Environment & Science

Environment
12:12 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Enviros want to replace Ohio nuclear plant with wind, solar energy

The edge of the cooling tower at the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ohio.
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.

Environment
11:43 am
Thu March 3, 2011

The do-it-yourself snow and ice test

Matt Grocoff says icicles are pretty, but they are also a bad sign that your roof could be suffering water damage, drip by drip.
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.
Environment
9:57 am
Tue March 1, 2011

Decline in Americans' belief in global warming

A polar bear on thin ice
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.

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What's Working
12:51 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

Helping communities save money and the environment

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.

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Environment
2:23 pm
Fri February 25, 2011

Wayne State, Univ of Windsor create joint environmental law clinic

Detroit skyline seen from Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River.
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.

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Weather
3:46 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

February's been a tough weather month

Michigan was clobbered by snow and ice storms in January and February.
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. 

Environment
2:58 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

Beekeepers' favorite invasive

Spotted knapweed, or star thistle, is a favorite of bees. Some beekeepers say star thistle honey puts Northern Michigan on the map.
(Photo by Flickr user JanetandPhil)

Researchers from Michigan State University are trying to control an invasive plant called spotted knapweed. They’ve released two foreign beetles that eat the plant on small plots of state land.

Knapweed spreads a carpet of purple flowers over old farm fields and alongside roads in mid-summer.

But as The Environment Report's Bob Allen discovered, beekeepers rely on those flowers for making honey.

Spotted knapweed tends to dominate any landscape where it takes hold. Its roots send out a chemical substance that kills nearby plants.

But researchers in several states think they’ve found a way to keep it in check. They’ve released two species of tiny European weevils.

One attacks knapweed’s roots, the other eats its seeds.

Doug Landis is a bug specialist at Michigan State University. He says in some test plots the bugs have knocked knapweed back as much as 80%.

“These insects don’t eliminate knapweed. But they can reduce its density to the point where it becomes a more manageable part of the plant community.”

Knapweed is found in every county in Michigan but especially in sandy soils. And land managers want to get rid of it because it crowds out native wildflowers and grasses that supply food and shelter to a wide variety of insects, birds and other wildlife.

But beekeepers say the plant has a lot of value for them. They even have a more poetic name for it... star thistle. And they say it produces a light, mild, pleasant tasting honey that puts northern Michigan on the map.

“It’s one of the best honeys in the country.”

Kirk Jones runs Sleeping Bear Apiary in Benzie County.

He says his star thistle honey is in demand in stores and restaurants across the country.
And it’s the only source of surplus nectar available for his bees late in the season.

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Environment
4:32 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Enviros say sewer plan stinks

Kate Boicourt IAN

Environmental advocates are criticizing a plan to scale back pollution controls for the sewer system that serves metro Detroit.

Officials with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department say population loss and the poor economy have forced them to revisit plans to build a massive underground tunnel along the Rouge River.

The tunnel would store untreated and partially treated sewage so that it wouldn’t get dumped into the river during rainstorms. Officials with DWSD say they still plan to build it, but it would be considerably smaller, and construction would be pushed back about a decade.

But critics say the public should be skeptical. James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council says DWSD has consistently failed to deliver on promises of a cleaner system.

“Why should we believe you this time? We’ve had decades of permits being issued, and non-compliance from this system.”

Officials with the sewer system say their plan is affordable, and within Detroit’s ability to fund. And they say that will avoid delays tied to the city’s economic recovery.

There is a public hearing on the proposal tonight at 7:00 at U of M-Dearborn.

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Environment
4:31 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

44,000 Consumers Energy customers still in the dark

User anotherpioneer Flickr

The ice storm was Sunday, but it may tomorrow or Friday before the last Consumers Energy customer who lost power will get their electricity restored.   195,000 thousand CMS utility customers lost power after the storm that dumped a half foot or more of snow and ice on Michigan at the beginning of the week. 

About 44,000 are still without power, says  Garrick Rochow, vice president of energy delivery for the utility:

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Environment
2:07 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

EPA establishes new standards for boilers and incinerators

Joe Gratz Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency has established new clean air standards for incinerators and boilers. From the EPA's press release:

"In response to federal court orders requiring the issuance of final standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing final Clean Air Act standards for boilers and certain incinerators that achieve significant public health protections through reductions in toxic air emissions, including mercury and soot, but cut the cost of implementation by about 50 percent from an earlier proposal issued last year."

"Mercury, soot, lead and other harmful pollutants released by boilers and incinerators can lead to developmental disabilities in children, as well as cancer, heart disease, aggravated asthma and premature death in Americans. These standards will avoid between 2,600-6,600 premature deaths, prevent 4,100 heart attacks and avert 42,000 asthma attacks per year in 2014."

An Associated Press article has some background on criticisms that may have prompted the move.

"Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have harshly criticized the EPA recently over the costs of a whole host of regulations, including the first-ever rules to control the gases blamed for global warming. At least a half-dozen bills have been introduced this year to block or curtail agency regulations, and House Republicans succeeded last week in attaching numerous anti-EPA measures to a bill aimed at funding the government for the rest of this fiscal year."

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Environment
9:16 pm
Tue February 22, 2011

Anglers of the Au Sable issues report on oil & gas pipelines

The Au Sable River
Photo courtesy of National Scenic Byways

The Anglers of the Au Sable has issued a new report that details the group’s concerns over oil and gas pipelines in northern Michigan. They’re especially worried about protecting the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers.

John Bebow is with the Anglers group. He says they started investigating pipelines after the major oil spill last summer in the Kalamazoo River. A pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners broke... and spilled more than 800,000 gallons into the river.

“And we quickly determined an even bigger pipeline owned by the same company flows under the Au Sable and its tributaries numerous times.”

That pipeline is called Line 5. It’s the largest oil pipeline in the Midwest... and it goes through the very heart of the Au Sable watershed. The report notes that Line 5 carries as much as 22 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids beneath the Au Sable River every day.

John Bebow calls the Au Sable a world class trout stream. He says if there were an oil spill... it would be devastating.

“The Au Sable River is a major magnet for tourism and recreation. It is a river life up there.”

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Environment
3:55 pm
Tue February 22, 2011

Cleaning up after the storm

Weather
9:09 am
Fri February 18, 2011

Wind Advisory issued in west Michigan

The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for west Michigan. 

A cold front passed through the state overnight.   Most parts of Michigan has already recorded their high temperatures for the day.  Temps are expected to fall through the day and into the evening, as Michigan's brief flirtation with Spring comes to an end.  

There's snow in the forecast for Sunday when temperatures are expected to descend back into the teens. 

Environment
5:12 pm
Thu February 17, 2011

Camp: Lock out the Asian carp

A Michigan lawmaker wants to ban the use of federal money to open Chicago-area shipping locks in an effort to prevent the spread of Asian carp.
michiganoutofdoors.com

U.S.  Representative Dave Camp of Midland is trying a new approach to keep invasive Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

He  wants to ban the use of federal funds to open Chicago-area shipping locks. Camp says the Great Lakes ecosystem is far too valuable to jeopardize.

And he’s not willing to wait for the Army Corps of engineers to come up with new recommendations to prevent the spread of the fish.

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Environment
5:30 pm
Wed February 16, 2011

Report warns corrosive tar sands oil boosts risks of pipeline spills

A map of oil pipelines carrying tar sands in the U.S. and Canada
From the report "Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks"

Update 5:30 p.m.

The NRDC responded to the ECRB statement saying they "stand by the information provided in the report - which is well documented and reviewed." From the NRDC statement:

The lack of transparency from the oil industry is part of the issue here. A clear accounting of the public health and safety issues associated with these products and the infrastructure associated with them is simply not available. The example of Enbridge’s CEO denying tar sands were involved with the Kalamazoo River disaster until pushed by reporters with undeniable evidence is one example of this lack of transparency.

Update 2:55 p.m.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board of Alberta, Canada, "an agency that regulates the province's energy resources," has issued a response to the report.

They write that the report "contains misleading statements on pipeline safety in Alberta and on the characteristics of diluted bitumen." From ERCB statement:

The report also states that “there are many indications that DilBit is significantly more corrosive to pipeline systems than conventional crude.”  Analysis of pipeline failure statistics in Alberta has not identified any significant differences in failure frequency between pipelines handling conventional crude versus pipelines carrying crude bitumen, crude oil or synthetic crude oil.

1:27 p.m.

This past summer, an oil pipeline in Michigan spilled more than 843,000 gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The spill is still being cleaned up by Enbridge Energy Partners, the company responsible for the spill.

Now, a new report says the type of oil running through the pipeline could lead to more spills.

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Environment
11:50 am
Tue February 15, 2011

Funding cuts to Great Lakes restoration?

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provides money for habitat restoration, keeping invasive species out of the Lakes, and cleaning up polluted areas.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

President Obama released his 2012 budget yesterday.

In it, he calls for major cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The goal of this multi-year program is to restore habitat... clean up pollution... and keep new invasive species out of the Lakes.

Initially, President Obama requested $475 million for the first year of the program. He got that under a democratic Congress.

Congress is wrestling with how much money to allocate for the second year (this current fiscal year).

President Obama's budget deals with the third year of GLRI funding.  Obama wants to cut $125 million out of next year’s budget for the program.

I talked with Jeff Skelding, the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, to find out what this might mean. He says:

"The state of Michigan has a huge stake in this. They need their share of that funding to insure that restoration activities proceed forward under severely challenging economic times."

Skelding calls the GLRI "probably the most historic restoration program ever enacted by Congress for the Great Lakes." He says there is strong bi-partisan support for the program from the Great Lakes Congressional delegation, which makes him hopeful.

Commentary
3:13 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Valentine for Michigan

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, and Mother Nature has shown Michigan a little love, at least. The temperature this morning was about forty degrees warmer than just a few days ago.

That makes a considerable difference when you have a puppy who wants to go for a mile and a half walk every morning, regardless of the weather. Nevertheless, Michigan needs all the love it can get.

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Coal plants
3:05 pm
Fri February 11, 2011

State issues permit for Holland to expand coal-fired-power plant

Holland is considering replacing one of the units at the James DeYoung power plant.
Holland BPW

The state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment initially denied the air quality permit. That’s because former Governor Jennifer Granholm said the state must consider whether or not a community really needs more power before issuing a permit. An Ottawa County judge ruled that’s not a good enough reason to deny the permit and ordered the DNRE to review the permit application by this Sunday.

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Environment
10:37 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Fracking leak in Michigan

Since producing a Michigan Watch series on the "hydraulic fracking" boom in Michigan last September and October on Michigan Radio, not much has been said or done about this method of drilling for natural gas.

A leak has now put the issue back in the news.

The Associated reports a leak has shut down a drilling operation not too far from Traverse City.

It's not yet clear whether it will damage underground water sources.  It does raise questions as to whether Michigan regulations are adequate to protect the environment while exploiting the gas reserves in the state.

Environment
4:48 pm
Thu February 10, 2011

Valentine's Day approaches, are you ready?

Most flowers are imported into the U.S.
Joe Shlabotnik Flickr

Pssst... don't forget. Valentine's Day is Monday... four more shopping days (five if you count the actual day as a shopping day).

Judging by my colleagues here at the station, a couple of us are prepared, some are waiting for the weekend, and some will wait until that last minute.

Are you ready?

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