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.

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.

The Marathon Petroleum refinery in southwest Detroit is no stranger to controversy. But its request to increase sulfur dioxide emissions has sparked a major backlash. The company has done a huge expansion of its southwest Detroit refinery in the past few years.

Michigan has more than 280 contaminated sites that are “orphans.” That means the company that made the mess no longer exists and the state has to deal with it.

But Michigan is running out of money to tackle these environmental problems. That was not good news for Antrim County, home to one of the largest contaminated sites in the country. State management of an underground plume of trichlorethylene (TCE) has been crucial here for years and will be needed in the future.

Department of Environmental Quality

Michigan has more than 280 contaminated sites that are “orphans.” That means the company that made the mess no longer exists and the state has to deal with it.

But Michigan is running out of money to tackle these environmental problems. That was not good news for Antrim County, home to one of the largest contaminated sites in the country. State management of an underground plume of trichlorethylene (TCE) has been crucial here for years and will be needed in the future.

Battery-powered cars and trucks seem to be winning the day as the way forward to increase fuel efficiency and to cut carbon pollution.

But there was a time when we heard a lot about fuel cells. The cells convert hydrogen into electricity that can then power a car or truck.

That hype died down as people realized there are significant barriers to powering our vehicles with hydrogen.

This week, two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety, put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on notice.

They’re planning to sue the agency because they say it’s dragging its feet on protecting the monarch butterfly.

We know that burning coal produces greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But it's also a big source of other types of air pollution that can cause disease and even death.

Around the country, dozens of coal-burning power plants are racing to comply with new Environmental Protection Agency rules to keep mercury out of the air.

In Michigan, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are both spending roughly $2 billion to comply with new air rules.

The biggest Environment Report stories of the year

Dec 30, 2015

About 44 feet below the surface of the water, 12 miles northeast of Sandusky in western Lake Erie

The Cleveland Underwater Explorers (CLUE) discovered the wreck on August 28th. It was believed to be a vessel called the Argo that sank in 1937.

What it takes to make snow when nature's not cooperating

Dec 24, 2015

Artificial snowmaking is a complicated process, but it's one that's important to ski resorts this year as Michigan's weather stays balmy.

While it's possible to go really granular in explaining how snow guns work (everything from humidity to water pressure can change when snow can be made), it boils down to four basic "ingredients."

Click through the slideshow at the top for your snowmaking basics.

The Great Lakes region would become a 'high consequence area' for oil spills, under a bill before the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Gary Peters, who introduced the legislation, says the designation will make the Straits of Mackinac safer from a potential spill.

"It's going to increase the inspections," Peters told IPR News Radio in an interview. "It increases the reporting. It increases the standards that companies have to meet for those pipelines."

Environmental groups say a 60-year old oil pipeline crossing the Straits is high risk. Enbridge, the company that runs the pipe, says it’s safe.

Sen. Peters attached this legislation to a larger bill which reauthorizes the agency that inspects pipelines.


Waukesha wants to build a pipeline to the Great Lakes.

The city is in southeast Wisconsin, 17 miles from Lake Michigan. It has a radium problem in its groundwater supply.

Radium occurs naturally, but it’s a carcinogen.

Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, says as the city’s groundwater supply has been drawn down, it’s made the high radium concentration worse.

“And ultimately the radium exceeded the federal drinking water standard and we are now under a court order to come into compliance with that, and the means by which we are going to do that is to develop a new water supply,” he says.

The city has to come up with a permanent solution for its radium problem by 2018.

Amy Beth Edwards posed this question to our M I Curious team:

Why doesn't road kill get picked up on a timely basis in Michigan?

Edwards says she sees dead animals so often along her commutes to Chicago that she had to know why they're all there.

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

Petobego Pond was a big winner at the Natural Resources Trust Fund board meeting this week. The fund board recommended spending almost $2.5 million to help preserve 43 acres at the south end of the pond along East Grand Traverse Bay near Elk Rapids. The land is privately owned and forms a peninsula between the bay and the pond.

Recent changes to the rules for deer hunting are changing the sport.

The rules apply to much of the northern Lower Peninsula, and they're more restrictive, making it harder to shoot a buck.

Plenty of hunters objected when they were put in place.

But after a few years, some say it’s a dramatic improvement and could make the region a hunting destination for people from other states.

A pesky insect that loves to invade fruit has found its way to northern Michigan’s cherry orchards. Scientists have had their eye on spotted wing drosophila since it arrived in the U.S. from Asia in 2008. 

A scientific panel weighs in on fish farming

Nov 3, 2015

A report on fish farming in the Great Lakes suggests Michigan should move carefully if it allows the industry to start up.

State officials asked a panel of scientists to study the issue. There have been two proposals from companies that want to start raising rainbow trout in net pens in the Great Lakes.

Canadians raise millions of trout in Lake Huron every year and some people want Michigan to do the same.

Big businesses often oppose increased regulations. But not always: take the Clean Power Plan. The Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule requires states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

The coal industry and some states, including Michigan (Attorney General Bill Schuette joined the lawsuit), are fighting the rule. But, hundreds of businesses have stepped forward to support it.

Building a comeback for the Detroit River

Oct 20, 2015

There are 12 toxic hot spots in Michigan called Areas of Concern.

These are places in the Great Lakes basin where pollution and development have damaged the ecosystems.

The Detroit River is on this list. Before the Clean Water Act, industries on the river treated it as a dumping ground – think waste in the billions of gallons.

Michigan lawmakers are talking about banning tiny balls of plastic in products sold in Michigan.

A lot of us use products with microbeads in them. They’re tiny, perfectly round plastic beads that companies add to face and body scrubs and toothpaste.

We wash them down the drain, but they’re so small that wastewater treatment plants can’t filter them out.

Confused about corrosion control? We were too.

In Flint, lead levels in some children's blood have spiked dramatically. Scientists believe the Flint River is part of the problem. Flint switched from Detroit’s water system and started pulling water from the Flint River last year.

Michigan's U.S. senators have unveiled legislation they say will protect the Great Lakes from oil spills.

The bill would require a review of all pipelines in the Great Lakes region, plus it would ban transporting crude oil on tanker ships. That's something that doesn't happen at all right now, but Sen. Gary Peters says it could be a threat in the future.

"This has been a possibility that's being discussed," Peters says. "It has not been done up to this point because people frankly believe that it's just unacceptable."

There are more than 180 species in the Great Lakes that are not supposed to be here.

Euan Reavie is a researcher with the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

“Duluth-Superior harbor is the most invaded freshwater port in the world,” Reavie says. “This is kind of the end of the water road for a lot of ships that come in here.”

The spotted wing drosophila is a nasty invasive fruit fly that's turning into a nightmare for Michigan berry growers.

Blueberries and cherries are major cash crops in the state.

Kevin Robson is a horticulture specialist with the Michigan Farm Bureau. He says the fly showed up in Michigan five years ago.

Mapping Michigan wetland loss

Sep 10, 2015

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has released its first status report on the wetlands in our state. 

You can think of wetlands as nature’s kidneys — they filter water.

Wetlands also help control floodwater and all kinds of creatures live in them.

Rewind a few thousand years to a time before grocery stores existed. You would have gotten a lot of your food by finding it out in the wild.

Foraging is no longer a necessary skill … but some people like to do it as a hobby. Rachel Mifsud is one of those people. 

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