Environment & Science

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.

Read more
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:

Read more
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."

Read more
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.”

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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?

Read more
Environment
11:33 am
Thu February 10, 2011

Grand Rapids puts a price tag on city trees

Grand Rapids is trying to take better care of its city trees.
Photo courtesy of Fellowship of the Rich, Flickr

The City of Grand Rapids is working to revive its urban forest. Lindsey Smith visited the committee in charge of the effort to find out how things are going.

Three things to know about trees in Grand Rapids:

  1. The committee values the 61,000 trees within the city’s boundaries at $71 million.  (How'd they get that number?  It's based on the benefits trees provide: capturing storm water runoff, increasing property values, improving air quality and reducing heating and cooling costs for nearby buildings.)
  2. In 2010, more than 1,500 trees were planted in Grand Rapids.
  3. This year they’re working to add a wider variety of native trees - to better protect the urban forest from new pests and disease.  (i.e. things like the uber-destructive emerald ash borer)

Lindsey talked with Dottie Clune, the committee chair.  She says the importance of trees is often overlooked - especially these days with tight city budgets.

“We know that for every dollar we spent on the municipal urban forestry program we received $3.60 in benefits. That’s a pretty good return on investment.”

Read more
Environment
11:13 am
Thu February 10, 2011

Partial ban on hunting & snowmobiling in national forest?

The Huron-Manistee National Forest
Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service has to consider making 70,000 acres off limits to firearm hunting and snowmobiling in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. That’s about seven percent of the Huron-Manistee.

It’s doing this because the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Service to do so... and that’s because of a lawsuit brought by a guy named Kurt Meister. Meister is an attorney, representing himself in the case. He’s trying to get areas that are already designated as non-motorized set aside for quiet recreation. 

“There ought to be some place in the forest where you can go cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing or kayaking or hiking or ride your horse without having to listen to the noise of other people and the guns and machines they use.”

This week, the Michigan House and Senate are discussing three resolutions. Those resolutions express opposition to any potential ban on hunting and snowmobiling in the Huron-Manistee. The resolutions couldn’t stop the federal agency – but it's basically a show of hands against a ban.

The resolutions are:

  • House Concurrent Resolution 2: sponsored by State Rep. Bruce Rendon (R-Lake City) - Passed the House Committee on Natural Resources, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism on Tuesday
  • House Resolution 17: sponsored by State Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Alpena) - Passed the House Committee on Natural Resources, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism on Tuesday
  • Senate Resolution 6: sponsored by State Senator Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) - Being considered today in the Senate Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

Read more
Weather
7:42 am
Thu February 10, 2011

Brrr... It's cold out there

Though the sun will be out for part of the day today, the wind chill will keep things freezing around the state
Scorpions and Centaurs Flickr

Though the sun might come out for a bit today, it is going to be a cold one around the state. Temperatures will be in the teens. However, with the wind chill, it'll feel as cold as 11 below in some parts of the region. Meanwhile, a wind chill advisory is in effect for parts of Southeast Michigan until 11 a.m. this morning.

Tonight: Cloudy skies with a chance of flurries. Lows ranging from negative 3 degrees to 10 above... with wind chills down to 10 below.

Tomorrow: A  mix of sun and clouds with a chance of snow. Highs in the low to mid 20's.

Public land dispute
5:10 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

MI Supreme Court will not review Benton Harbor golf course case

Jean Klock Park before the golf course was constructed.
Vincent Duffy Michigan Radio

The state Supreme Court will not take up the case against the city of Benton Harbor and developers of a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

Three holes of the 200 acre golf course were built on the dunes of Jean Klock Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. The 90 acre park was donated to the city in 1917 for public recreation. Opponents argue a private golf course isn’t a public use.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled six to one against taking up the case. Documents say the court was “not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court.”

Carol Drake is one of two residents who filed the suit. She is vice president of the Friends of Jean Klock Park organization. She says Justice Steven Markman ‘got it’ in his dissent.

“That was just amazing to me that collectively that the other justices couldn’t see that this is a legacy case; how important this is and what this decision does in terms of other deeded land and other park lands.”

She argues the case creates a bad precedent for the preservation of public lands.

“I believe that history will show that we were right. That this land should never have been used for a golf course to begin with, that it was a privatization of public park lands, and that if it fails, the rest of the park will probably follow in terms of being used for private purposes.”

Drake is hoping the bench in a separate, federal case will be more favorable to her side. That case is set to go before the Court of Appeals in Cincinnati this spring.

Environment
11:42 am
Tue February 8, 2011

National bike routes for Michigan

Organizers are making progress on designating two national bicycle routes through Michigan.  As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith found out, they're hoping the routes will attract tourists to the state.

A group of avid cyclists is working to designate bike routes sort of like the U.S. Department of Transportation designates interstate freeway systems. You can ride on two of these routes in Michigan already – they travel mostly along county roads.

  • Number 20 is an east-west route from Ludington to Marine City.
  • Number 35 is a north-south route that stretches for hundreds of miles along the Lake Michigan shore.

Kerry Irons is with Adventure Cycling, the non-profit that’s spearheading the effort.

“Nothing moves by at a high speed. You don’t have to get off and stare at the lake, you know, get out of the car and stare at the lake, the lake is there for 400 miles. That’s the essence of bicycle touring and the driver behind this national network which is going to be a couple hundred thousand miles of established bicycle routes by the time it’s all done.”

Read more
Environment
11:25 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Suing the state over pollution permits

A case that pinpoints a key issue in Michigan’s water law could come back before the state Supreme Court. The office of Attorney General Bill Schuette has asked the court to rehear the Anglers of the Au Sable case. The issue is: whether citizen groups can take state agencies to court to protect the environment.

Here's the nut of the case:

  • The Anglers group won their suit in the lower court to protect one of the state’s prime trout streams. The Department of Environmental Quality had given Merit Energy permission to pump more than a million gallons a day of treated wastewater into a creek at the headwaters of the Au Sable River.
  • The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling against the oil company but exempted the Department of Environmental Quality from the lawsuit. The Appeals Court said the issuing of a permit doesn’t cause harm to the environment... it’s the person with the permit that could do that.

So Anglers asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review that part of the ruling.

And in December the high court overturned the lower court and said state agencies that issue permits that result in harm can be named in a citizen suit.

The Court upheld clear language in the Michigan Environmental Protection Act that says any person can bring suit to protect the environment.

Jim Olson, an attorney for the Anglers, says the decision upholds state environmental law that’s been in place for more than forty years.

“Permits that cause harm can be brought into Circuit Court and people can bring it out into the open and judges can make decisions so agencies can’t hide behind the cloak of bureaucracy.”

Since December, a conservative majority is back in control of the Supreme Court.

Read more
Great Lakes
6:59 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Environmentalists call on Congress to fully fund Great Lakes restoration

Environmentalists are calling on Congress to fully fund the Greak Lakes restoration projects
Bug_girl_mi Flickr

A group of environmentalists is calling on Congress to fully fund Great Lakes restoration projects in the federal budget.

They say the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is working to clean waterways and drinking water, and create jobs in the Great Lakes region.

Jeff Skelding, with the Healing Our Waters coalition, says talk of budget cuts in Washington, D.C. have Great Lakes conservationists on guard:

There are those in Congress who would gladly take the axe to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative without a second thought. Our message to Congress is – cutting successful Great Lakes restoration programs that protect drinking water, safeguard public health, create jobs and uphold the quality of health for millions of people is exactly the wrong thing to do.

The coalition hopes Congress will approve $300 million dollars for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the coming weeks.

Pages