Environment & Science

Environment
11:28 am
Thu February 2, 2012

EPA misses deadline to issue dioxin health assessment

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

The Environmental Protection Agency has missed its own deadline to release a major report on the health effects of dioxins. Dioxins are a class of toxic chemicals.

The EPA says dioxins are likely to cause cancer in humans. Since the mid-1980’s, the EPA has been working to define just how toxic dioxins are. Over the years, the agency has released drafts of the report. These drafts have been picked apart by scientists and industry. Then, the EPA goes back to working on it.

Last year, the EPA decided to split its dioxin assessment into two parts. One part will look at cancer risks; the other part will look at non-cancer health risks. The agency had promised to release the report on non-cancer effects by the end of January. But they missed that deadline.

The EPA did not want to be recorded for this story. They would only say they’re “working to finalize the non-cancer health assessment for dioxin as expeditiously as possible.”

Living with dioxin pollution

People in central Michigan have lived with dioxin pollution for more than three decades. The pollution is largely from a Dow Chemical plant in Midland. We’ve previously reported that EPA’s dioxin assessment could affect how much dioxin Dow might have to clean up.

Michelle Hurd Riddick is with the Lone Tree Council. It’s an environmental advocacy group based in Saginaw.

“We need our government to issue a clear scientific statement and report on the toxicity of this chemical. But unfortunately, it appears it’s probably politics as usual. And the monied interests, the lobbyists, they have the access, they have the influence and you know, public health be damned.”

The EPA has been under pressure from industry groups.

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Environment
1:46 pm
Wed February 1, 2012

What life off of the Endangered Species List could mean for Michigan wolves

The wolf population in Michigan is now being controlled by the state. In Minnesota, officials are considering a hunting season.
user metassus Flickr

As of last Friday, wolves in Michigan are no longer a federally protected “endangered species.”

On December 21, 2011 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced in Washington that Gray wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin have exceeded recovery goals and are stable enough to be removed from the Endangered Species List.

The current populations in each state are:

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Environment
5:23 pm
Tue January 31, 2012

Hunting, snowmobiling preserved in areas of the Huron-Manistee National Forest

The Manistee River flowing through the Huron-Manistee National Forest.
USFS

In 2010, a man successfully sued the U.S. Forest Service saying the agency did not incorporate enough land for quiet recreation in the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

He said more land for these activities should have been set aside in the USFS' 2006 forest management plan.

Here's how the plaintiff, Kurt Meister, explained it in a story by Michigan Radio back in 2010:

“This case isn’t about hunting. It’s not about gun hunting. It’s not about stopping gun hunting. It’s simply saying it shouldn’t be everywhere. And if you make it everywhere, you’re affecting other people’s rights.”

In that report, Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen explained that "what Kurt Meister is asking the court to do is set aside areas designated as non-motorized for quiet recreation.

Those are places where, on paper, the forest plan says a person can expect to be isolated from the sights and sounds of other humans.

But on the ground, Meister says, what happens is that snowmobile trails and cross country ski trails run side by side."

Today, the U.S. Forest Service released its revised plan in response to the 2010 decision by the federal court.

The Forest Service says it will:

  • Continue to allow gun hunting in the previously designated Semiprimitive Nonmotorized and Primitive areas of the Huron-Manistee National Forests in accordance with regulations of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
  • Continue to allow snowmobiling on designated trails within the Huron-Manistee National Forests.

 

Ken Arbogast of the U.S. Forest Service says for the public visiting the national forest, very little will change.

What's changed, he said, is the description of these areas. The plan now describes the areas in contention as areas that are "more secluded" and "less roaded" - but it does not leave the impression that noise from human activity will be absent.

The Huron-Manistee forest covers about 1 million acres of land. The land in contention covers about 70,000 acres.

Environment
12:30 pm
Tue January 31, 2012

6th Circuit Ct. of Appeals rules for developers in Jean Klock Park case

Updated 12:30p.m. 1/31/12

90-acres of land along the Lake Michigan shore were donated nearly a century ago to the City of Benton Harbor for public recreation. In 2008, city leaders agreed to lease 22 acres of Jean Klock Park to a non-profit developer known as Harbor Shores. The developer converted the land into 3 holes of a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

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Environment
6:00 am
Tue January 31, 2012

Report: Time to sever ties between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system

The report outlines three possible scenarios for physical separation.
Great Lakes Commission

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades.

A coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors says the solution is to physically separate the Great Lakes basin from the Mississippi River system forever. In other words... they want to completely stop the flow of water between the two systems to permanently block carp from swimming up into Lake Michigan... and stop any kind of invaders from moving between the basins.

A new report out today outlines how that massive separation might happen.

Tim Eder is the executive director of the Great Lakes Commission. His group put out the report, along with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. The report identifies three different places on the Chicago waterway system where a physical separation could be put in place.

“It’s just putting some sheet piling, some metal and earth and concrete in the river to make a dam, basically.”

But the manmade system of canals in the Chicago area has been in place for a century (it was originally put in place to reverse the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan because untreated sewage was being dumped in the lake and making people sick - and even killing them).

Eder says there are a lot of people who depend on the waterway system as it is now.

“The river in Chicago now serves some really important purposes for managing floodwaters, for dealing with wastewater, and for transportation. Commercial transportation depends on that waterway, so our options propose solutions to maintain and even enhance all of those existing important uses of the waterway.”

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Environment
4:37 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Gray wolves in Michigan officially off endangered list

Gray wolves in Michigan are no longer on the federal government’s endangered species list.

The decision shifts the responsibility for managing wolves to Michigan wildlife officials.

It also means that farmers and pet owners can shoot wolves that attack livestock or dogs.

Ed Golder is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“The important thing here is that people have greater power to address issues with wolves and we certainly want to help with that,” Golder said. “We encourage people to find non-lethal means to deal with wolves and we are available for consultation on that, but where these particular instances are occurring with livestock and with dogs, people have some power that they didn’t have before.”

Even though wolves in Michigan have been removed from the federal endangered species list, Golder said wolves remain on the state's “protected species” list -- and it is still illegal to hunt or trap wolves that don’t pose an immediate threat to dogs or livestock.

The gray wolf was once nearly extinct in the Upper Midwest. There are now nearly a thousand gray wolves in Michigan, mostly in the Upper Peninsula.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story said "wolves remain on Michigan’s “threatened species” list." The animals remain on the state's protected species list. The copy has been corrected above.

Environment
10:54 am
Thu January 26, 2012

Power line fight in the U.P.

There’s a fight brewing about whether Michigan’s Upper Peninsula needs two new power lines. The high voltage lines would cut through northern woodlands to bring electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. Energy companies say the single existing line is maxed out.

An announcement by WE Energies of Milwaukee sparked this debate last fall. The company said it would phase out an old coal burning power plant in Marquette over the next five years. To keep the plant going would mean investing millions in new pollution controls.

People in the U.P. were worried about where their power would come from, and they were upset about the prospect of losing 170 jobs at the Presque Isle power plant.

WE Energies favors building new power lines to send electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. That plan was put on a fast track for regulatory approval.

But then a couple of weeks ago, WE Energies and Wolverine Power based in northern lower Michigan announced a joint venture.

They’re now looking at upgrading the plant in Marquette to meet stricter pollution rules.

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Environment
10:49 am
Thu January 26, 2012

A Michigan company in the State of the Union spotlight

When President Obama talked to the nation this week, he pointed out a guy from Michigan in the audience.

“When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried at 55, no one would give him a second chance. But he found work at Energetx a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan. Before the recession the factory only made luxury yachts. Today it’s hiring workers like Bryan who said I’m proud to be working in the industry of the future.”

Last spring, Energetx Composites expected to increase its workforce from 40 employees to 300 sometime in 2012. We wanted to check in to see how things are going.

Chris Idema works in business development for the Holland-based company.

“You know, I can’t really comment on a specific number but we are definitely in growth mode right now, we are hiring and we expect to do so over the next several months.”

He says the biggest obstacle to his company’s growth is uncertainty in the market. Idema points to a federal tax credit that he says gives the wind industry some stability. That credit expires at the end of this year. It’s not clear what Congress will do about it.

Environment
6:50 am
Wed January 25, 2012

Training for an icy water oil spill

A three-day exercise testing the U.S. Coast Guard's ability to contain oil spills on large freshwater waterways is scheduled to wrap up today near St. Ignace.    

The weather has been ideal, with a wintry blast creating the icy, unpleasant conditions Coast Guard officials wanted.   

"It's very necessary to make sure that we're ready to respond in case something does happen," George Degener, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Environment
9:58 am
Tue January 24, 2012

Breaking through to climate change skeptics

Photo courtesy USFWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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energy
10:45 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Wind farm in Mason County taking shape despite legal challenge

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

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

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

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Environment
10:04 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Environment nearly absent in State of the State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Environment
10:57 am
Tue January 17, 2012

Strange winter weather affects some parts of tourist economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Peter Payette for The Environment Report

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

Environment
10:35 am
Tue January 17, 2012

Asian carp could find a good home in Lake Erie

Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Environment
5:06 pm
Mon January 16, 2012

Blown bulb behind Palisades shutdown

NRC

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

From the Freep:

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Environment
12:49 pm
Mon January 16, 2012

Feds delay report on Kalamazoo oil spill

USEPA

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

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

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

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

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

Environment
8:42 am
Mon January 16, 2012

Proposed amendment would ratchet up renewable power mandate

user vaxomatic flickr

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Weather
6:26 am
Fri January 13, 2012

Storm warnings in effect in Mich. as snow falls

LisaW123 Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

Environment
3:40 pm
Thu January 12, 2012

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

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

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

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

Ben Morlock is a spokesperson for Dow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Commentary
11:28 am
Thu January 12, 2012

Physics and Politics

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

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

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

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