Environment & Science

Environment
10:29 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Can and bottle deposits add up for environment

The unredeemed deposits from bottles and cans go into a state fund to clean-up the environment
Vistavision Flickr

All the unclaimed deposits from Michigan cans and bottles really add up. The state gets about $12 million a year out of it.

A small amount of this money goes back to the retailers who sell the containers. But most of it is used for cleaning up old industrial land or toxic waste. The state also uses the money to finish the clean-up of federal Superfund sites.

With budget cuts, money for pollution clean-up is harder to come by. Anastasia Lundy is with the Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department used to rely on Michigan’s general fund.

"Well the programs that are funding environmental clean-up no longer receive any general fund whatsoever, so this has increased our reliance on these bottle bill funds to try to keep the programs meeting the most critical needs."

The state wants as much money in the clean-up fund as possible. They’re worried they are losing money to people they call smugglers. These are people bringing cans into Michigan from other states for deposit money.

This might sound like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Neuman drive cans and bottles into Michigan. But the state is getting serious about cutting down on bottle deposit fraud. So, they want bottle manufacturers to put a special mark on containers sold in Michigan. Bottle return machines would then only take containers with the mark-Michigan containers.

The state changed the bottle bill to require manufactures to add the mark, and the manufacturers are now suing the state over the changes to the bill.

The American Beverage Association is bringing the suit. They didn’t return calls for comment on this story. But, they’ve told other media outlets that making special cans and bottles for Michigan will be expensive and they don’t want to do it.

Retailers are siding with the state in the suit. Mike Lashbrook is the President of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesaler Association.

"Well, you know, this issue, the fact that there is this smuggling that’s been going on, it’s not a joke like the Seinfeld episode. It is a major problem.

He says retailers are also worried about losing money to bottle smugglers.

The state has already put a little over a million dollars into upgrading the bottle machines to read the special mark. If the Beverage Association wins their case the state will lose this money.

Read more
Environment
9:50 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Congress to hear testimony about nuclear power plant safety on Tuesday

Fermi II is one of three nuclear power plants in Michigan
Nuclear Regulatory Agency

Congress will hear testimony on Tuesday morning from experts in nuclear energy to determine what lessons can be learned from the crisis in Japan.

Dave Lochbaum is the director of the Nuclear Power Project, part of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says the United States needs to be prepared for disaster "not on bright sunny days, but on days when the infrastructure may be damaged or compromised and impede the ability of people to get out of harm’s way."

Lochbaum says U.S. plants are at risk for the same problems that nuclear plants in Japan are facing:

“It’s U.S. reactor technology that was used there, under similar regulations that are here in the United States, so faced with similar challenges, we’d probably experience similar outcomes and I think the United States and Congress more broadly will take steps to better protect Americans from that outcome. ”

There are three nuclear power plants in Michigan

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Science/Medicine
11:08 am
Fri March 25, 2011

A piece of Michigan and NASA history on the auction block this weekend

8 by 12 inch state of Michigan flag that flew to the moon and back on Apollo 15 in 1971
(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’.

Read more
Environment
8:47 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Oil spill clean up continues, public use of Kalamazoo River still on hold

Father and daughter stand by the Kalamazoo River last summer a few days after the July oil spill
(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.

Environment
12:00 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Rebranding the Great Lakes Seaway

The Dutch-flagged, Dane-piloted Avonborg was carrying 75 wind turbine blades to Burns Harbor, Indiana, on Lake Michigan, on the opening day of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
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.

Read more
Environment
12:38 pm
Tue March 22, 2011

Household trash burning measure on hold

Burning materials like plastics, foam and furniture can release toxins into the air, soil and water.
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.

Weather
7:11 am
Tue March 22, 2011

March going out with a "Wintry Mix" storm

The spring warm up is on hold as cold weather and moisture head our way.
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:

Read more
Environment
1:40 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Michigan's planned trash burning ban snuffed out

The fire's getting low. Throw more trash on the fire.
(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.    

Read more
What's Working
12:05 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Wind energy takes off in Michigan

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.

Read more
Commentary
2:05 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Carping Criticism

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.

Read more
Environment
2:46 pm
Wed March 16, 2011

Michigan species affected by power plant emissions

The common loon is one of nine Michigan species vulnerable to mercury poisoning and other toxins from power plants
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."

Read more
Environment
9:55 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Michigan girl scouts take on saving endangered species in Asia

Rhiannon Tomtishen (left) and Madison Vorva (right) are working to save rainforests in Asia.
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.

Read more
Environment
2:47 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Group rushes to clone trees

Tree at Lake Wanaka
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.

Japanese Earthquake
4:50 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Earthquake "nightmare scenario" for Michigan students from Japan

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.

Environment
11:33 am
Fri March 11, 2011

Lake St. Clair fish kills blamed on cold weather

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."

Read more
Winter Weather
6:58 am
Fri March 11, 2011

Snow brings dangerous driving conditions to early commute

A winter storm has hit parts of the state this Friday morning
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.

Read more
Environment
2:59 pm
Thu March 10, 2011

Potential large scale wind farms coming to West Michigan

Industrial scale wind turbines could begin to pop up in West Michigan.
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.

Read more
Environment
11:30 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Urban farming in Detroit gets mixed reviews

John Hantz wants to transform Detroit's vacant land into urban farm
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.
Read more
Environment
4:54 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Michigan scientists urge support of EPA

Scientists from Michigan universities and colleges say politicians should not jeopardize public health by weakening EPA authority.
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.

Read more
Politics
4:20 pm
Tue March 8, 2011

Snyder signs first bills, boosts voluntary standards for farmers

A Michigan hog farmer injects liquid manure into his field.
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."

Pages