins that’s more than 25 years in the making. 

Dioxins are a class of toxic chemicals.  They’re by-products of many industrial processes and some natural sources.

The EPA says dioxins are likely to cause cancer in humans.

The agency has finally released the first part of a report on just how toxic dioxins are. It looks at non-cancer health risks.

The report says high levels of dioxin exposure can cause developmental and reproductive effects... interfere with hormones and damage the immune system... and cause a severe skin disease called chloracne. 

The EPA says most Americans have low-level exposure to dioxins... mostly through high-fat fish, meat and dairy products.

But the EPA says low levels of exposure do not pose a significant health risk and does not recommend avoiding any particular foods because of dioxin.

You can read EPA's Consumer Fact Sheet and FAQs from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to learn more.

Environment
10:23 am
Thu February 16, 2012

A pig ban gets muddy

A Mangalitsa pig at a farm in McBain, Michigan.
Peter Payette/Interlochen Public Radio

Wildlife officials took aggressive action last year to keep pigs from running wild on the landscape. Certain kinds of pigs were declared an invasive species. But farmers and ranchers say the move was too extreme. They’re challenging the science of the ban.  On today's Environment Report, Peter Payette explains that distinguishing between pigs can be complicated. 

Peter visited Stuart Kunkle at his small farm south of Traverse City.  He has ten pigs.

“We have a mix and some purebreds here. We have two mulefoots which are the black pigs. That’s Rosabelle and down there is Trinity at the end… then we’ve got a mixture of what we believe is Russian boar and Mangalitsa.”

All these pigs are hairy and the Mangalitsas are almost as dark as the mule foots.

Kunkle got into pigs for a few reasons. One is: he has a day job and pigs are less work than other animals. And he says the market for pastured pork is growing and chefs have become interested in some of the unusual breeds.

But his pigs might soon be illegal. Kunkle isn’t certain but he has the list of characteristics the state will soon use to identify illegal pigs.

“They have erect ears, which I have heard that the erect ear is something associated with the Russian boar. But you know, I want to say except for certain breeds, I want to say a lot of the pigs I’ve ever seen have erect ears.”

Stuart Kunkle is not exactly who the state was targeting when it banned feral swine.

Wildlife officials have been talking for years about the dangers posed by hunting ranches that sell wild boar hunts. They say the animals sometimes escape and there are now thousands living in the wild.

One top official has referred to them as four-footed Asian carp.

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Environment
9:30 am
Thu February 16, 2012

Dow Chemical agrees to clean dioxin-tainted properties in Midland, Michigan

A map of the properties in Midland, Michigan eligible for Dow's voluntary purchase program.
Dow Chemical

John Flesher of the Associated Press reports Michigan environmental regulators have reached a deal with Dow Chemical to clean up around 1,400 residential properties in Midland. The soil in these areas is contaminated with dioxin.

From the AP:

The state Department of Environmental Quality said Thursday it agrees with the company on cleanup plan framework. Dow will fill in the details and submit them to the state for review next month.

Dow has acknowledged polluting 50 miles of rivers and floodplains in Michigan with dioxin for much of the past century. Negotiations and studies with state and federal agencies on how to fix the damage have dragged on since the mid-1990s.

The Midland agreement follows a deal reached last fall on cleansing a three-mile stretch of the Tittabawassee River near the plant.

The company issued a statement about the agreement noting they will also offer a land purchase program to around 50 land owners near its Michigan Operations manufacturing site in Midland.

The properties are in the area where Dow and the state agreed to the clean-up and remediation deal.

A map of the affected properties is show above.

From Dow's press release:

Dow is offering this incentivized property purchase program to give property owners in the immediate area north and east of Michigan Operations (see map) the option to move out of an industrial/commercial area to a residential area, if they so choose. The program will also offer relocation support for those who rent their homes, if the property owner participates in the program.

"We see this as an opportunity to address land use near our manufacturing site and give people still living in this industrial/commercial area the choice to move elsewhere," said Rich A. Wells, vice president and site director for Dow's Michigan Operations.

Dow says they will donate the acquired the properties to Midland Tomorrow, a "nonprofit economic development entity serving Midland County."

Environment
6:44 am
Thu February 16, 2012

New Enbridge pipeline leak found in northern Michigan

A company responsible for a 2010 pipeline rupture that spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil in southern Michigan says it has discovered a small leak in an oil pipeline in the northern Lower Peninsula.

WOOD-TV reports that damage to the pipeline was discovered Tuesday in a section near the Arenac County community of Sterling. The pipeline runs through the eastern part of the state to the Upper Peninsula.

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Environment
12:09 pm
Tue February 14, 2012

Michigan's Palisades nuclear power plant downgraded over safety concerns

The Palisades nuclear power plant along the shore of Lake Michigan near South Haven, MI.
NRC.gov

The Palisades nuclear power plant near South Haven, Michigan has been listed as one of the nation's poorest performing in terms of safety violations, according to the Nuclear Regulatrory Commission.

More from the Associated Press:

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has downgraded the Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan following an investigation of two incidents last year that
raised safety concerns.

The NRC notified the plant Tuesday of its decision.

The agency groups nuclear plants into one of five regulatory columns depending on their performance, with the fifth category being the worst. Palisades was bumped from the second to the third column.

The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that Palisades is one of only four plants in the nation in either the third or fourth columns.

None are in the fifth.

Palisades spokesman Mark Savage tells The Associated Press the violations that caused the NRC investigation involved equipment or maintenance.

He says the plant is operating safely.

Palisades is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

Environment
10:36 am
Tue February 14, 2012

New phase of Muskegon Lake restoration begins

Muskegon Lake.
Muskegon County

Muskegon Lake is on a list of polluted hot spots around the Great Lakes called Areas of Concern. It made that list because of decades of industrial pollution.

Richard Rediske is a professor of water resources at Grand Valley State University. He says the last phase of cleanup is underway. The next step will be to improve habitat for fish and wildlife.

Rediske is working on projects to restore wetlands and remove debris at an old sawmill site. He says he expects it’ll take another five years to get Muskegon Lake off the Areas of Concern list. It was listed in 1985... so, getting the lake cleaned up and restored will end up taking more than three decades.

“That’s pretty much typical. White Lake to the north of us is actually going to be delisted this year so they’re a little ahead of us. It takes a long time to assess the problems and then fix them.”

Michigan has 14 Areas of Concern.

You can learn more about pollution hot spots in this feature story by The Environment Report.

 

Environment
12:30 pm
Fri February 10, 2012

New Michigan hunting program for kids under 10 to start this year

A Deer Blind.
Charles Dawley flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's new hunting program for children will start this year, with licenses on sale starting March 1.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced Friday that the Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved the program aimed at introducing children under the age of 10 to hunting and fishing.

It's called the Mentored Youth Hunting program.

A recent law eliminated the minimum hunting age, allowing kids under 10 to hunt with an adult who's at least 21 years old. Under the rules for the new youth program, the adult must have previous hunting experience and possess a valid Michigan hunting license.

A Mentored Youth Hunting license will cost $7.50. Details about hunting rules are posted on the DNR's website.

Environment
9:30 am
Thu February 9, 2012

Northern Michigan fruit growers brace for a changing climate

Cherry grower Jim Nugent prunes his trees.
Photo by Bob Allen/Interlochen Public Radio

by Bob Allen for The Environment Report

Warmer temperatures and melting snow are less than ideal for winter sports and outdoor festivals. But the weird weather has northern Michigan fruit growers holding their breath, hoping to avoid disaster.

In his more than 20 years as an agricultural extension agent in the Traverse City area, Duke Elsner says this is the most bizarre winter weather he’s ever seen.

“The ups and downs have just been remarkable. The inability to hang on to a cold period for any length of time has been very strange.”

A gradual drop in temperature at the beginning of winter and holding there below freezing for long periods are the ideal conditions for plant to become frost hardy, and hardiness is what protects them from getting damaged by cold.

But when temps bounce up into the 40’s and 50’s as they’ve done frequently this winter, some of that hardiness is lost.

“Our trees and vines can take below zero in a normal winter. I sure wouldn’t want to drop below zero at this point in time, I’ll say that.”

That’s fruit grower Jim Nugent. He and a couple of his neighbors are doing the yearly chore of pruning his cherry trees.  With long-handled saws, they reach up eight or ten feet to strip away branches and limbs.

Nugent knows his orchard is vulnerable right now because of a loss of winter hardiness. But there’s not a lot he can do about it.

Things could go either way at this point.

A sudden drop to zero would be serious.

But orchards still may slide by unscathed. If temps gradually drop below freezing and stay there, trees will regain some of their hardiness.

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Environment
1:25 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

Warm winter hampers Northern Michigan sled dog race

user Alaskan Dude Flickr

INDIAN RIVER, Mich. (AP) - A northern Lower Peninsula sled dog race has been cancelled because of a lack of snow.

The Cheboygan Daily Tribune reports the 2nd annual Indian River Sprint Dog Sled Race has been cancelled. Race Committee President Jane Schramm says it originally was set for Jan. 28-29 before being postponed until this Saturday and Sunday.

The original postponement was made because there was too much ice.

Warmer than usual weather and a lack of snow have led to the postponement or cancellation of several winter events recently in Michigan.

Environment
1:24 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

Two Michigan Girl Scouts nominated for "Forest Heroes" Award

Rhiannon Tomtishen (left) and Madison Vorva (right) are working to save rainforests in Indonesia.
Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva

Sixteen year-olds Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva could teach us a thing or two about dedication.

They are two of three people in North America nominated for a United Nation's "Forest Heroes" award.

Since they were 11, the girls have been working to raise awareness about endangered orangutans and the diminishing Indonesian rain forests.

They began to get attention when, as Girl Scouts, they formed a petition drive to get the Girl Scouts of America to remove palm oil as an ingredient in their cookies.

Rain forests in Indonesia have been slashed and burned to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in all kinds of products, including Girl Scout cookies.

Palm oil plantations are bad for orangutan habitat, and they're bad for global warming too.

In 2009, the Environment Report's Ann Dornfeld visited one of these forests months after is was burned:

Greenpeace Indonesia campaigner Bustar Maitar looks out on a charred landscape. You'd never know a forest stood here just a few months ago.

“Is the no more ecosystem here. No more forest here.”

Only a few burnt tree trunks are standing. Sour smoke curls up from the blackened ground. Maitar says this fire has been burning for a month.

You can listen to that report here:

After Tomtishen and Vorva learned about this type of devastation, they started a website to teach others about it.

In an interview with Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith last March, spoke with Tomtishen:

“We felt motivated to continue this project and I think we also felt that because we were girl scouts and because this was an issue in Girl Scout cookies, we thought we were going to be able to make a change.”

At that time, the Girl Scouts of America hadn't removed palm oil from the cookies. But this past October, they did budge a little, as MLive.com reports:

...in October Girl Scouts USA agreed to revise its policy on palm oil use to include the purchase of GreenPalm certificates as offsets and use sustainable oil when possible...

The girls say purchasing offsets is a good first step, but they would like to see the organization do more to make sure harm to rainforests is minimized and human-rights concerns related to palm oil farming are addressed....

“(Offset certificates) are better than nothing, but we’re not done talking about it,” Vorva said.

Winners of the United Nation's Forest Heroes Award will be announced tomorrow in New York City.

Environment
12:53 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

EPA: Lake Michigan Badger ferry can apply to continue coal ash dumping

wikimedia commons

LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) - Federal regulators will let operators of the passenger ferry S.S. Badger apply for a permit to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The Badger typically puts more than 500 tons of waste ash into the lake every year during its crossings between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis. The Environmental Protection Agency previously set a December deadline for the company to stop the practice.

The Ludington Daily News reports that EPA on Tuesday told Badger operators they could apply to continue the dumping as they study ways to convert the ship to burn natural gas.

Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga tells The Muskegon Chronicle that the Badger is a historic vessel that provides jobs on both sides of the lake.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan also praised the EPA decision.

Environment
10:36 am
Tue February 7, 2012

Living with Michigan's wolves

Michigan's gray wolf population is estimated to be 687 animals. The recovery goal for the population is between 250-300 wolves.
Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes were recently taken off the endangered species list. Now, the state of Michigan is responsible for managing the wolf population.

Michael Nelson is a professor of environmental ethics at Michigan State University. He’s an author of a new report on people’s attitudes about wolves in Michigan. His report is based on a statewide telephone survey conducted in 2010. 

Nelson says they asked people throughout the state how they felt about the following four statements (on a five point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree):

  1. "I enjoy knowing wolves exist in Michigan."
  2. "I would be likely to purchase a license to hunt or trap wolves."
  3. "The decision to hunt wolves should be made by public vote."
  4. "Wolves should only be hunted if biologists believe the wolf population can sustain a hunt."

Michael Nelson says overall, Michiganders tend to value wolves.

"Generally, we found out that people enjoy knowing there are wolves in Michigan. This varies from place to place. We also found out that in general, the people of Michigan really support wildlife biology, wildlife science as an important way to make decisions about wolves."

But he says people’s feelings about wolves change based on where they live in the state.

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