Environment & Science

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.

Environment
1:19 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

Advanced battery show comes to Michigan

David Salguero from Mission Motors with the Mission electric superbike.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

A lot of people are looking at advanced batteries as the next big industry for the state of Michigan. Especially things like lithium ion batteries that are in your cell phone and laptop... and power most electric cars. Right now there are 17 Michigan companies either producing – or planning to produce – advanced batteries.

And so – with all the buzz about batteries – the Battery Show came to Novi this week.

It’s an international trade show... and the industry’s so new, this is only the second time the show has been held.

“We have critical mass here in Michigan around the battery industry. We are globally significant now.”

That’s Nick Cucinelli. He helps researchers at the University of Michigan build start-up companies around technologies they invent. He’s really into advanced batteries... and the promise they hold for the way we’ll use energy in the future.

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Environment
3:40 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

Northern Lights in Michigan... in case you missed the show last night

Last night's northern lights as seen in near Martin, Michigan.
user lakefxnet YouTube

Last night, some people in Michigan and in states as far south as Arkansas looked up and saw a spectacular aurora borealis display.

Here's a time lapse look at the lights that were visible last night near Martin, Michigan:

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Environment
2:43 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

Exotic animals killed in Ohio puts spotlight on Michigan bill

The tragedy that unfolded for the exotic animals near Zanesville, Ohio on Tuesday night and Wednesday highlighted the lack of regulation in Ohio for a particular type of animal compound.

Terry Thompson kept bears, tigers, lions, monkeys, and other animals on his property.

He reportedly did not display them to the public for compensation, and was not required to carry a permit from the USDA. And an Ohio state law regulating exotic animals had expired.

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Environment
11:20 am
Thu October 20, 2011

Green building architect: Insulation is sexy

If you want to build a new home, you want an architect who can take your lifestyle and design a home around it. When it comes to building an environmentally-friendly house, you might even want someone who challenges you a little.

I was at the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference earlier this month to moderate a panel on America’s oldest net-zero energy home. That house happens to be here in Michigan and owned by Matt Grocoff. Matt wanted me to meet one of the architects leading the green building movement. His name is Eric Corey Freed.

As we talked to Freed at the conference… I wondered if people knew what they were getting into when they decided to build green…

“I think most people just assume I’m going to slap solar on it and be done.”

Solar. Yeah, it’s the sexy add-on that everyone seems to want. But Freed says solar is way too expensive unless first the house is built to be as energy efficient as possible. That means basic things… like proper insulation… which is not so sexy.

“Well, I think insulation is sexy, frankly. I mean, I think everybody should get naked and roll around in it. Not in the fiberglass! Because that could hurt. Maybe the recycled cotton one, that’d be pretty cozy. But remember, to me insulation is like chocolate: the more you have the better it is. So just bring it on.”

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Environment
11:08 am
Thu October 20, 2011

Macomb County officials avert drinking water monitoring system shutdown – for now

It looks like a system that monitors drinking water for at least three million people in southeast Michigan will stay online for another year.

The monitoring system gives early alerts if chemical spills are detected—so it keeps contaminants out of the drinking water system.

The system was in danger of shutting down when federal and state dollars ran out. But officials from Macomb and St. Clair counties have each come up with enough money to keep the system going for another year.

But policymakers are still searching for a long-term solution.

Macomb County Commission Chair Kathy Vosburg says a long-term fix will likely mean a small consumer fee.

“Consumers are very willing to pay for that, it comes out to be something like 50 cents to a dollar per household per year.”

But implementing that would take cooperation from the many different cities that send out water bills--and the city of Detroit, which owns and operates the whole drinking water system.

Environment
1:01 am
Thu October 20, 2011

New Kalamazoo River oil spill cleanup plan due today

Cleanup crews work to remove oil from the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek in August of 2010.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Nearly 15 months after an oil spill fouled miles of the Kalamazoo River, the pipeline’s owner is submitting an updated cleanup plan to the federal Environmental Protection Agency today.  

The July 2010 pipeline break spewed more than 840 thousand gallons of Canadian tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.   Hundreds of workers have spent the past year removing contaminated soil, sucking up submerged oil and rehabbing endangered wildlife. But the work is far from over.  

A company spokesman says senior Enbridge officials spent Thursday reviewing and revising the new cleanup plan, that the EPA demanded after the company missed an August deadline.  

The new plan will detail how Enbridge plans to complete the removal of submerged oil in the Kalamazoo River,  remove oil and contaminated soil beyond the river bank and how they’ll reassess their cleanup plans in 2012.  

Enbridge officials estimate the cleanup will eventually cost the pipeline company $700 million.

Environment
3:17 pm
Wed October 19, 2011

Study predicts less Great Lakes water loss

Lake Erie
Kathy Weaver photopedia

Previous research suggested a decline in future Great Lakes water levels, but findings from a recent scientific report may paint a different picture. 

Associated Press environmental writer John Flesher reports:

New research suggests climate change might not cause Great Lakes water levels to drop as much as previous studies have indicated. In fact, it might even cause them to rise.

Scientists at the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor say they've devised a new way to predict future water levels. In a newly published journal article, they say it involves different methods of measuring evaporation of water from the soil and plants within the Great Lakes watershed.

Low water levels can cause heavy losses for shippers and other
Great Lakes businesses. They also affect the environment.

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Environment
2:06 pm
Fri October 14, 2011

Report says farm runoff declining near Great Lakes

DETROIT (AP) - A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says farmers are cutting back significantly on the amount of soil and nutrients eroding from fields to the Great Lakes and neighboring waterways.    

The study estimates that methods such as no-till cultivation have cut in half the volume of sediments entering rivers and streams in the region, while phosphorus and nitrogen runoff are down by more than one-third.

Nutrients from farms and municipal waste treatment plants are believed to be one cause of rampant algae growth in the Great Lakes in recent years.

The study is based on a survey of farmers between 2003 and 2006.

Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federation says the report shows progress is being made, but says more must be done to fix the algae problem.

Environment
9:57 pm
Tue October 11, 2011

Research paints mixed picture on mercury levels in Great Lakes

Mercury levels in the Great Lakes have dropped over the past 40 years.

But those levels are still high enough to pose risks to humans and wildlife, especially in many inland lakes, according to a new summary of the latest research on Great Lakes mercury levels.

Researchers summarized 35 new scientific papers to get a clearer picture of mercury in the Great Lakes.

The good news: due to pollution controls, those levels continue to go down.

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Environment
6:38 pm
Tue October 11, 2011

Jean Klock Park case back in front of federal appeals court

A view of Jean Klock Park where Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc. has built part of a new Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A federal appeals court judge heard arguments Tuesday in a case against the city of Benton Harbor and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The dispute is over a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course that’s already operating in Benton Harbor. Three of the golf course's holes were built on public Jean Klock Park along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

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Environment
12:08 am
Tue October 11, 2011

Beekeepers still struggling with colony collapse disorder

Some of Ted Elk’s hives are buzzing with bees and honey.
Photo by Julie Grant

By Julie Grant for The Environment Report

Michigan beekeepers are continuing to lose huge numbers of bees. They join beekeepers from around the country – and the world – who have been dealing with what’s called Colony Collapse Disorder. It’s been around for five years now. Julie Grant visited with some beekeepers, and reports that scientists and the government don’t agree on what should be done to help them.  Here's her story:

Ted Elk is checking out some of his hives. They’re on the backside of a corn field, tucked away in the brush. The colorful boxes are stacked on top of each other.

Some hives are buzzing with activity. He pulls out a comb and scrapes the side:

“And that is all goldenrod honey. See how yellow that is?”

I want to eat it. It’s almost irresistible. But not all the hives look this good.

“Here’s one that’s not gonna make it through winter. It’s light, there’s no bees, there’s no weight to it.”

There’s honey on the comb. But almost no bees.

Elk suspects this hive has colony collapse disorder. There aren’t dead bees around. They’re just gone.

Elk has seen this before. Last winter, he lost 250 hives – and thousands of dollars. When Elk first started keeping bees, he might lose five or six percent in the winter. But nationwide, a 30 percent winter bee loss is average nowadays.

Researchers still aren’t sure exactly what’s causing Colony Collapse Disorder. But they do know there’s a lot of stress on bees. Beekeepers take their hives all over the country – to Florida to pollinate oranges, to California for almonds, to New York for apples, and elsewhere. The beekeepers take the bees honey, and often feed them cheap high fructose corn syrup, or nothing at all. Plus, they can have mites and bacteria. And there are 28 viruses that can affect bees.

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Environment
1:16 pm
Sat October 8, 2011

Leaked oil still sits on river bottom & banks

Last summer an oil sheen could be seen along the Kalamazoo River.
State of MI

The Environmental Protection Agency says most of the oil still remaining from a July 2010 pipeline leak in
West Michigan sits on the floor of the Kalamazoo River and along about 200 riverbank sites.
    

EPA on-scene coordinator Ralph Dollhopf tells the Battle Creek Enquirer that cleanup work has yet to be done on those riverbanks near Marshall, about 60 miles southeast of Grand Rapids.
    

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Environment
5:26 pm
Fri October 7, 2011

Research buoy testing winds in the middle of Lake Michigan

The eight-ton research platform was lowered into Muskegon Lake Friday afternoon. It'll head out into Lake Michigan next week.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

An eight ton research buoy is out gathering wind data in Lake Michigan. The $1.3 million buoy launched in Muskegon Friday will collect detailed wind data over the next ten years.

Chris Hart is an Offshore Wind Manager at the U.S. Department of Energy.  He says there’s only three of these high tech bouys in the world. This was the first one launched in the United States. He says the data will be more detailed than anything they have now.

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Environment
3:35 pm
Fri October 7, 2011

Green building conference: standing out from the crowd

The U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference was held in Toronto this week.  “Greenbuild 2011” was four days of seminars, classes, and discussions about how to construct buildings and homes, using more environmentally friendly methods. 

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Environment
6:33 am
Fri October 7, 2011

EPA: Enbridge Mich. river cleanup plan due Oct. 20

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given Enbridge Inc. until Oct. 20 to submit revised plans for additional cleanup work from a July 2010 Michigan pipeline leak that spilled more than 800,000 gallons of gasoline into a Michigan river system.

On Sept. 26, the Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge said it was increasing its estimate of the cleanup cost by about 20 percent to $700 million.

The EPA issued the order Thursday, saying the cleanup of the submerged oil is expected to last through 2012.

The spill was discovered July 26, 2010 and polluted the Kalamazoo River system in the Marshall area, from Talmadge Creek to Morrow Lake. The pipeline runs from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

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