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Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry, business, and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio.   She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly "bitten by the radio bug," and never recovered.  She took over the auto beat in January, 2009, just a few months before Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy.  Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio.   Her coverage of Michigan's Detroit Three automakers has taken her as far as Germany, and China. 

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. 

Starwood Energy Group

General Motors says a new wind farm being constructed in Ohio brings it one step closer to running all its facilities worldwide on 100% renewable energy. 

The 100 megawatt wind farm in northwest Ohio was grandfathered in, before a new law made it almost impossible to build wind farms in that state.

Rob Threlkeld, head of global renewable energy for GM, says the Ohio project, along with one being constructed in Illinois, will offset carbon emissions from seven GM plants in the Midwest.

Courtesy of Kate Madigan

Some state legislators aren't happy with a recent decision by the Michigan Public Service Commission to end net metering.

So they've introduced a set of bills to restore it.

Net metering was a method used to compensate residential utility customers with solar roofs.  The solar panels can often produce more electricity than the customer needs, so it goes onto the grid.

Net metering customers would get a credit for their excess electricity equal to the utilities' own rates.  

wikimedia commons

Stateside's Cynthia Canty recently spoke with David Carroll of the 6th Amendment Center about its new report, which concludes that public defenders in Wayne County are overworked, underpaid, and under-resourced.

He says there are only 16 public defenders for Wayne County when there should be 30.

Their caseloads are 145% of the national average, and they have no secretaries, paralegals or investigators.

They're also grossly underpaid.

Solar panels
Ford Motor Company / Flickr

Mott Community College will use a $20,000 grant from Cypress Creek Renewables to help develop a solar energy training program.

The grant will support curriculum development for electric workers and construction workers who specialize in commercial solar installations.

Kevin Borgia is Cypress Creek Renewable's Midwest Policy Director.  He says Mott's new program will reach out in particular to women, minorities, and veterans.

CPB agents in Mexico port of entry
CPB

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says its 2017 annual civil rights report shows a spike in complaints of discrimination against Muslims - especially against federal agencies, like Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The report says incidents in which people were inappropriately targeted and harassed by CPB were the second most frequent type of abuse and constituted 13% of cases.  

"This is the first time that CBP has ranked within the top five," says the report, "and it is possible to attribute this to the unconstitutional Muslim Ban executive order."

Eddie Curlin
MDOC

A black man who spray painted racist graffiti on Eastern Michigan University buildings in 2016 and 2017 has pleaded guilty to three charges of malicious destruction of property, a misdemeanor, and four counts of identity theft -- a felony -- related to the investigation.

The investigation into the vandalism cases showed that Eddie Curlin vandalized the buildings and then acted as an informant to police on the pretense of helping to solve the case in order to have other previous criminal charges dropped and be allowed to return as a student to Eastern Michigan University.

solar panels
David Goehring / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Two solar energy companies say DTE Energy is stonewalling to keep them out of the state.

Kevin Borgia is with Cypress Creek Renewables, which plans up to 700 megawatts of new solar farms in Michigan.

He says the company can't proceed without first getting basic information from DTE, like where's a good place to connect to DTE's grid - and what kind of transmission upgrades will be needed.

He says DTE is violating state law by continually failing to meet deadlines to provide the information. "Over 100 times DTE has failed to meet those deadlines," he says.

Workers install solar panels on a roof
Alex Snyder / Wayne National Forest/Wikimedia Commons

Starting some time next year, electric utilities will be able to submit lower reimbursements to the Michigan Public Service Commission to compensate their solar customers.

Right now, when a customer with a solar roof creates more electricity than needed, it becomes available to the grid.

Utilities pay the customer the same rate that they themselves charge.

A tug and barge leaving Duluth port
Pete Markham / Wikipedia Commons

Michigan's Attorney General says the Escanaba-based company allegedly responsible for damage to two pipelines under the straits of Mackinac will face civil charges.

solar panels on roof of home
pixabay

Advocates for solar energy are calling for a change in state law, after the Michigan Tax Tribunal sided with the city of Ann Arbor in a dispute over the value of solar panels.

The city increased a couple's property tax assessment by more than $5,500 after they installed solar panels on the roof of their home.

Becky Stanfield is with Vote Solar. She says taxing someone for putting in solar panels is like taxing them for buying a more energy-efficient refrigerator or other appliance.

quagga mussels in lake michigan
Greg Marks / NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

The U.S. Senate is expected to soon take up an authorization bill for the Coast Guard that includes the "Vessel Incidental Discharge Act."  

Environmental groups think the Discharge Act would be really bad for the Great Lakes.

The Discharge Act gives the U.S. Coast Guard sole authority in setting regulations for ballast water discharges into the lakes. 

A very large black bear
Oswold's Bear Ranch

The Michigan Legislature is considering bills that would allow both zoos and other facilities to breed large animals, like bears, tigers, or lions.

But the Detroit Zoo says only zoos can keep both large carnivores and the public safe. From its statement:

Jeffrey Zeigler
Oakland County Sheriff

A Rochester Hills man has been charged with two felony counts after he shot at a 14-year-old black teen with a shotgun Thursday morning.

Police say Brennan Walker, also of Rochester Hills, knocked on the door of retired Detroit firefighter Jeffrey Zeigler, who chased him into the yard, and shot at him with a 12 gauge shotgun as the teen fled.

Zeigler's wife claimed Walker was trying to break into the home. But Walker said he was walking to school in an unfamiliar neighborhood after missing the bus, and he wanted to ask for directions.

wikipedia

Saginaw attorney Philip Ellison has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of nine parents whose infants' blood was taken and tested without their consent.

Newborn screening is a public health program required by state law.   It uses tiny samples of blood to screen for about 50 genetic diseases.

If a condition is detected, the parents are notified.  The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says each year more than 250 Michigan babies are found to have a disorder detected by newborn bloodspot screening.

A Kirtland's Warbler
Joel Trick / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

State and federal wildlife agencies say the Kirtland's Warbler can safely be removed from the endangered species list. 

The yellow breasted songbird breeds only in stands of young jack pines, trees found mainly in northern Michigan, but also in the U.P., Wisconsin, and Ontario.

The bird numbered only about 330 individuals at its lowest point in 1987, but it has since recovered and now numbers about 4,600.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes how the warbler got into trouble:

Wikipedia Commons

It's been a long, tough, cold winter in Michigan. But it's turned out especially tough for residents of Neebish Island in the U.P.  

The island is entering week two of being cut off from the mainland, after ice pieces from Lake Superior jammed the passage across St. Mary's River. 

Jamie Pringle is captain of the island's ferry. He says he is using an airboat to get mail and supplies to people. And the Coast Guard has a helicopter ready for emergencies.

Pringle says islanders are taking the situation in stride. 

Children in a classroom
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan will provide more than $4 million in partial settlement of a class-action lawsuit to help school children exposed to high lead levels in Flint's drinking water.

Virginia Gordan / Michigan Radio

Eastern Michigan University's controversial plan to cut four sports teams to save money will actually end up costing money, according to EMU accounting professor Howard Bunsis.

Eastern says dropping wrestling, softball, tennis and men's swimming will save nearly $2.4 million a year, and the cuts are necessary because of budget constraints.

But Bunsis says EMU crunched the numbers wrong.  He says for one thing, EMU didn't include the loss of tuition revenue from athletes who will no longer attend the university.  

Road sign inside the self-driving car test site, American Center for Mobility
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

One of the nation's biggest testing grounds for self-driving cars held its grand opening Wednesday.

The American Center for Mobility near Ypsilanti puts the historic Willow Run site to a new and important use.  500 acres surrounding GM's former transmission plant will feature miles of roads to test autonomous cars in all kinds of circumstances and weather.  

Karen Spranger
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

In a surprise to no one, former Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger is not quietly accepting her fate after being removed from office last week.

2018 Ford Escape
Ford Motor Company

One of Ford's most popular cars, the Escape, has flunked a new crash test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 

The passenger side small overlap crash test shows how well the passenger is protected when the impact is on the right front side of the car, clipping or shearing  25% of the right front area. Such accidents can be extremely dangerous, and kill several hundred passengers a year.

Lansing Board of Water and Light

The Lansing Board of Water and Light meets Tuesday to vote on issuing bonds for a new natural gas plant, but opponents plan to make a last-ditch effort to change the minds of board members.

The city-owned utility held public meetings before choosing a natural gas plant to replace two coal-burning plants. "But that was several years ago," says Rebecca Payne with the Lansing Environmental Action Team. "Things on the energy market are changing overnight."

power plant
user cgord / wikimedia commons

DTE Energy is planning to close three of its coal-fired power plants by 2023.  That’s 1,300 megawatts of electricity coming off the books.  But what will take its place? 

A cyanobacterial bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Environmental groups are waiting to see what Ohio will do next, after the state finally declared the open waters of Lake Erie are "impaired."

Gail Hesse is with the National Wildlife Federation.

She says the declaration shows Ohio's leaders are no longer in denial about how badly the lake is polluted. 

"They've been dragging their feet and been recalcitrant in making this designation," says Hesse. "So this is an important step."

DTE's River Rouge plant
DTE Energy

Tracy Samilton also spoke with Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about the issues surrounding the transition to natural gas

The President of the United States says coal is coming back, but in reality coal is going away.

The fight is over what will replace it.

Even utilities are dumping coal. In Michigan, DTE Energy wants to shut down three coal-burning power plants and replace them with a billion dollar natural gas plant.

But environmentalists think there's a better way.  

dr abdul el sayed behind a desk
Abdul for Michigan

Democratic candidate for governor Abdul El-Sayed has asked a court to rule if he's eligible to run, after some elections law experts said he probably isn't. 

El-Sayed, a Michigan native, lived in New York from 2011 to 2016. 

University of Michigan near Rackham and Michigan League
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A judge has ordered the University of Michigan to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request by the Detroit Free Press.

The Free Press wants to know how the University calculates the more than two million dollars in compensation for its chief investment officer, Erik Lundberg.

Mark Rochester, senior news director of investigations, says other universities in Michigan disclosed the information, so the U of M's refusal is a head scratcher.

EMU budget cut protest
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Faculty at Eastern Michigan University are protesting budget cuts that they say unfairly target support staff. 

Faculty union president Judith Kullberg says some departments now have no secretary.  She says EMU should instead cut administrators, or a proposed 20 million dollar athletic training center.

“For this administration, athletics is a sacred cow,” says Kullberg.

EMU spokesman Geoff Larcum says declining enrollment and stagnant state funding make cuts necessary.

He says they've been transparent about the situation.

Brian Ellison
Ellison for Senate campaign

A Michigan man running as a Libertarian for U.S. Senate says he wants to raise money to buy 20 pump style shotguns for homeless individuals.

"Not only are the homeless constantly under threat from would-be criminals," says Brian Ellison, "but they are also under threat from governments at various levels that criminalize activities that homeless people rely on for survival."

Ellison says he has no fears that the guns would be misused, for example, to shoot police who are trying to move people off an illegal encampment.

A photocopy of a photo of Line 5 being installed in 1953.
State of Michigan

Enbridge Energy has started drilling on property it owns on the north and south sides of Line 5, the oil and gas pipeline it owns under the Mackinac Straits.

Spokesman Michael Barnes says the company has agreed to look at ways to replace the aging pipeline. 

That could mean a new pipeline in a tunnel, inside a horizontally drilled tube, or in a trench.

"It tell us what the composition of the rock is, and so that will help both the state and us analyze what alternatives may be best possible for that area," says Barnes.

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