Lester Graham | Michigan Radio
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Lester Graham

Reporter, The Environment Report

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report and previously hosted Stateside on Fridays. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.

He has been a journalist since 1985. Graham has served as a board member of the Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups.

Lester has received 15 first place national awards for journalism excellence and scores more at the national, regional, and state levels.

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Lester Graham / Lester Graham personal collection with permission.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Voting is light at many of the polling places across Michigan. Primary elections generally don’t pull as many voters. Also this year no-reason absentee voting has also contributed to a light turnout. Many people did not want to potentially expose themselves to the coronavirus.

Do not eat the fish because of pfas sign
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s new PFAS drinking water standards went into effect this week. The restrictions include seven more common chemicals from the PFAS family. Michigan's regulations are among the strictest in the U.S.

Liesl Clark is the Director of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. She says the state continues to search for the sources of the toxic chemicals in the state. Recently 38 new contaminated sites were identified.

US Ecology exterior
Jennifer Fassbender

Some Detroit residents and environmental justice groups have filed a civil rights complaint against the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. The complaint alleges the environment agency discriminates against people of color by approving requests for hazardous wastes sites near their communities.

FirstEnergy

Federal investigators continue to investigate a racketeering scheme in Ohio. The plan was to increase electric rates to subsidize two aging nuclear power plants situated along Lake Erie owned by First Energy. One of the nuclear power plants is Davis-Besse, just 20 miles from the Michigan border. It’s a problem-plagued plant according to regulators.

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

Your vote won’t count even if your ballot is postmarked by Election Day. The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal arguing for that.

Instead your ballot must arrive at the clerk’s office by 8:00 p.m. Election Day to be counted.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office will not appeal a court decision which would allow a tunnel to be constructed beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house a replacement for the aging Enbridge Line 5 twin pipelines.

The tunnel was supported by former Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican led legislature to house a replacement for the aging twin pipelines called Line 5 operated by Enbridge.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A report this week from the U.S. government found coal consumption in 2019 was the lowest it’s been since 1978. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, electricity demand is down even more this year, and some utilities are shutting down their more expensive-to-operate coal-burning power plants.

Michigan’s two largest power companies, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy already have shuttered some coal-fired plants.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The distilled spirit pisco has become popular once again in the U.S. because of the craft cocktail movement. Chile and Peru are the countries of origin for pisco, however each country has its own versions.

So, what does that have to do with Michigan?

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun at a news conference with Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
michigan.gov

More people are overdosing on opioids since the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is the Chief Medical Executive for the State of Michigan. She says the number of Emergency Medical Services responses to opioid overdoses has jumped since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Between April to June, there was a 26 percent increase in E.M.S. responses for opioid overdoses compared to the same period of time in 2019," Khaldun explained.

Nathan Bishop

The state and the Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit have a proposed deal to resolve some alleged air violations from back in 2017.

Nick Assendelft is a spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

“Those are things for such as exceeding particulate matter and other emissions, emitting nuisance odors on multiple occasions,” said Assendelft.

The proposed Consent Order means Marathon has to fix the air quality problems, plus pay a fine.

Library of Congress

Competing petition drives are fueling the debate over whether a statue of General George Armstrong Custer in Monroe should be removed. Statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders as well as statues of people who enslaved or murdered indigenous people, such as Christopher Columbus, are being removed in cities around the country as part of a movement to deal with racism.

Rush our traffic on US-23
YouTube Screen grab / MDOT

The Michigan Department of Transportation is planning to extend its only flex route in the state.

What is a flex route?

“The flex route system is a lane control system they use with cameras and electronic message boards to let drivers know when an additional lane is available for use during peak hours,” said department spokesperson Aaron Jenkins.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A new report looks at some of the most polluted beaches in Michigan. In 2019, several dozen of Michigan’s beaches tested were unsafe at one point or another.

While pollution from sewage and livestock farms on Michigan’s beaches has been getting better over the last couple of decades, recently, tests show a dip in progress. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The flood that was caused by heavy rains and the failure of two dams near Midland caused property damage far downstream. But the long term damage might be in the contamination of wildlife.

Michelle Hurd Riddick (used with permission)

The two dams that broke near Midland caused a massive flood that swept away bridges, roads, and damaged a lot of property. Because Midland is home to Dow’s original chemical complex, a lot of people were concerned about hazardous waste or waste in ponds at Dow.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Following two nights of protests in Detroit over the police killing of George Floyd, where police released tear gas on protesters in attempts to divide and separate the crowd, a mandated curfew seemed to help quell activity in the city on Sunday evening.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A proposal to change how police are trained has been introduced in the Michigan Legislature.

Democratic State Senator Jeff Irwin wants to add certification requirements to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES). That’s the required certification before someone can become a law enforcement officer. The additional training would be on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, and learning about mental health issues.

While COVID cases have been increasing in dorms, the University says the biggest increases are coming from group housing off-campus.
Katie Raymond

The University of Michigan’s President says he hopes the school soon can decide when to reopen the campus to faculty and students. Mark Schlissel says it will be a gradual return.

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

If your building has been closed or only a few people have been using it, the water in the pipes should be flushed before you start up your business again.

“The chemicals that we put in the water to condition it and prevent bacteria growth or corrosion tend to dwindle and go to zero. And you pick up things like bacterial contamination and metals contamination from contact with the plumbing,” said Eric Oswald, Director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division.

A red bridge flooded in Midland
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) are in the Midland area to assess the damage from the flooding there.

Nick Assendelft is a spokesman for EGLE. He says one of the first priorities is helping people who are cleaning out their homes and businesses.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

DTE Energy, the EPA, and the Sierra Club have an agreement that ends a ten year old dispute about some changes the power company made to its Monroe power plant. As part of the deal, DTE will give some Wayne County communities $7.5 million dollars.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The devastating flooding in Midland is causing concern about potential environmental contamination. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy indicates until the flood waters recede, it will be difficult to determine the extent of any contamination.

However, the long-standing problem along the Tittabawassee River has been dioxin contamination from the Dow chemical complex.

The World Health Organization indicates dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.

SCREENSHOT FROM ENBRIDGE REPORT TO THE STATE

The Canadian pipeline company Enbridge was in court Friday fighting an attempt to shut down its Line 5 oil and liquid natural gas pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac.

In an online hearing before 30th Circuit Court Judge James S. Jamo, the Attorney General’s office argued the 1953 easement along the bottom of the Straits should not have been granted for the pipeline. It said that easement should be invalidated because it violates the Public Trust Doctrine.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Legislation has been introduced to allow Michigan bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to go as a way to help those businesses through the restrictions they face because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restaurants and bars that serve food for pick-up or delivery already have been able to sell wine and beer by the bottle or can. Many have been asking the government to let them also sell cocktails ‘to go.’

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The flooding in Midland is raising concerns about re-suspending old pollution that’s caused problems along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers for decades.

A more than 50 mile stretch of the rivers was contaminated by dioxin from past activity at the Dow chemical complex. A decades-long fight between Dow and regulators was finally settled with a plan to cap the river bottom and clean up properties along the river.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Corrections is nearing its goal of testing all prisoners in state facilities. By the end of next week it should be finished. The National Guard has been assisting the prison system with testing prisoners.

At the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian there are 1,965 prisoners. A total of 716 have tested positive.

worker on an assembly line leans into a car door
Adobe Stock

Automakers and their suppliers are back at work in Michigan. Ford, GM, Fiat-Chrysler and other manufacturers have been working with the United Auto Workers, government, and health experts to avoid potential spread of COVID-19.

Money
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Legislators grilled the head of the Unemployment Insurance Agency about why some people still are not receiving benefits. Steve Gray, director of the agency, gave a short presentation about how it is dealing with the 1.7 million applications for benefits that have been filed since March 15.

MICHIGAN.GOV

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Monday that Michigan is making progress in fighting COVID-19. She noted a decline in the rate of positive cases.

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