Environment & Science

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.

Environment
9:54 am
Thu October 6, 2011

Army Corps to turn up juice on carp barrier

Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Chuck Shea at the electric barrier system in Romeoville, Illinois.
Photo by Rebecca Williams

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.

Government officials are trying to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan. One of the main methods they’re using is electrical shock. There’s a man-made canal near Chicago that connects the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan. And on that canal is a system of three underwater electric barriers built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

I recently had a chance to visit the electric barriers. You can’t see the actual barriers, because the electrodes are underwater. But the Army Corps invited me into the control room of Barrier 2B. It looks about like you’d guess – lots of computers and gauges. There are a couple large mounted Asian carp on the shelves.

Chuck Shea is a project manager with the Army Corps.

He says the barriers repel fish by emitting very rapid electric pulses into the water... which, if you’re a fish, is not a whole lot of fun.

“The idea is, as a fish swims in, the further it goes it’s getting a bigger and bigger shock and it realizes going forward is bad, it’s uncomfortable, and it turns around and goes out of its own free will and heads back downstream.”

The electric bill for this barrier runs between $40,000 and $60,000 a month.

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Environment
7:02 am
Thu October 6, 2011

EPA plans habitat work in Huron-Manistee Forest

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says several projects planned for the Huron-Manistee National Forest in northern Michigan will restore wildlife habitat while providing jobs.

EPA said Wednesday it will devote $592,400 to the projects. They'll include improving habitat for several threatened or endangered species, including the Karner blue butterfly, the piping plover, the Kirtland's warbler and the Massasagua rattlesnake.

Other work will focus on removing invasive species and stabilizing stream banks.

The money will come from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a wide-ranging plan to fix environmental problems in the lakes and their tributaries. In August, EPA announced that $6 million of the Great Lakes
money would be directed to projects designed to hire unemployed workers.

Officials have scheduled another announcement for Thursday at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Environment
3:08 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

Environmental group asks Holland not to expand coal plant

A group rallies near the Holland Farmer's Market Wednesday morning. Most are wearing shirts that read 'beyond coal'.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

People rallied in Holland today to ask officials not to expand the city-owned coal-fired power plant.

Holland took the state to court get an air quality permit that would allow it to replace a more than 60-year-old boiler with a more efficient one. City officials haven’t decided if they will replace it yet or not.

Tia Lebherz is with the Sierra Club in Holland. She and about twenty others held protest signs outside the Holland farmer’s market demanding the city move “beyond coal”.

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Environment
4:18 pm
Tue October 4, 2011

Dow's solar shingles to hit U.S. to markets

Dow's solar shingles will be released in limited markets starting this month.
Dow Chemical

Dow Chemical first unveiled its solar shingle two years ago, with plans for a limited release in mid-2010.

Now the company announced that the shingles will be available to some customers starting this month. The company says they're starting in the strongest markets for solar this month. The shingles will first be available in Colorado, and a "rolling launch" will occur in markets from California to the "East Coast."

In a press release, Dow said the shingle "protects the home like a standard roofing shingle while providing energy that saves the homeowner money":

Dow can now serve the need of homeowners who want to go solar, but aren’t willing to accept the complexity and sub-optimal aesthetics currently offered by bulky, rack-mounted systems.

Booth Mid-Michigan reports that Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris called Dow's solar shingle "a game changer that will address an estimated $5 billion market by 2015."

From Booth Mid-Michigan:

Dow hasn't reported a price for the shingles, but said the cost to homeowners will be set by the channel to market, and will depend on the size and configuration of the home and desired power generation. Dow officials said the cost of solar shingles can be thousands of dollars less than solar panels installed on top of a roof.

Environment
2:31 pm
Tue October 4, 2011

More ups and downs for salmon in the Great Lakes

Dale Wilkinson with his salmon.
Photo by Lester Graham

By Tom Kramer for The Environment Report

Charter fishing in Michigan represents a $20 million a year industry. But the number of charter trips on Lake Huron declined by almost 50 percent in the last decade – as the salmon fishery on the lake took a dive. And now the state has decided to end Chinook salmon stocking in most rivers along Lake Huron. Starting next spring, Chinook, or king salmon, will be stocked in just a few places in the northern part of the lake.

Salmon are not native to the Great Lakes.

They were introduced from the Pacific Ocean in the late '60s and quickly became the most popular sport fish in the region.

Dramatic changes in the food web in Lake Huron caused by too many salmon and other exotic species like invasive mussels brought about the demise of the fishery around 2003.

That has been a huge economic blow to tourist towns along the coast but state officials say there's nothing they can do to bring it back at this point.

One place the state hopes to keep a decent sport fishery for kings is in the Cheboygan River.

Todd Grischke manages Lake Huron for the Department of Natural Resources.

He says there might be more food for salmon out in the Straits of Mackinac.

“So there is a possibility that those fish that are planted there are finding forage that is not available to other parts of the lake to the south.”

But while Lake Huron is seeing the continuing collapse of its salmon fishery, it’s shaping up to be a banner year for salmon fishing in Lake Michigan.

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Environment
12:31 pm
Mon October 3, 2011

Michigan company seeks permits for new copper mine in UP

A nugget that is a mixture of copper, domeykite, and algodonite from the Mohawk Mine in Keweenaw County, Michigan. The AP reports that a Canadian company wants to open a new mine in the UP.
user Alchemist-hp wikimedia commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A company is applying for state permits to construct a copper and silver mine in Michigan's far western Upper Peninsula.

Orvana Minerals Co., a subsidiary of a Canadian company, is proposing to build a mine near Lake Superior in Gogebic County. Orvana is targeting 798 million pounds of copper and 3.5 million
ounces of silver.

Company president Bill Williams says the mine would operate about 14 years and have about 250 people on the payroll.

Orvana will need 13 permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, including one to build and operate the mine. The others would deal with issues such as air quality, wastewater discharges and wetlands development.

DEQ officials say the mine will have to meet strict environmental standards to qualify for the permits.

Environment
11:12 am
Fri September 30, 2011

Storms bring high waves, winds to western Michigan

Big waves on Lake Michigan in 2007.
screen grab from YouTube video

HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) - The National Weather Service says storms brought high waves and strong winds to Lake Michigan and along the western Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

The weather service says waves between 12 and 18 feet were expected Friday. A storm warning was in effect for part of the day.

The Grand Rapids Press reports a 21-foot wave was recorded by a buoy in the middle of Lake Michigan west of Holland.

Winds gusting up to 60 mph were reported. Strong winds were expected around Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

High winds and waves moved in Thursday. The Muskegon Chronicle reports the S.S. Badger car ferry wasn't expected to be in service Friday between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis., due to the weather. Ferry service was expected to resume Saturday.

Environment
1:18 pm
Thu September 29, 2011

Citizens' group raises concerns about wind turbines' proximity to gas pipelines

(*We're experiencing technical problems with one of the above audio files. Please ignore the "audio processing" message above.)

By Bob Allen for The Environment Report

Officials in Mason County have given the green light to the first large scale wind farm near the Lake Michigan shore. Consumers Energy wants to have fifty-six turbines built and running before the end of next year. But some residents say in its rush to get going Consumers and the County are downplaying a serious threat to public safety.

Natural gas pipelines run through the site of Consumers Energy’s wind park south of Ludington.

A group of residents says at least half a dozen of the windmills are within falling distance of a gas line. And they say if a turbine falls it could cause a pipeline to break with the risk of an explosion.

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Environment
11:39 am
Thu September 29, 2011

NRC inspectors back at Palisades after 2nd shutdown in 2 months

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven.
nrc.org

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting a second special inspection within two months at Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven.

NRC inspectors were at the 40-year-old Palisades plant in August after a water pump part failed, leading to a plant shutdown.

The team is back in South Haven, after workers performing maintenance on an electrical panel caused the plant to shut down again on Sunday.

“Did it involve maintenance issues, human performance issues, design concerns? What happened? Why did the plant trip after that electrical arc?"

Those are some of the the questions the inspectors will ask, according to NRC spokeswoman Victoria Midlyng.

The inspection could take up to two weeks.

Palisades spokesman Mark Savage says the plant and its owner, Entergy, are conducting their own investigations. He says employees and the public were never in danger.

Environment
12:21 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

University of Michigan commits $14 million to environmental improvements

University of Michigan officials say they will purchase seven new hybrid buses as part of their $14 million push to improve the University's environmental footprint.
Corey Seeman Flickr

University of Michigan officials say they are committing $14 million to cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce solid waste sent to landfills, protect local water supplies, and support local food supplies.

In a speech, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said the changes are a new chapter for the university, "one that will alter the face of our campus and, more important, the character of our teaching, research and impact as a global leader."

Officials listed goals they hope to meet by 2025 in a press release:

  • Cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, the equivalent of removing nearly 42,000 cars from the road.
  • Make the university transportation system more efficient – decreasing vehicle carbon output by 30 percent for every person in the car, truck or bus.
  • Shrink the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40 percent.
  • Protect the Huron River through best-in-class storm water control strategies and by applying 40 percent fewer chemicals to campus landscapes, and ensure that at least 30 percent of stormwater runoff does not flow into the Huron River.
  • Promote sustainable foods while supporting more Michigan farmers and producers. From the residence halls to the unions and hospitals, the university is introducing new purchasing guidelines and making a commitment that at least 20 percent of U-M food comes from local and sustainable sources.

Officials say some of changes on campus will be noticed "almost immediately": the purchase of 37 hybrid vehicles (including buses), a solar panel installation on North Campus, a geothermal system for the Weisfeld Family Golf Center, and newly renovated or constructed dining halls will go "trayless" (so students don't pile on food they end up tossing in the garbage).

The Associated Press reports the $14 million the University is committing to sustainability augments other sustainability spending by the University:

That's in addition to $64 million in energy-efficient construction activity and $20 million supporting on-campus sustainability efforts.

The university says its plan is among the broadest of its kind, though efforts are under way at many campuses, including Michigan State University, Miami University in Ohio, University of Oregon
and University of Utah.

Donald Scavia, the director of UM's  Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and an advisor to President Coleman on sustainability,  says the commitments and goals are important, "but more impressive to me is the emerging culture shift on campus. I believe the high levels of focus, energy, and collaboration now in place throughout the university are the most significant steps in driving progress toward all of our sustainability goals -- in education, research, and operations."

Environment
10:02 am
Tue September 27, 2011

Chefs try to get Americans to eat Asian carp

Chefs Tim Creehan (left) and Phillipe Parola with a bighead carp.
Photo by Rebecca Williams

Two species of Asian carp, bighead and silver carp, have been swimming their way north toward the Great Lakes for decades. A lot of people are trying to keep the carp out of the Lakes.

Yesterday, attorneys general from around the country announced they’re putting more pressure on Congress to speed up action on Asian carp.

Some people think one solution is to create a market for the fish.

There are a couple of companies working to sell Asian carp to China... where the fish are considered a delicacy.

But winning over the American palate is much harder. Carp have a bit of an image problem... and they are full of bones.

“We are spoiled here, we like convenience. Everybody expects to have fish without bones, right? And that’s the issue.”

This is Chef Phillipe Parola. He’s from Baton Rouge and he wants you to learn to love Asian carp.

Parola is one of the chefs who tried to get Americans to eat nutria. Nutria look like oversized rats. So that didn’t go over so well.

Two years ago, Chef Parola found his new calling. He was out fishing in Louisiana, where the Asian carp are thick.

“With ten minutes, this fish started jumping everywhere. I’m like, what in the heck! Two of them, one after the other, landed right at my feet.”

He kept the giant carp, put them on ice, and took them home.

“To my surprise, when I saw the meat, as a professional chef, I knew right on that there’s no way that this fish could be bad, literally. When I went and cooked it, I'm going to tell you, it tasted between scallops and crab meat, there is no doubt.”

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Environment
7:01 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Estimated cost of cleaning up Kalamazoo River oil spill rising

Oil spill cleanup workers on the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek in August, 2010.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The new estimate was part of paperwork Enbridge Energy filed today with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.   The company says it’s revising its estimated cleanup costs, from $585 million to $700 million.  That's about a 20 percent increase.   

 “The cleanup cost to date includes some additional work around submerged oil….and those recovery operations….and just some more active remediation of the impacted environment." says Terri Larson,  an Enbridge spokeswoman,  "So there are a few factors that are at play within that expected increase.” 

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Environment
3:13 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Wangari Maathai, winner of Nobel Peace Prize, dies

Wangari Maathai in Kenya in 2004 - the year she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mia MacDonald Green Belt Movement

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize died on Sunday in her native Kenya.  She was 71.

The New York Times reports:

The cause was cancer, her organization, the Green Belt Movement, said. Kenyan news organizations said she had been treated for ovarian cancer in the past year and had been in a hospital for at least a week when she died.

Maathai was a leading environmentalist and feminist as well as a human-rights advocate.  She has also worked to encourage nations around the world to work together to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

During an interview on Michigan Radio's The Environment Report in 2009 (click on audio above), Maathai also called on everyone to help work to solve the global warming problem.

"I think it’s very important to encourage farmers, individual citizens to plant trees. And, I’m very happy to know that in some of your states, tree planting has been embraced as one of the solutions. It’s one of the activities that every one of us citizens can do and feel good about it, and teach kids to do it, because every tree will count. And when there are 7 billion of us, almost, in the whole world, so you can imagine, if every one of us planted a tree and made sure that tree survived – can you imagine the impact?"

Environment
12:49 pm
Sun September 25, 2011

Michigan Attorney General: More states favor Asian carp barrier

Asian carp leaping out of a river.
glfc.org

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says a coalition that favors physically separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds has grown to 17 states.
Schuette tells The Associated Press that attorneys general from 11 states have joined the campaign, which he and counterparts from five other Great Lakes states began last month.
They're pushing Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide quickly on a plan for cutting the man-made connection between the drainage basins near Chicago.

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Environment
5:34 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Canadian officials: Zug Island to blame for mysterious "Windsor hum"

Zug Island
Wikimedia commons

Canadian officials say they’ve identified the source of a persistent “hum” that’s aggravated many Windsor residents for months.

Their conclusion, based on seismological data: the vibration is coming from the vicinity of Zug Island, a heavy industry hotspot that sits just downriver from Detroit.

Windsor City Councillor Al Maghnieh is relieved to finally have some answers about the noise, which has shaken houses--and residents--for nearly a year. But he says investigators still need to locate the exact source of the mystery vibration.

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