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.

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.

Sara Kassien

We might not know exactly what a changing climate will mean for northern Michigan. But Joe VanderMeulen says we can prepare for it.

“Preserving species diversity and preserving natural areas will give us the greatest shot at retaining some of the beauty of this area,” he says.

VanderMeulen has launched a new media project that focuses on climate change and related issues like development and invasive species.

U.S. Forest Service

In the 1970s, people complained the Pine River had become a “canoe freeway.”

Mark Miltner owns Pine River Paddlesports Center and says people like the river because it’s fast.

“It’s just a little livelier than most Michigan rivers,” he says. “It has more personality, has more push, has more fun factor.”

The hidden costs of pollution

Feb 25, 2016

We often hear about the economic costs of environmental regulation on the energy industry.

But there’s a flip side to that equation — the price society pays for pollution.  One scientist has added up those costs. And she found they’re going down.

If you’ve never had norovirus, you’re a very lucky person. It’s highly contagious and can knock you down.

Why are spruce trees in the Midwest declining?

Feb 23, 2016

You might’ve noticed there’s something strange going on with the spruce trees in your neighborhood.

It’s called spruce decline and it’s mostly affecting Colorado blue spruce.

Spruce decline is pretty much what it sounds like – the lower branches on the tree start turning brown and dying.

The Pine River is one of the fastest flowing rivers in Lower Michigan and one of the most popular. But its popularity created a problem the U.S. Forest Service wants to fix.

The project would mean the end of a sandy bank, about 160 feet high, that attracts crowds of paddlers.

The issue pits people’s enjoyment of the river against the river’s health and even public safety.

Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, says she doesn’t want to waste any time getting rid of the city’s old lead service lines.

It’s those lines – which bring water from the main to Flint houses – that have caused so much trouble in the city. Flint did not treat the water from the Flint River properly. That meant it ate away at those pipes and contaminated the water in many homes with lead.

U.S. Forest Service

The Pine River is one of the fastest flowing rivers in Lower Michigan and one of the most popular. Heavy traffic in the summer has created a problem the U.S. Forest Service wants to fix.

The project would mean the end of a sandy bank, about 160 feet high, that attracts crowds of paddlers. It’s an issue that pits peoples’ enjoyment of the river against the river’s health and even public safety.
 

The bank is just above Low Bridge, about 20 miles east of Manistee. It’s almost almost pure sand from top to bottom.

When Michigan firefighters get work-related cancer, they’re supposed to be covered by the state. But that’s not happening. 

Because more than a year after lawmakers created a cancer-coverage fund for firefighters, they still haven't put any money in it. 

It’s been almost four months since Flint went back to buying water from Detroit’s water system.

Here’s the good news: Since January, more than 90 percent of water tests have come back below the federal action level for lead of 15 parts per billion.

But there are still some insanely high lead levels in some homes. Take a look at a map of where those are, and you'll see there’s no pattern.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is holding public meetings on Tuesday about a proposal to divert water from Lake Michigan.

Waukesha, Wisconsin wants to build a pipeline to the Great Lakes.

It has a radium problem in its groundwater supply. Radium occurs naturally, but it’s a carcinogen.

The city wants to divert 10.1 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan in the beginning, and up to 16.7 million gallons a day by 2050.

Donations of bottled water have been flooding into Flint.

Making sure people have safe drinking water is the top priority in Flint right now. But some people are wondering about one side effect of the water crisis: where all those empty bottles are ending up.

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