Environment & Science

(courtesy of astronautscholarship.org)

This weekend you’ll have a chance to buy a piece of Michigan and space history. A state of Michigan flag, carried on board Apollo 15,  to the moon and back, is being auctioned. All three members of the Apollo 15 crew had ties to the University of Michigan.

The online auction benefits a science scholarship program. Former NASA astronaut Al Worden piloted the Apollo spacecraft. The Michigan native hopes the 8 by 12 inch flag will attract a lot of bidding. 

“I would expect it to bring in 5 or 6 thousand dollars.  I think the last one that sold at auction I donated brought in almost $6 thousand.”

Worden says the online auction is raising money for science scholarships. 

 “We give out something like 25 scholarships…10 thousand dollars each…every year…which means we have to raise a lot of money.  And one of the ways we do that is by selling artifacts that are donated by astronauts who’ve made a flight…and that is kind of a mainstay how we raise our money.”  

The online auction of NASA memorabilia concludes Saturday night at 10 pm. Anyone interested in bidding on the space flag should go to ‘AstronautScholarship.org’.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Its been months since an oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall, spewing more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude. Since last July, hundreds of clean-up workers have been removing tons of contaminated soil along the Kalamazoo River in Calhoun County. That work goes on, and while it does, public use of the river will remain on hold.

The Battle Creek Enquirer is reporting today that Calhoun County officials say they don't know when public use of the river will be allowed. Jim Rutherford is with the Calhoun County Public Health.

"Until I know it's a safe environment, I'm still going to keep the closing on...the last thing I want is for somebody to get exposure (to oil), get hurt or worse as a result of getting tied up in the boom." 

The clean up along the Kalamazoo River slowed as winter weather moved in last fall. But, an Enbridge Energy spokeswoman says they are transitioning now to more aggressive oil removal work. The EPA's investigation into the oil spill continues.

Photo by David Sommerstein

Another sure sign of spring: the Great Lakes shipping season kicked off this week.

Millions of tons of cargo travel by boat on the Great Lakes every year– freighters from the Atlantic Ocean that enter the Lakes by way of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The first freighter of the 53rd Seaway season eased through the locks in Montreal on Tuesday. David Sommerstein visited Montreal for the opening ceremonies.  He found out that Seaway officials are trying to rebrand the Seaway:

The first freighter rumbling into the St. Lambert Lock was the Dutch-flagged "Avonborg."  It was loaded up with wind turbine parts.

David spoke with Terry Johnson, the U.S. chief of the St. Lawrence Seaway:

"Wind turbines have been increasingly coming in and it’s nice to be able to see something that is visual. This is good."

The windmill parts bound for Indiana aren’t just a good photo opp. They’re the perfect image the Seaway wants to project these days – that it’s the greenest, cheapest way to transport goods. Shipping is far more fuel efficient than trucking.

Ross Fletcher of BBC Chartering contracted this ship.

"Those 75 blades represent 75 truckloads that aren’t going to travel between Montreal and the U.S. Midwest, so we’re taking 75 truckloads off the highways."

The Seaway’s been trying to reinvent itself since it was built in the 1950s.

flickr.com

A bill that would ban trash burning in rural communities has been snuffed out for the time being.

A newspaper story last weekend incorrectly reported  the ban would take effect April 1.

That drew complaints from rural residents, and sponsors of a House measure to stop the ban said they would push it through.

Brad Wurfel is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

He says the agency will regroup and once again take public comments.

But Wurfel says restrictions on outdoor burning are necessary to protect public health.

National Weather Service

We got a taste of it, so no worries, spring will be here soon enough. Winter just isn't ready to say goodbye yet.

The region will see colder than normal temperatures for the next week, and rain, snow, ice - you name it - is coming with those cold temperatures.

Here are the forecasts from the National Weather Service:

(Flickr mcav0y)

Last year state officials approved a ban on burning trash starting April 1st, 2011.  But with the date drawing near, it appears backyard burning appears safe, at least legally, for now.    

Wind energy takes off in Michigan

Mar 21, 2011
user eXtension Ag Energy / flickr

Rick Wilson, the project manager for Heritage Sustainable Energy, is our guest this week as our “What’s Working” series continues. Based in Traverse City, Heritage Sustainable Energy is a wind power company that has been managing the installation of wind turbines in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan. Heritage is in the process of installing and expanding wind farms in the state, and is already producing roughly 40 megawatts of power.

Carping Criticism

Mar 17, 2011

Remember the Asian carp, which migrated up the Mississippi, into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and which experts feared were about to get into Lake Michigan?

That’s where things stood when I first talked about this issue here more than fifteen months ago. Since then, traces of carp DNA has been found in Lake Michigan, though there is no evidence that a permanent breeding population has been established there.

Andrew Reding / flickr

The National Wildlife Foundation has released a report on Michigan wildlife hurt by power plant emissions.

The report says nine species in the state are affected by power plant toxins.  Mercury  is the most dangerous toxin for some species, including the large-mouth bass and the common loon.  

Lee Sprague is on the Tribal Council of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.

"What we do know with mercury it really affects all life systems, from the very base of the food chain all the way up."

Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva

Two Ann Arbor teens are trying to save Orangutans on the other side of the globe from becoming extinct. Orangutans have become an endangered species because of poaching and the rainforests they live in are being destroyed.

15-year olds Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva became friends 4 years ago through Girl Scouts. Tomtishen says it their mission started when they decided to work together to earn a bronze award.

Flickr user wili_hybrid

A nonprofit organization is rushing to clone some of the world's biggest and oldest trees in an audacious plan to restore forests that could help cleanse the environment and fight climate change.   

The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is based in Copemish, MI. The group has tracked down and made genetic copies of "champion" members of more than 60 species. Among them are redwoods and giant sequoias from California's northern coast and oaks up to 1,000 years old from Ireland.   

Co-founder David Milarch says the group is focusing on 200 species that perform ecologically valuable jobs such as absorbing toxic chemicals and storing carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Archangel hopes to sell millions of its trees for replanting in cities and rural areas.

Universities across the state are reporting all students they have studying overseas in Japan are safe and accounted for. But many students from Japan who are studying in Michigan are trying to get in touch with friends and relatives.

Thirty-year old Tomomi Suwa is working on her doctorate degree at Michigan State.

 “As an international student I fear about this kind crisis a lot. I live so far away from home that sometimes it’s very difficult to get a hold of family or friends. It’s like a nightmare scenario for me.”

Her father called Suwa and woke her up at 6 o-clock Friday morning to tell her the news about the earthquake. She says she wasn’t totally shocked by the news. She grew up practicing earthquake and tsunami drills at school and she’s experienced numerous earthquakes. The biggest registered 4.4 on the Richter scale. 

“At that magnitude you can really feel that things are moving around; it’s already scary at 4.4. So I can’t even imagine what 8.8 or 8.9 could be.”

So far, Suwa says she’s very relieved all of her family and friends that she’s been able to contact on the phone or online are okay. But she has not been able to get in touch with everyone yet. 

The University of Michigan, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, and Eastern Michigan University each have students currently in Japan for classes overseas.

Big fish kills in Lake St. Clair and along the St. Clair river this winter puzzled some residents and scientists in the area. The Detroit News reported that, "the cause of the massive fish die-offs, which began in mid-December, remains a mystery to state investigators...Dead gizzard shad is a common sight this time of year — but not in the tens to hundreds of thousands being reported this winter."

LisaW123 / Flickr

A winter storm has brought a few inches of snow and dangerous early-morning driving conditions to parts of the state. The Associated Press reports:

The National Weather Service says southeast Michigan was feeling the effects of the storm Friday morning, with an inch or more on the ground as the morning commute began. The snow left slippery driving conditions in its wake and numerous weather-related spinouts and crashes were reported.

The state's Thumb area and Port Huron were expected to get the most snow. The weather service says 5 to 7 inches could fall in that area. Winds contributed to hazardous conditions.

The Detroit News reports:

As much as 4 inches of snow fell overnight as a fast-moving system heads from the Ohio Valley into Canada, with Metro Detroit on the outer edge of the system.

The snow is expected to taper off this morning, but not before some parts of the region see a total of as much as 7 inches snow, said meteorologist Steve Considine of the National Weather Service reporting station in White Lake Township.

"It is winding down now," he said about 6:15 a.m. today. "About 2-4 inches will fall in much of Metro Detroit and higher in Macomb County."

St. Clair and Sanilac counties could see a total of 5-7 inches, Considine said, because of how the storm is moving.

Blowing snow could be a problem this morning because winds are blowing at 25-30 mph, Considine said.

Temperatures were in the 20s this morning but expected to climb near 40 degrees this afternoon, Considine said. A snowy rain is expected later this evening.

warrenski / Creative Commons

There’s been a lot of talk in West Michigan lately about how wind power could boost the region’s economy. The area, particularly along the Lake Michigan shore, could be home to several potential wind projects.

Photo courtesy of Hantz Farms

John Hantz wants to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls "the world’s largest urban farm." But the project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, has been slow to get off the ground. 

City officials just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots (about five acres) adjacent to their headquarters. The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards.

Roadblocks to city farming

  • Hantz Farms is not allowed to sell anything they grow there.
  • Large-scale farming requires re-zoning for agriculture, which brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play; that law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. Some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.
feww.wordpress.com

More than 160 scientists from Michigan universities and colleges  say they oppose attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to uphold the Clean Air Act.

Congressional Republicans – and a few Democrats – say the EPA has too much power. They also believe the Clean Air Act puts crippling restrictions on business.

David Karowe  is a professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University.

He says politicians are not in the best position to make informed decisions about what is in the best interest of public health.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law measures that will enhance a voluntary environmental program for farmers.

From the Associated Press:

The two bills signed by Snyder on Tuesday afternoon in Lansing were his first as governor. The bills that the Legislature approved earlier this month are putting aspects of the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program into state law.

Snyder says the bills are important for the state's agriculture industry.

The program aims to help farmers evaluate their operations to better identify and prevent possible environmental problems. About 1,000 farms have become verified through the program. Thousands
more are in earlier stages of the verification process.

Critics of the bills say they're too much carrot and not enough stick.

They worry large farms could increase pollution without strict state oversight.

Anne Woiwode of the Michigan Sierra Club, a group that has long battled against pollution from large-scale livestock operations, says the new measures protect polluters.

This from the Michigan Messenger:

Opponents say the legislation violates the Clean Water Act and jeopardizes the state’s water quality program.“With just barely 2 months in this new legislature and Governor, it appears the course toward weakening Michiganders’ well-being is off to a jump start here,” Michigan Sierra Club Director Anne Woiwode said via e-mail.

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, reported that Governor Snyder said it was important to him to put the voluntary program into law:

"Because our Ag community is a critical part of our state," said Snyder. "It’s one of our largest industries. It’s one of our greatest opportunities, and it was one of the areas that supported us over this last decade of really tough times."

(Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources)

The Obama Administration’s point man on the Asian Carp crisis says there’s no way to speed up the efforts to permanently keep the invasive fish from reaching the Great Lakes.

The Asian Carp have destroyed native fish populations in the Mississippi River and have swum within a few miles of Lake Michigan.  There are concerns that if Asian Carp enter the Great Lakes ecosystem, they will overwhelm and destroy the region's multi-billion dollar fishing industry.

Several members of Congress want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up their 5 year review of possible action plans to stop the carp. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says time is important.

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years…we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”   

But Obama Administration Carp Czar John Goss says the 18 month schedule proposed by members of Congress is not enough time. 

 “Realistically I think it’s going to take substantially longer than that to get the right solution in the long term.”

Major General John Peabody is the commander of the Corps of Engineers ‘Great Lakes & Ohio River’ Division. He says finding a solution will take more than 18 months. 

“I never say never, because you don’t know what you don’t know about the future.   But in our judgment it’s not possible because of the complexity of the situation.”

The president’s top people on the Asian Carp crisis held a public hearing today in Ypsilanti.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment wants to allow sand and gravel mining in the largest park in the lower peninsula – the Waterloo Recreation Area.

The DNRE is considering allowing mining on 72 acres of the 20,000 acre park.

It would be the first time mining would be allowed in the Waterloo Recreation Area.

Aggregate Industries, a Maryland-based company and a subsidiary of a Swiss-owned company, wants to do the mining.

The company has already been mining right on Waterloo's western boundary.

LouisvilleUSACE / Flickr

John Goss, the Obama Administration's so-called "Asian carp Czar" will be in Ypsilanti, Michigan today. Goss, along with federal officials from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, will discuss long-term strategy for keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The Associated Press reports:

The Army Corps is conducting a study of how to stop migrations of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. One option is separating the man-made linkage between the two watersheds in the Chicago area.

The study is scheduled for completion 2015. Legislation introduced in Congress last week calls for a quicker timetable.

EPA Region 5

It’s been 8 months since a broken pipeline spewed more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil near Marshall.

Wintry weather reduced the size of the cleanup response. But now, the next phase of the cleanup is about to begin. 

Becky Haase is an Enbridge Energy spokeswoman. She says about 200 cleanup workers have spent the past few months digging up oil-soaked soil from contaminated wetlands. Now that’s its getting warmer, Haase says oil may once again become visible along the Kalamazoo River. 

“It’s definitely possible that some sheen will be visible to folks…especially those who live along the river." 

Enbridge will focus this Spring on removing oil still resting on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. Haase  says work crews will begin cleaning oil soaked islands in the Kalamazoo River this month “and remove that soil and replace it with new, fresh soil. The restoration effort will follow that.”

Joe Gratz / Flickr

Monday a federal judge in Kalamazoo will hear arguments in a case that pits Saugatuck Township against a billionaire looking to develop his property that includes coastal dunes along Lake Michigan.

Aubrey McClendon owns more than 300 acres north of where the Kalamazoo River empties into Lake Michigan. He wants to build a marina, condos, houses, and a golf course there.

Township officials have to approve special zoning for him to develop his property. McClendon’s attorney Jim Bruinsma says the officials are biased against his client.

“We contend that we have been unfairly singled out for unique zoning restrictions and really unfair procedures.”

Bruinsma alleges the township worked illegally with an environmental group to restrict development and fund the township’s legal defense.

Saugatuck Township officials deny they’ve done anything illegal. They’re attorney Craig Noland is asking the judge to dismiss the case, forcing McClendon to go through normal zoning procedures. 

“Our position is that they should be required like any other citizen to file an application and allow the township to consider the application and make a decision.”

Noland says Saugatuck Township’s attorney township officials are prepared to handle McClendon’s zoning request fairly and transparently.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

Update 2:50 p.m.:

Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region say it’s taking too long to come up with an action plan to stop the spread of Asian Carp. They are now calling for work on that plan to speed up. 

Asian Carp have spent the past few decades slowly spreading throughout the Mississippi River watershed.   The invasive carp have destroyed indigenous fish populations from Missouri to Illinois.   One was caught last year just a few miles downstream from Lake Michigan. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes.   Not fast enough for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years…we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”  

Recently, Illinois politicians have fought efforts to close canals linking Lake Michigan to carp infested waters near Chicago.   But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports expediting a carp action plan, making its passage more probable.   Though Durbin’s involvement also hints closing canals will not be part of the plan.  

 Stabenow  says she doesn’t know how much it will cost to ‘separate’ the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed.    But she says Asian Carp could cost the economy of the Great Lakes billions of dollars if they are not stopped.   

11:01 a.m.:

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp plan to introduce legislation to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through Chicago-area waterways, the Associated Press reports. Stabenow and Camp will hold a news conference today to discuss their plans. The AP reports:

Stabenow and Camp previously sponsored bills that would have forced closure of shipping locks near Chicago that could provide access to Lake Michigan for the invasive carp. Those measures failed.

The House recently rejected Camp's effort to attach a lock closure amendment to a federal spending bill.

Michigan and four other states are suing in federal court to close the locks. Chicago business interests say doing so would damage their local economy and probably wouldn't do much to stop the carp anyway.

Kim Phillips / Flickr

A coalition of environmental groups wants to stop a nuclear power plant in Ohio from renewing its license.

The operating license for the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio runs out in 2017. By that point, the plant will be 40 years old. First Energy, the company that owns the plant, wants to renew the license for another twenty years.

That’s the last thing Michael Keegan wants. He’s with the environmental group, Don’t Waste Michigan. Keegan and others went before a panel to challenge the license renewal:

"We have solar, wind and in combination we have replacement power available now which can be put in place prior to 2017."

Reporter Tom Henry with the Toledo Blade was at the proceeding and filed a story. Here's an excerpt:

The first half of the proceeding was focused on projections for wind power, solar power, and a combination of the two as possible offsets for nuclear power. The afternoon was devoted to a FirstEnergy document known as a Severe Accident Mitigation Analysis, one in which utilities are obligated to show how they would respond to dangerous nuclear scenarios.

Arguments in favor of renewables appear to rely on the viability of harnessing wind, solar, and other sources for later use through a technology known as compressed air energy storage, judges said. [Adam] Polonsky [of Washington-based Morgan Lewis Counselors at Law, which has represented FirstEnergy on nuclear issues for years]  conceded it has potential and should be explored.

"But that doesn't mean it is a reasonable alternative to a 908-megawatt reactor," he said, referring to Davis-Besse's generating capacity.

The panel now has to decide whether the environmental groups can move forward with their petition to intervene.

To date the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to deny a license renewal, though several applications are still pending.

In Michigan, the license for the Fermi II Nuclear Plant is good through 2025.

Photo by Matt Grocoff

In the winter... there’s a quick and easy way to find out where your house is leaking energy... just by looking at your roof a day or two after a good snow. Greenovation.tv’s Matt Grocoff invited me along on what he calls a drive-by energy audit.

Here's what to look for:

  1. Icicles are pretty... but they're a sign that your attic needs more insulation. Heat from your house is escaping and melting the snow.
  2. If you have ice clogging your gutter, it can cause damage to the gutter... and ice can get underneath your roof shingles and damage your roof.
  3. You can use a roof rake to clear snow from your roof... but it's just a short-term fix. A better solution is to check out the non-profit group Michigan Saves to find a qualified contractor, who can come out and perform an energy audit and find your home's leaks and advise you on how to fix them so you can save energy and money.
Photo courtesy of Joel Garlich-Miller, USFWS

For the past decade, researchers have been studying what Americans believe about climate change.

For several years, more and more of the public has agreed that climate change is taking place. But recently, the number of people who believe climate change is happening is falling.

I talked with Barry Rabe, a professor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

He’s the author of a new report that draws on the latest public opinion surveys.

Here's what he had to say about the report, which found fewer people believe the Earth is warming:

"We found in the United States as well as in Michigan that there appears to be an upward trajectory of this in the past decade. Do you think global temperatures are warming, independent of the question of human causation, and other questions about perceptions of global warming consistently increasing, probably peaking in late 2008.

Since that time in the United States, we’ve seen a drop of about 18-20 percentage points on some of the very basic, standard survey questions that have been used for some time in the U.S. and really around the world.

In our latest survey which comes from November 2010, we actually see a little bit of bouncing back up again, not back to those November 2008 levels but for our purposes what this suggests is public understanding and perception of climate change is really a pretty volatile area of public opinion.

The numbers move around quite a bit from year to year, much more than we would have ever anticipated."

He thinks one main reason why belief in global warming has dropped over the past couple years is because a lot of people are affected by the weather in their own backyards.

the yes man / flickr

We continue our What’s Working series today with guest Sarna Salzman. She’s the Executive Director of SEEDS, or Seeking Ecology Education and Design Solutions.

SEEDS is a non-profit based in Traverse City that acts as an energy consultant for local businesses and municipalities. In addition, SEEDS hosts the northwestern Michigan branch of Youth Corps, which gets kids involved in projects such as cleaning up parks, organizing gardens, and spreading awareness about environmental issues. Last but not least, SEEDS works with local school districts to develop after-school programs aimed at ecological awareness.

Bernt Rostad / creative commons

About a dozen law students from Detroit and Windsor will have a chance to work together on environmental legal issues.

The law schools at Wayne State University and the University of Windsor will team up this fall to create North America's first  transnational environmental law clinic.

Have you forgotten about the snow already?
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It’s not just your imagination.

We haven’t been able to get much of a break from what’s shaping up to be a very tough January and February in Michigan, weatherwise.

"It has been a horrible winter -- lately," says George Wetzel of the National  Weather Service in Grand Rapids. "I'll use Lansing as an example. The snowfall thus far this month has been 24.9 inches. That's only 18 inches less than the entire year."

 And it’s not over. Wetzel says more snow is expected Thursday night– a wet, heavy snow that will be difficult to shovel. 

Pages