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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. 

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.

Jean Beauford / public domain pictures.net

Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard minced no words to describe his reaction to President Trump's announcement that he will impose new tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum.

"What this looks like to me is macho nationalism," says Ballard, "unhindered by any serious thought about the economic repercussions."

Ballard says the tariffs may help workers in the U.S. steel and aluminum industries.

"But for the overwhelming majority of Americans this will raise costs of things that we produce using steel and that we buy using steel and aluminum."

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Early in February, Eastern Michigan University canceled classes due to a sloppy snowstorm. 

But it didn’t cancel a big event it had planned for a long time – the ceremonial flipping of the switch on its energy pride and joy: a brand new co-generation plant.  

Former Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

"It's been a hard row," Macomb County Court Clerk Karen Spranger told a federal district judge Tuesday about the legal and administrative roadblocks placed in the way of her effort to run the office how she wishes. "It's very unfair. This has to stop."

Spranger, representing herself, claims the county, the courts, unions, and the media have conspired to deprive her of her civil rights. That's after a circuit court stripped her of most of her authority for refusing to fill crucial positions necessary to keep county government operating. 

Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger
Macomb Daily

On Tuesday, Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger, representing herself, will appear at a hearing in her lawsuit against the county before federal district judge George Steeh.

She is expected to argue that he should recuse himself.

That's because twenty years ago, he was a Macomb County judge, and her lawsuit is alleging a conspiracy led by various Macomb County actors.

Wikipedia Commons

Michigan is extending a deadline to try to ensure that no one with Medicaid insurance loses access to their doctor. 

About 1.7 million people in Michigan rely on Medicaid insurance.  Doctors with Medicaid patients had until Thursday, March 1 to submit documentation to a new payment system, called CHAMPS, for short.

But Erica Quealy of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says there's a big backlog right now.

"It can take 3-4 weeks for us to completely process their enrollment," she says of the backlog.

MDHHS

18 months, 25 deaths, and 615 hospitalizations later, state officials are beginning to express hope that a large hepatitis A outbreak is on the cusp of a decline.

Jay Fiedler is with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.  He says he can definitely see a plateau -- 10 to 15 new cases a week -- and no signs of another uptick.  

Cypress Creek Renewables

Cypress Creek Renewables has been lining up farmland in Michigan for more than a year now.

The object? Leases for enough land to install several hundred megawatts worth of new, emissions-free solar projects. Combined, that would equal the electricity output of a small coal-fired power plant.

But a bill introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., could put a halt to those plans, as well as the plans of other renewable energy companies that want to set up shop in Michigan and states across the nation.

Modernizing PURPA, or gutting it?

The State of the Takata Airbags

Michigan and 23 other states have settled their lawsuit against airbag maker Takata. 

But the states aren't going to try to collect the money. 

Takata is going bankrupt, so it has limited money for fines, paying automakers for recalls, and compensating victims. 

The states won't go after the $650 million settlement to protect the funds that are available for victims. Twenty-two people have been killed and hundreds of people have been injured with the defective Takata airbags in their vehicles deployed with too much force, spraying them with metal fragments.

Michigan State Police

State Sens. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, Vincent Gregory, D-Lathrup Village, and Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage, have introduced bills to try to reduce tensions that can arise for drivers and police officers alike during traffic stops.

The so-called "What to do if stopped by blue" legislation would require driver's education to include training for how to act during a traffic stop by police.

The training would be developed by the Michigan Secretary of State and the Michigan State Police.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The number of criminal offenders who return to prison within three years hit a record low last year -- to 28%. The recidivism high was 46% in 1998.

Chris Gautz is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He says the department is doing a lot more outreach to get communities to support released offenders.

And field agents can now actually go out more in the field, thanks to new smart phones and laptops. That lets them check up on people at their places of work, so someone doesn't have to ask for a day off just to report for probation.

Wind turbine
Tim Wang / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A group of environmentalists wants Michigan's utility companies to use 30 percent renewable energy by 2030. The wind and solar advocates have started a campaign to get their proposal on the 2018 statewide ballot. 

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton has been following the story. She joined "Morning Edition" host Doug Tribou to discuss the ballot initiative and its chances of becoming law. 


wind turbines in a field
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Wind and solar groups are launching a ballot initiative to require electric utilities to use 30% renewable sources by 2030.

The state's current mandate is 15% by 2022.

Campaign manager John Freeman says Michigan can do a lot better than 15%. He says the cost of renewables is cheaper than natural gas or coal.

"So everybody will save money," says Freeman, "and plus, we get the added benefits of having much cleaner air because solar and wind don't produce any pollution."

public domain

The Trump administration could try to dramatically weaken the vehicle fuel economy standards adopted during the final days of the Obama administration.  

One of the options being considered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would reduce the average fuel economy standard for 2025 from 46 miles per gallon to 36 miles per gallon. 

The agency says that would mean only about 10% of new cars and light trucks would have to be hybrid or plug-in electric, compared to 61% under the previous standard. 

Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University flipped the switch on its new co-generation plant Friday, making the university the first in Michigan to meet close to 100% of its campus energy needs.

Cogeneration is an efficient way to use natural gas. The plant burns natural gas to spin a turbine, which creates electricity. The hot exhaust is then funneled to a generator that creates steam heat. 

John Donegan is vice president in charge of facilities. He says the plant will be able to produce 98% of the heat used on campus, and 93% of the electricity.  

"This is the most economical, most environmentally friendly way to mass produce large amounts of electricity and steam," he says.

Airbnb

Detroit may have quietly banned many Airbnb rentals with a new zoning law that went into effect this week. The zoning change as written bans Airbnb room rentals in owner-occupied single-family and duplex homes.

The company says that's about 50% of Detroit's total Airbnb business.

Some Airbnb owners claim city is now notifying people like Melissa Jasper to stop opening up their homes to paid guests. 

Jasper says her Airbnb business was paying the mortgage. And she says the change is short-sighted, because a good Airbnb host is a booster for their city's image.

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