Michigan Energy & Environment

IPR brings you the stories and sounds of nature Up North. Hear about our changing natural world, and the challenges northern Michigan faces with a growing economy and a fragile ecosystem.

Sam Corden

Researchers who work in wetlands in Michigan are taking a new approach to invasive plants. Instead of removing plants like phragmites and switchgrass, they’re harvesting them. They say these plants are a threat to biodiversity, but they can benefit farmers and even power homes.

Should a judge force the government to deliver bottled water, door to door, to everybody in Flint?

The Flint water crisis has gone to federal court: a group of activists say the state’s efforts really aren’t reaching a lot of people – especially older, sick, or low-income people.

There’s several plaintiffs here:  a group called the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a Flint resident/activist named Melissa Mays.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Off roaders have used state forest roads in the Upper Peninsula as trails for years. Now they might have the same opportunity to use those types of roads below the Mackinac Bridge.

House Bill 5275 would permit Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) to use any state forest road across the state, unless it has been closed. Most of these roads are already open to motorized traffic from vehicles with license plates, but not to machines like all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or side-by-side vehicles. The legislation, which was introduced by state Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona), is currently sitting in the state Senate.

“Right now we have limited use and sporadic accessibility for our ORVs and side-by-side machines,” Triston Cole says. “And this is the next step in increasing tourism and improving our economy here in northern Lower Michigan.”

Cole says many off roaders in the Lower Peninsula are heading north to the Upper Peninsula to use its more numerous ORV trails. He wants to keep them below the Mackinac Bridge.
 

But some are concerned about potential environmental impacts if the roads are opened up to ORVs with aggressive tire treads. 

Arborist Bo Burke takes reporter Taylor Wizner on a climb.
Bo Burke

To get to his workplace, Bo Burke of Cedar, Michigan has to do some climbing. He’s a certified arborist – “an individual trained in the science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees,” according to the International Society of Arboriculture. 

He also teaches people to climb trees for fun.

 


Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed Heidi Grether as the new head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, his office announced today.

Grether is the current deputy director for the Michigan Agency for Energy and is a former executive at BP America, where she helped manage Gulf Coast restoration efforts after the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.

Snyder said in the press release:

A proposal to reduce salmon stocking in Lake Michigan has upset some sport fishermen. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is polling members of an advisory committee to see how strong opposition is to the plan.


Michael Poole doesn’t buy the line that filtered tap water is safe for him and his neighbors to drink.

“There may be a day when I might be able to trust” the water, he says. “But until then, I’m getting this right here.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state legislature is on summer break for the next couple months but expect lawmakers to take on significant legislative questions when they return in September, says Rick Pluta.

Pluta is Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network.

One of the those questions is energy reform — a topic that legislators have been debating for months in Lansing.

“There are a lot of disparate entities who have different ideas about how [energy reform] ought to look,” Pluta says in an interview with IPR News Radio.
 


Eleanor Bennett

Mara Fae Penfil is fascinated with fungi. Last month, she quit her job in Traverse City and is traveling the country teaching people about mushrooms—but not just any mushrooms. Penfil is intrigued by the obscure, medicinal varieties. She’s been selling medicinal mushrooms through her website, Female and Fungi. She says many people pass them off as bark or dirt, but they're everywhere—and not by accident. 

 

Ohio DNR

Colonies of Caspian terns are becoming harder to find in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

James Ludwig is an ornithologist who has studied migratory birds in the region since the 1960s and just finished a trip across the Canadian waters of Lake Huron. He says he found about 100 Caspian tern nests where he found more than 1,900 in 1995.

Ludwig says the situation for Caspian terns is similar in the Michigan waters of the upper Great Lakes.

Flint’s water is still not safe to drink without a filter.

A lot of people have been asking whether the water is safe for bathing. Federal and state agencies say it is.

There’s a coalition of federal and state agencies working to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

It’s called the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. It just came out with its carp plan for this year.

It's tick season once again, and according to Michigan Radio's The Environment Report, Michiganders should be diligent when they're outdoors this summer. 

According to Rebecca Williams' recent story, the tick that we should be concerned about is the blacklegged tick. However, if you're starting to look for them now, good luck. They are currently in the nymph stage and are about the size of a poppy seed.

It’s that magical time of year, when you need to start checking yourself for ticks.

The blacklegged tick is the kind of tick we have in Michigan that can transmit Lyme disease, and it’s been expanding its range in our state.

David Cassleman

An environmental group has more money to clean up a polluted Traverse City waterway.

The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay has picked up a state grant worth nearly $600,000 to pay for ongoing work on Kids Creek, a tributary of the Boardman River that meanders along U.S. 31 in Traverse City. The group has been restoring stretches of Kids Creek for longer than a decade.

U.S. Geological Survey

An environmental group is testing a new weapon in the war on invasive, aquatic species in northern Michigan.

It’s a pesticide called Zequanox that kills zebra and quagga mussels, and is approved for use in open water by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council of Emmet County will test it on zebra mussels in inland lakes in the area next year.

DTE Energy

Ten years ago, Michigan’s residential electricity rates were below the national average. That is not true anymore.

Today, Michigan’s ratepayers have the highest rates in the Midwest, and the price per kilowatt hour could get even higher this year.   

Last month, we heard from an advocate for customers in Michigan, but today we hear from one of the state’s largest utilities about why prices go up.

David Mengebier is vice president of governmental, regulatory and public affairs for Consumers Energy.


In 1973, a plant owned by Velsicol Chemical made a mistake and shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to a livestock feed plant. The chemical is called polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB. It took about a year to discover the accident. Millions of Michiganders ate contaminated beef, chicken, pork, milk and eggs.

Aaron Selbig

When you think of hydraulic fracturing, Michigan may  not be the first state that comes to mind. But according to The FracTracker Alliance in Cleveland, Ohio – a group that studies the global oil and gas industry – Michigan is playing an increasing role in fracking.

That’s because the fracking process requires a special kind of sand that’s found near the Great Lakes.

An environmental group opposed to an oil pipeline beneath the Great Lakes has requested that state leaders shut down the pipe due to alleged safety violations.

The group Oil & Water Don’t Mix says the company operating Line 5 — Enbridge — is violating an easement granted by the state more than 60 years ago. The easement allows Enbridge to move oil and natural gas under the Straits of Mackinac.

A letter sent to the governor and attorney general's offices alleges several violations of the easement, including corrosion on the pipeline walls and failure to meet thickness requirements.

Enbridge says the group is making false assumptions, but environmental leaders say the evidence is clear.

Electricity rates have skyrocketed for Michigan residents in the past decade. The average price per kilowatt hour has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2008. Rates could go even higher, if the state’s biggest utilities have their way this year.

But ratepayers do have some advocates working on their behalf to try to keep prices down. They are a group called the Michigan Utility Consumer Participation Board.

The UCPB says poor funding restrains them from doing more on behalf of ratepayers. Jim MacInnes, the chair of the UCPB, wants to increase the group's funding from around $600,000 to $1.5 million per year.

Jim MacInnes — who is also the president of Crystal Mountain Resort — spoke with IPR News Radio last week:


Enbridge Energy has maintained that their twin oil and natural gas liquid pipelines under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac are safe.

But what if one of them did break open? Where might the oil go?

Today, the University of Michigan’s Water Center released new computer simulations to help answer that question.

David Schwab is a hydrodynamics expert with the Water Center.

“I don’t know any place where the currents are as strong, and change direction as quickly, and as frequently as in the Straits of Mackinac,” Schwab said.

White-nose syndrome is a deadly disease caused by a fungus. It’s killing bats in 27 states including Michigan, and five Canadian provinces.

It was first discovered in North America around a decade ago. Researchers think it came over from Europe, possibly on the shoes of a tourist or caver.

White-nose syndrome is killing millions of bats in 27 states and five Canadian provinces. It’s a disease caused by a fungus.

Five of Michigan’s nine bat species can get the disease. The bats that hibernate underground are the ones at risk. And the northern long-eared bat is getting hit especially hard.

Researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz are studying bats in China that appear to be resistant to the fungus. 

How do you decide if your milk is fresh enough to drink? You might be one of the many Americans who relies on sell-by dates to determine when to throw it out. But it turns out we could be dumping perfectly good milk. 

A physics professor thinks he’s hit on a better way to tell if food is fresh. And he’s taking it to market.

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