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.

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.

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.

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