The Environment Report

On Monday morning, the Environmental Protection Agency released the federal government’s plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The agency's calling it the "Clean Power Plan."

The EPA says carbon dioxide emissions are the main driver of climate change. The agency is proposing a 30% reduction in CO2 from power plants by 2030. Here's what EPA says about the proposed regulations:

Climate change is not just a problem for the future. We are facing its impacts today:

Average temperatures have risen in most states since 1901, with seven of the top 10 warmest years on record occurring since 1998.
 
 
Climate and weather disasters in 2012 cost the American economy more than $100 billion.
 
Nationwide, by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will help cut carbon pollution
 from the power sector by approximately 30 per cent from 2005 levels. It
 will also reduce pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog that make people sick by over 25 percent.

Policymakers at the state level and the state’s major power companies don’t seem surprised by the news. 

Would you:

A) run away screaming

B) attack them with golf clubs, weed whackers and curling irons, or

C) haplessly fall victim to them as you enjoy a quiet afternoon of fishing with your dog?

The residents of a fictional Michigan town do all of the above in "Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys" airing this week on Animal Planet. It's by the same people who brought us "Sharknado."

Watch the trailer below:

Really, it was only a matter of time. With its toothy suction cup for a face and razor sharp tongue, the sea lamprey was a horror movie villain just waiting to shine.

The common tern used to nest in great numbers in the lower Great Lakes region, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But in recent decades, common tern nests and their brown speckled eggs have largely disappeared from the region. 

You can thank a bee for about one of every three bites of food we eat.

Jeff Pettis is the research leader for the Bee Research Lab with the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Most of the nutritious stuff in our diet is probably pollinated by some kind of animal, and most likely a bee,” he says.

Pettis just wrapped up a survey of beekeepers around the country, and he found they lost just over 23% of their bee colonies this past winter.

“The previous about seven-year average has been just over 30%, so this number is a little bit better, but by no means is it a great number for numbers of colonies lost through the winter. Before we got the parasitic mite varroa, we used to lose 5-10% of the colonies in the winter. We got two parasitic mites in the 80s; the numbers jumped between 15-20% losses," he says.

Piping plovers making slow, steady comeback

May 20, 2014

It’s piping plover nesting season along the dunes of the Great Lakes. The tiny birds were labeled endangered back in the mid-80s.

Since then, they’ve steadily been making a comeback. But it takes a whole lot of effort.

One of this year’s nests is in Ludington State Park. There's a female who’s chosen to rear her young in this park before.

But this time she picked an odd spot to do it. She’s right in the middle of a beach-side parking lot.

It’s hard to spot the tiny nest, which is surrounded by pavement.

This week, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issued updated permits for two of Michigan’s biggest polluters.

The Severstal steel plant in Dearborn and the Marathon oil refinery in southwest Detroit are some of the biggest industrial facilities in the state.

Both have failed to comply with their state air quality permits. Marathon has had a handful of past environmental violations. Severstal's record is worse—they’ve been cited 38 times in five years for violating their state permit.

Yet the state has let both Severstal and Marathon “revise” those permits, and agreed to loosen restrictions on some types of emissions.

That process has raised some concerns about how the state regulates polluters.

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek has looked into some of those concerns, and I spoke with her for today's Environment Report.

Lessons from a tiny, extremely destructive pest

May 13, 2014

The emerald ash borer is a little shiny green beetle that loves to feast on ash trees. The adult beetles only nibble on the leaves. It's the larvae you've got to watch out for. They munch on the inner bark of the ash tree, and mess with the tree's ability to transport water and nutrients.

The pest has killed tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan alone and tens of millions more in the states and provinces around our region.

Now researchers know a little bit more about how the emerald ash borer ate its way through the state.

If you’re a fly fisherman, there are few rivers this side of the Rocky Mountains that compare with Michigan’s Au Sable River. There’s a particular nine-mile stretch east of Grayling known as the Holy Waters.

The water is clean, cold, easy to wade through, and packed with more than 100 pounds of wild trout per acre.

Michigan cities graded on air pollution

May 1, 2014

The American Lung Association just released its annual report card on air quality, State of the Air.

Detroit and Grand Rapids made the list of most polluted cities for their ozone levels (Detroit ranks 34th worst out of 220 cities; Grand Rapids ranks 30th).

But others made the cleanest cities list: Kalamazoo and East Lansing scored well for particle pollution. Those are very tiny specks found in smoke and exhaust.

Linda Stephan

Fifty years ago, Congress set out to guarantee future generations would always have access to America’s great outdoors in its most natural state. But several recent requests for wilderness protections have been languishing on Capitol Hill.  

In the past five years, just one new wilderness bill made it to law. This new law guarantees 35 miles of northern Lake Michigan shoreline will be forever left wild.

Good Harbor Bay

A Ready-Mix concrete company, McCoig Materials, wants to open up a mine on a site north of Chelsea. The two parcels of land they want to mine are in between the Waterloo and Pinckney Recreation areas. This part of southeast Michigan has a lot of little lakes and unique natural areas.

McCoig Materials wants to operate the mine for 22 to 30 years and remove 11 million tons of sand and gravel.

People who live on the lakes nearby have been raising concerns about that.

Mary Mandeville spends summers in her cottage at Island Lake.

“Just to the west of us is where the proposed gravel mine would be putting in their operations. We’re very concerned about the impact on the environment, on the water table level. We’re concerned about air quality with all the dust from the dumping of the gravel into the trucks.”

The farm bill has about $57 billion for conservation.

Director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Todd Ambs says a lot of people don't realize the farm bill is where we find the largest source of conservation money from the federal government.

"That’s because there are so many activities that happen on the land that bring us our food, that if done improperly can have a very adverse impact on the soil and also to surrounding waterways," he says.

We’re all regularly exposed to the chemical Bisphenol A or BPA. Companies have taken it out of baby bottles, and many kinds of those hard plastic water bottles no longer have BPA in them.

But it’s still used on paper receipts and to line most food and drink cans.

Dana Dolinoy is a Searle Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“There is mounting evidence that BPA has negative health effects in both animal models and humans,” says Dolinoy.

There are close to 70,000 miles of underground pipelines in Michigan carrying all kinds of materials around the state – things like natural gas, refined petroleum, and crude oil.

And for the most part, we really don’t notice these pipelines. That was true in Michigan until one summer day three and half years ago when this happened:

Ever seen a commercial for a face scrub or body wash that promises to “polish” your skin with “micro-beads?”

Or maybe one of the hundreds of these products already sits in your shower.

Ever wonder what those little beads are?

Chances are pretty good they’re plastic. And once they circle your drain and go down your pipes, chances are also pretty good they’re not going to get filtered out by your city’s sewage treatment plant.

Millions of tiny beads that look a lot like fish food

Before I talk about the small bits of chemicals often found in drinking water, I want to direct some attention to the national water contamination story going on now because I think it reveals something.

The water is bad in West Virginia

The nation has its eyes on a nine-county area in West Virginia that’s under a state of emergency. A coal-processing chemical leaked into a river and poisoned the drinking water there. Cleanup is ongoing. As they attempt to flush the chemical out of their drinking water systems, officials are trying to determine what level of the chemical is safe.

Ken Ward Jr. of the West Virgina Gazette reports that local and federal officials are saying that "1 part per million" of  crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (the coal processing chemical) is safe for people to drink.

But Ward is having a tough time finding out what they based that number on:

Michigan could deregulate the electricity market, allowing people to choose where they buy electricity.

In downtown Frankenmuth there are two very popular restaurants: the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and right across the street, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. Both are famous for their chicken dinners. And the owners are cousins -- both of them are Zehnders.

Meet the Gold family. They're modern day homesteaders. 

Their goal is to live as self-sufficiently as possible on their three-acre farm in Ypsilanti. (They often say they use yesterday's knowledge combined with today's technology.)

Two years ago they started the Michigan Folk School. The school promotes traditional folk arts and the preservation of forest and farmland.

Imagine walking down a picturesque beach along Lake Michigan, and stumbling upon the carcasses of dead birds. That’s a very real and unpleasant problem along Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario and Erie. (It’s not as big of an issue in Lake Superior because of the lake’s colder water temperatures.)

Loons and other deep-diving birds are suffering from a disease called avian botulism. It’s form of food poisoning that kills wild birds in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Michigan has lost millions of acres of wetlands over the last century. But the state’s still got roughly five million acres left. 

“Wetlands are really, really important to clean water. They’ve been called nature’s nurseries and nature’s kidneys,” said Grenetta Thomassey, who heads Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey.

Over the last decade, women have switched to making much healthier choices at the seafood counter.

First, let's make it clear: fish is healthful food.

But, fish can contain traces of mercury, some fish more than others. And to make sure you don’t consume too much of that toxin, you need to know which fish have heavier loads of mercury.

Why?

Because mercury is a toxic contaminant that can cause neurological damage. For women who could have children or who are pregnant, too much mercury could mean developmental problems for their babies.

Hydrogen fuel cells, compressed natural gas, all-electric… what kind of cars are we going to be driving in a few years?

The LA Auto Show wrapped up… and the next big show is the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit in January.

There, of course, is a lot of well-orchestrated hype at these big auto shows. If you’re looking for a clear direction on what we’ll be driving in the future, it’s still a mixed bag. But, new advances are dominated by efficiency improvements in the internal combustion engine.

The Gratiot County Wind Farm has 133 wind turbines scattered over more than 30,000 acres. It's the largest wind farm in Michigan. Each 1.6 megawatt wind turbine can generate enough power for 350 homes.

And this is what it sounds like when you stand directly beneath a wind turbine that stretches more than 450 feet into the sky with the wind blowing between 10 to 15 mph.

Scientists pushed to share their data sooner

Nov 21, 2013

Some policymakers say scientists hold onto their data too long. They say by the time the information is released, it can miss the window for addressing pressing problems.

The federal government is urging scientists to share their data sooner, but good data is like gold to scientists.

It can solve a lingering puzzle, and lead to professional success. That's why some scientists are considered data hoarders. They protect the information they collect.

But in a recent survey of over 1,300 scientists, Carol Tenopir found more of a spirit of collaboration than competition.

Tenopir participates in a National Science Foundation project called DataOne. Her job is to figure out how to overcome barriers to data sharing and broaden access to information.

Though only a small percentage of scientists said they actually share their data, she was surprised to find many are eager to do so.

<p>Maybe you've heard Michigan is on the verge of a drilling boom for natural gas.  We'll take a look at how environmentalists view drilling for this cleaner fuel on today's The Environment Report.</p>

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