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.

Legislation to protect wind farms from lawsuits appears likely to die in the lame duck session.

The legislation proposed by Republican state Senator Howard Walker would make it harder for neighbors to sue if wind turbines are noisy. Critics say it’s a favor for one company based in Traverse City.

Wind farms have popped up across the state since Michigan passed a new law encouraging them in 2008. Sometimes neighbors say the noise of the turbines causes headaches and interrupts sleep. In a few cases, homeowners have sued.

A plan to increase the cost of electricity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been delayed. The rate increase would have taken effect today, but federal regulators have raised questions about its fairness.

The plan would raise rates 20% to 30% for residents and businesses across the UP. In total, the region of about 310,000 people would have to come up with more than $100 million over the next year.

A two-year investigation of illegal fishing in the Great Lakes led to raids on businesses in Charlevoix and Beaver Island earlier this month. The raids were part of an undercover operation. It involved creating a fake business in the Upper Peninsula to buy and sell fish. Federal agents involved claim the business made 550 sales and 400 involved fish taken illegally by commercial fishers.

Stream quality 'average' in Grand Traverse Bay watershed

Nov 19, 2014
David Cassleman

One out of five rivers in the Grand Traverse Bay watershed has poor water quality.

That’s according to new data from the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay.

Stefan Tucker made a head-turning discovery when doing research for his senior undergrad thesis in the St. Mary’s River. Instead of finding the sturgeon he was looking for he found wild Atlantic salmon. Previously, the species was believed not to be reproducing in the upper Great Lakes. Tucker explained to us just what this discovery means and what questions it has now raised about the salmon’s presence in the Great Lakes.

The cost of electricity could jump dramatically next month in the Upper Peninsula.

Residents there might have to start paying to keep a coal plant open that isn't entirely needed anymore. The increase will be a harsh blow to a region that struggles economically.

Brimley is a little town at the end of the road on Lake Superior’s south shore. There’s a bar, a casino and a couple motels. Brimley State Park draws campers here in the summer and into Ron Holden’s IGA grocery store.

"Basically the six weeks of summer pay for the rest of the year’s bills, " he says. On the wall of the IGA are deer heads, a black bear rug, and a flag that says, ‘American by choice, Yooper by da grace of God.’

But being a Yooper might cost more starting December 1. Holden expects his store’s electric bill will be $700 a month higher and he has no idea where he’ll get that money.

DEQ says Mesick compost pile is 'vastly improved'

Nov 3, 2014

State inspectors say a commercial compost site in Mesick is in much better shape than what they saw in July.

DEQ’s Jim Staley, a geo-environmental engineer, was at the site a few days ago and said he didn't see a single vulture or crow. That compares to last July when dozens of vultures and crows soared above the pile and stinky odors drifted into neighboring homes.

"It's vastly improved," he said. “Right at the pile, you could still smell it, but it was nowhere near what it was in July."

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Michigan voters will get to weigh in on two laws that allowed wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula. The Humane Society just started airing ads aimed at persuading voters in the closing days of the campaign season. But whether people vote “yes” or “no” on wolf hunting, the two ballot questions are not the final word on the issue.

That’s because the ballot campaign on its own will not determine the future of wolf hunting in Michigan.

State regulators sent a violation notice this week to the company managing construction of a new Meijer store in Acme Township near Traverse City. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says silt runoff from the 160-acre site is spilling into a nearby creek and Grand Traverse Bay.

Brian Jankowski runs the Water Resource Division in the DEQ’s Cadillac office. He says there are no plans at this time to seek a fine against the company.

There are plenty of questions about how we’ll generate electricity in the U.S. in the next century. But the problem is particularly pressing in the Upper Peninsula. The owners of the Presque Isle power plant in Marquette are ready to close it. The agency that regulates the energy grid won’t allow that, and residents of the UP are paying millions of dollars to keep it running.

The National Park Service is ready to build a new hiking trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Kettles Trail will be on a piece of parkland that is inland a number of miles—near Maple City—and not connected to the rest of the lakeshore.

Why Are The Great Lakes On The Rise?

Oct 20, 2014

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Eric Carlson / Leelanau Enterprise

In 2012, State Representative Ray Franz said he believed global climate change was a “hoax.” When asked about the issue at the same debate Thursday, Franz responded firmly with the word “still" -- and drew some applause in the Glen Arbor Township Hall.

When it was pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had been awarded the Nobel Prize for its work on the issue, Franz shot back, saying concern about climate change is a first step toward global governance.

Stench angers neighbors of new business near Mesick

Oct 9, 2014

The owners of a large compost pile near Mesick promised to move their commercial composting pile after meeting with irate neighbors on Saturday.

The compost pile is a relatively new operation. Opened early this summer, Northern Composting accepts food waste from Traverse City restaurants, the National Cherry Festival, fast food restaurants and a number of other sources.            

A lot of us are curious about the oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

Lakes Michigan and Huron have recovered after more than a decade of low water levels.

Government scientists say the lakes rose above their historic average this month.

Just two years ago, the water was at the lowest level ever recorded.

The quick recovery has stifled an effort to engineer a solution to the problem of low lake levels in Huron and Michigan.

But proponents say it would be shortsighted to forget about the issue.

Next Boardman dam removal approaches

Sep 26, 2014
Tom Carr

The second of three Boardman River dams will likely be removed next year. As those plans move forward, some residents fear a replay of 2012.

A malfunction during the first dam removal caused a flood that swamped homes and cabins. Engineers say a repeat is highly unlikely.

At the same time, a lawsuit sparked by the flood is still moving forward.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The water in Lakes Michigan and Huron has risen above its historic average. That ends an unusually long period of low water in the two lakes that began in the late 1990s.

Drew Gronewald is a scientist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. He says historically the lakes would rise and fall over periods of five years or less.

But around 1997, the lakes dropped a few feet and didn't recover. Gronewald says that trend will come to an end this month.

A leading producer of natural gas in Michigan is pulling out. Encana is a Canadian company that spearheaded a recent boom in drilling for shale gas in the state.

Encana has drilled most of the wells in Michigan using the method known in the industry as horizontal hydraulic fracturing. It is sometimes referred to as fracking.

These wells are expensive--millions of dollars per well, rather than hundreds of thousands for conventional wells--use huge volumes of water and tap into natural gas deposits at depths that were not explored here until 2010.

David Cassleman

An oil pipeline spanning the Straits of Mackinac continues to cause concern among many groups in Michigan.

Enbridge’s Line 5 is more than 60-years-old – and critics say it needs to be replaced or removed.

Now environmental leaders are worried the pipeline could one day carry heavy crude oils – like tar sands – into the Great Lakes region.

That's a future they want to avoid.

Federal, state, and local agencies took part in a mock oil spill Wednesday in northern Michigan along the Indian River.

The emergency drill conjured memories of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill. About a million gallons of crude oil have been cleaned up from that spill. There’s some concern about whether Enbridge has made important internal changes to avoid future pipeline problems.

Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust said one of the reasons Enbridge failed to prevent the pipeline break near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010 is not because the company was completely unaware of corrosion and a cracks in the pipeline.

He says Enbridge inspection teams weren’t sharing information with each other.

 


A recent report from the National Audubon Society points to troubling times ahead for our bird population.


Climate change could make some huge changes for birds in North America: About half of our 650 species would be driven to smaller spaces or forced to find totally new places to live or become extinct – all of this in just the next 65 years.


Jonathan Lutz is the executive director of the Michigan Audubon Society. He says in Michigan, about 50 species are vulnerable to the changing climate.

A judge in Cheboygan says charges of fraud can proceed against Chesapeake Energy.

Michigan's attorney general accuses the Oklahoma-based energy company of swindling landowners in northern Michigan.

In 2010, Chesapeake Energy signed hundreds of leases across northern Michigan. These included the promise of a cash payment to landowners for the right to explore for oil and gas.

Even though Michigan is surrounded by more than 20 percent of the world's freshwater, fish farming is largely unheard of there.

But this summer, the aquaculture industry took a step forward. And that has touched off a debate over the appropriateness of fish farming on the Great Lakes.

There's only one company now in Michigan that raises fish for restaurants and grocery stores in large volumes. It's a family business, run by Dan Vogler, on a few acres near Harrietta, Mich., population 143.

 

Lately, that green slime in the lake has been all over the news after it shut down Toledo’s water supply.

Journalists, city and government officials have been calling that green slime  “blue-green algae”, “toxic algae” or “toxic algal blooms.”

Well, turns out that’s not exactly right.

“That’s just maddening,” said James Bull, a professor of biology and environmental science. He works at Wayne County Community College and Macomb Community College.

He says it’s not accurate to call the green slime that shut down Toledo’s water system “a toxic algal bloom.” 

He wrote to Michigan Radio because we were some of the people using the wrong term.

“It’s wrong because even though these organisms superficially look like algae, I think we ought to understand that these really are a kind of bacteria,” Bull said.

He says scientists used to call this stuff “blue-green algae.” Now they call it “cyanobacteria.” He says calling cyanobacteria "algae" is like calling a dolphin a fish.

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