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.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

A fleet of Canadian-owned ships will be the first in the Great Lakes to have ballast treatment systems on board. The systems will kill invasive species that live in the ballast tanks of ocean going ships.

It’s a big step toward solving a problem that has plagued the Great Lakes for decades. But the issue is still contentious.

Michigan is saying goodbye to nine of its smaller and older coal-burning power plants.

DTE Energy is closing two facilities. Consumers Energy will shutter seven more, which are nicknamed the "Classic Seven." I recently toured one of these aging workhorses of electricity, B.C. Cobb in Muskegon.

The two reasons: 1) the process of moving water that far, and that high, wouldn't make economic sense; 2) Great Lakes water is locked down politically.

The ongoing drought in California has hit its fourth year. 

The landmark 2012 Clean Air Act was the nation's first action focusing on greenhouse gases, with the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2025.

Margo Oge was the Environmental Protection Agency's director of the Office of Transportation Air Quality and she helped to shape the Clean Air Act.

The water is exceptionally clear in Lake Michigan right now, and a Coast Guard helicopter crew used a recent routine patrol to capture striking images of some of the area's many notable sunken ships. Some of them date from the 1800s.

Photos from the flight out of the Coast Guard's Traverse City, Mich., air station show a variety of ships resting on the lake bottom, including the James McBride, a 121-foot brig that sank in 1857.

The campaign to ban the drilling process known as “fracking” plans to launch a petition drive next month. This will be the third time the anti-fracking campaign has tried to get lawmakers or voters to adopt a ban.

Earlier efforts fell short, but LuAnn Kozma of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan says the ongoing controversy about drilling has helped the cause.
“I think people are getting it,” she said. “When they hear about fracking, they don’t want it.”

U.S. Geological Survey / http://www.usgs.gov/themes/factsheet/146-00/

Mercury levels are staying the same or increasing in the Great Lakes.

The state has just released new guidelines for safely eating Great Lakes fish. Despite the bad news about mercury, there is some good news in the report. There is evidence contamination is decreasing overall in Lake Michigan. It’s now safer to eater larger fish caught in the lake.

That’s largely because fish are less contaminated with PCBs and dioxin, two chemicals no longer in use. 

Researchers in Traverse City will check a small stream for E. coli this summer.

Mitchell Creek tested positive for high levels of the bacteria in 2009, when scientists with Michigan State University monitored eight sites along the waterway.

Firefighters have dangerous jobs. We all know that.

But a growing body of research suggests those dangers don’t go away once the flames are put out: several studies say firefighters have a significantly higher cancer risk, even when they’re young.

Tom Carr

Michigan has a number of wind farms because the state basically made them mandatory in 2008. That was when lawmakers decided a certain amount of our electricity must come from renewable resources, and utilities built wind turbines to comply.

Now, wind energy is, by some measurements, among the cheapest ways to keep the lights on. But nobody seems to be rushing to build more.

In fact, the man who has developed the wind farms we have in northern Michigan says his enthusiasm for wind is waning.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put the northern long-eared bat on the “threatened” species list. The agency stopped short of saying the species is in danger of being wiped out by white-nose bat syndrome. The fungus has already killed millions of bats across the country.

Dan Kennedy is an endangered species expert with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says the decision gives state wildlife officials more time to plan while the bats hibernate.

Back in December, there was a toxic spill in Detroit.

In my kitchen.

It was a Sunday morning. My kids were watching a cartoon. I was reading the paper. And my husband, who does some small-time antiques dealing in his spare time, was monkeying around with one of his treasures in the kitchen.

There’s plastic trash in every one of the Great Lakes.

That plastic includes junk people leave at the beach, microbeads from consumer products such as shower gel, face wash and toothpaste, and pellets from plastic manufacturing.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario say it’s a growing problem and they say we don’t know enough about that plastic garbage.

Jake Neher / Michigan Public Radio Network

  Michigan could realistically get up to 40 percent of its energy using renewable sources by 2025, according to Gov. Rick Snyder (The video of the full speech is here).

His goal of boosting renewable energy to between 30 percent and 40 percent in the next decade includes increased energy efficiency to get to those numbers. The governor says increased efficiency should play a central role in Michigan’s energy future.


Many Flint residents have been complaining about the quality of their tap water since the city stopped getting water from Detroit. Some people blame the Flint River. The city’s been using the river since April as its drinking water source. 

Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

The small population of Michigan rattlesnakes could be sick, according to new research.

Scientists have found snake fungal disease among eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes at three sites in the state, including one near Grayling.

NASA

Monday morning’s low temperatures created a weather event in northern Michigan that you’re more likely to see in the Arctic Circle.

Pillars of light filled the sky early in the morning from a phenomenon called diamond dust. It’s a cloud formation made from ice crystals. 

Eric LaPaugh / Leelanau Adventures

There have been some reports of ice caves forming again on Lake Michigan this year – smaller than last year and not in the same spots. But Lt. Dan Schrader of the Coast Guard Air Station in Traverse City says the ice on Lake Michigan is not the same as it was last year. He spent a lot of the day Friday flying around the region.

National Weather Service

UPDATED 6:50 pm

Gaylord hit 35 degrees below zero this morning, one of the coldest temperatures ever recorded there. A volunteer observer noted that temperature. The thermometer at Gaylord Regional Airport went down to minus 31, according to the National Weather Service.

Other cities set records for the day, including Traverse City at minus 22, two degrees colder than the previous record for February 20th.

Neither of those approach the coldest temperature ever recorded in Michigan.

Bitter weather is back and likely to stick around

Feb 17, 2015

Highs have been in the teens for the last couple days, but it’s just been a brief reprieve from the bitter cold that returns to northern Michigan overnight and for the next couple days.

“Thursday will be the colder of the two days, where some areas are not likely to get above zero for their daytime highs,” says John Boris, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gaylord. He says the winds won’t be as bad as they were this past weekend, when the wind made it feel like 40-below in some parts of the region. But the winds will again be a major factor.

Bat not in the way of Cass Road bridge rebuild

Feb 16, 2015
New York Department of Environmental Conservation

A bridge south of Traverse City could be rebuilt starting next year, and it turns out a troubled species of bat will not get in the way. The federal government is still weighing whether to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered or threatened.

Some drivers thought this would be the year they’d see a two-lane replacement for the outdated, one-lane bridge on Cass Road. Grand Traverse County officials had said the long-eared bat’s federal protection could mean a year’s delay of the project.

  Weather is likely to be especially dangerous overnight in the Grand Traverse Bay region. Grand Traverse Emergency Management asks people to avoid driving or going out unprotected, especially after midnight tonight through mid-Saturday morning.

If there's no other choice, they say to plan ahead layer your clothes and place a small emergency kit, including extra clothes, hats, gloves and blankets in your car.

Snow and winds are expected to intensify overnight, says Andy Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gaylord.

David Cassleman

Forests in Michigan are under threat – that’s what the state wrote in the report it published last week. There are diseases to worry about and invasive species like the ubiquitous emerald ash borer.

The state and federal governments spend millions in Michigan each year trying to contain these threats. 

But that effort is complicated because most forest land in the state is privately owned.


Spreading good news about clear cuts

Feb 5, 2015
Joe VanderMeulen

One of the problems in Michigan’s forests these days is there is not enough clear cutting. That might sound odd since clear cuts are usually thought of as a bad thing. But forests can get too old, at least from the perspective of migratory birds.

Once upon a time, wild fires created openings in the old growth forests, making way for new growth that provided the habitat for many types of wildlife. Today, well over half of Michigan’s forest lands are privately owned and no one wants uncontrolled fires. In fact, lots of folks want to protect all their trees.

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