Lester Graham | Michigan Radio

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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Sign that says Flint vehicle city
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Two suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder of a security guard who refused to allow people into a store because one of them was not wearing a face mask to protect others from potential exposure to COVID-19. 

Calvin James Munerlyn was working security at a Family Dollar in Flint. He allegedly refused to let a woman and her daughter into the store because one of them was not wearing a face mask. Later, two men argued with Munerlyn about the incident. Authorities say one of them allegedly shot Munerlyn in the head, killing him.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Public Service Commission has approved a $188 million dollar rate increase for DTE Energy. The power company had asked for a $351 million dollar rate hike. 

The regulatory agency expressed concerns about DTE’s plans to spend more on coal-burning power plants and several other issues.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Temperatures could dip below freezing Friday night across Michigan, breaking records for this time of year. 

A late-season polar vortex is predicted to sweep across the state and much of the northeast of the U.S. With the arctic blast could come record low temperatures.

The cold could hurt fruit crops which are in bloom in some lower parts of the state and budding elsewhere.

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA)
Bytemarks / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

More than 1.2 million people in Michigan are seeking unemployment insurance benefits.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan, about $1.7 billion dollars has been paid out to people unemployed in the state. Of that, about a half-billion dollars came from the state. The rest came from the federal government.  

closed sign in business window
Katie Raymond / Michigan Radio

A survey by the Small Business Association of Michigan suggests one in seven of their members will go out of business because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The primary concern is the mandated closure of many businesses. It means zero income for many retailers and non-essential businesses.

Macomb County video screen shot

The Macomb County Public Works Commissioner is suing manufacturers of disposable wipes that claim they are flushable. Commissioner Candice Miller says if you flush disposable wipes down the toilet, they can damage sewer pumps and clog sewer pipes.

Macomb County had a problem with a "fatberg" which was caused by fat congealing with so-called flushable wipes and the combination clogged a major sewer pipe.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a typical family’s food budget was pretty evenly split between home and places such as restaurants, convenience stores, or schools. Now, people are mostly eating at home. That sudden shift has disrupted the food distribution network in a way that sometimes leaves the supermarkets with some empty shelves.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Starting Monday, Michigan National Guard medical personnel will visit the six prisons in the Upper Peninsula to help the Michigan Department of Corrections conduct mass testing of the inmates.

Michigan State Capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Protesters at the Michigan state Capitol this week got plenty of national news media attention and some questions about how things were handled by state authorities.

Much of the nation was astonished that protesters were allowed into the Michigan Capitol armed with rifles and side arms.

It is legal to openly carry a gun in the Capitol.

Lester Graham

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan has delivered its petition signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The group hopes its initiative is on the ballot in November. 

“Our initiative will ban horizontal fracking and the waste that comes from horizontal fracked wells as well as change the state’s policy about climate change and maximizing oil and gas production,” said LuAnne Kozma, the campaign director of the committee.

bottle of water
Wilson Hui / Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy will have the final say on an increase in water withdrawals by a Nestlé water bottling plant.

An administrative law judge decided the state’s decision to grant a permit to Nestlé to withdraw more water was proper.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of inmates at one of Michigan’s prisons have tested positive for COVID-19. The number is expected to rise.

The Michigan Department of Corrections confirms more than 600 prisoners have tested positive at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater. In an email, spokesman Chris Gautz indicated not all results are in and the number will grow.

gretchen whitmer sitting at table

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has lengthened her stay-at-home order through May 15, while relaxing restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can participate in more outdoor activities like golf and motorized boating.

The measure is designed to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. It immediately replaces one that was scheduled to expire May 1.


Some Democrats think the COVID-19 outbreak illustrates the need for expanded paid sick time for workers.

State Representative Padma Kuppa (D-Troy) introduced a bill to require employers to provide one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked with a cap of 72 hours earned sick time. The current law is one hour for every 35 hours worked with a cap of 40.

beaumont hospital wayne exterior
Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

The Wayne County Health Division wants to know more about a temporary morgue Beaumont Health has put in place at its closed hospital in Wayne. 

The county got complaints that dead bodies were being improperly stored in a warehouse at Beaumont’s shuttered Wayne hospital. Inspectors were first turned away by Beaumont because they didn’t have a warrant. Later Beaumont did allow inspectors in the building, but not into the morgue area because no personal protective equipment was available.

Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

Beaumont Health’s hospital in Wayne is currently closed. John Fox is Beaumont’s CEO. He says the closure is temporary.

It had been converted to take COVID-19 patients only. Since it appears the pandemic is leveling off, all the patients and staff were sent to other hospitals.

“So, we did not need the Wayne 200 beds for that. And we’re now have it being sanitized and we’ll be on the process of converting it back,” Fox said during an online news conference.

Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

One of Michigan’s largest hospital groups is laying off employees and cutting executive pay. Beaumont Health which operate eight hospitals is temporarily laying off thousnds of employees and eliminating 450 positions.

Beaumont has 38,000 employees at its eight hospitals in the Detroit region. 2,475 will be laid off. That's about 6.5 percent. Most of those layoffs involve hospital administrative staff and others who are not directly involved in patient care.

Downtown Ann Arbor
Katie Raymond / Michigan Radio

Some politicians and businesses are pressuring Governor Gretchen Whitmer to reopen the economy. Republican legislative leaders have a plan to phase in business operations.  It’s very difficult to make an informed decision about opening the economy because no one has enough data to know exactly how risky it could be.

Courtesy: UIA

The Michigan unemployment insurance application process is back online. After crashing Monday because of the huge volume of applicants, the state added new servers. The Unemployment Insurance Agency has also added new people to take phone call applications. 600,000 people are now receiving benefits. Another 700,000 applications have been approved for payments. The agency expects the number to continue to climb this week.


There’s been some confusion about whether all garden centers, greenhouses, and nurseries are supposed to close by Governor Gretchen Whitmers emergency ‘stay at home’ orders. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

An extended "stay at home" order by Governor Gretchen Whitmer bans keeping garden sections of stores open for businesses with more than 50,000 square feet. But many nurseries and garden centers contacted by Michigan Radio are interpreting the rule as a ban on selling fruit and vegetable plants. Workers at greenhouses and nurseries say it's confusing and makes no sense.

The governor wants people to restrict their trips from home to getting the essentials such as fuel and food. Large retail garden centers have been ordered to close temporarily.

Bars and restaurants are asking Governor Gretchen Whitmer to allow them to sell cocktails and other alcohol with take-out food orders.

Bartenders, servers, restaurant owners and others from around the state are signing an open letter to the governor. They’re asking for a temporary executive order that would allow them to sell single-serving cocktails, beer, wine, or other spirits along with food during the duratio of the COVID-19 'stay at home' order.

designer491 / Adobe Stock

Applications for unemployment in Michigan took another huge jump last week. 384,844 people filed first-time claims. The U.S. Department of Labor’s newly released report revised numbers for the previous week, indicating more than 304,000 Michiganders filed for unemployment during that period.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Small businesses forced to shut their doors are trying to figure out how to last through what could be months of being closed. Businesses still operating are figuring out how to keep going. 'Main Street' Michigan is doing everything it can to survive COVID-19 isolation.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Research into the Defense Department’s records finds hundreds of military installations are contaminated with PFAS. The toxic substances are confirmed to be in the tap water or ground water in 328 military sites. They’re suspected in the water at 350 more sites. (See map here.)

wind turbines and solar panels in a field
pkawasaki / Adobe Stock

Utility companies are required to file long-term plans with the state government. DTE Energy filed a plan in 2018 and the Michigan Public Service Commission had concerns. One of them was DTE’s plans to meet Michigan’s 15 percent renewable energy requirement. The Commission thought DTE’s numbers were vague.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suspending enforcement of some environmental laws duing the COVID-19 outbreak.

The State of Michigan’s environmental agency will still provide regulatory oversight.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

You can’t go to your favorite cocktail bar. It's closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But, you might have a few bottles in your house. What can you make with what you have?

Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings thinks it’s time to improvise a little. To put her idea to the test, she put a selection on her table and asked Lester Graham to choose some of them and she’d make a drink.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

If you leave your home, take proper hygiene precautions.

“You cannot possibly interact with an environment, go out into the world and wipe and secure every single surface,” said Sue Anne Bell, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing. She added, “do your due diligence in maintaining hygiene.”

Courtesy: Karen Kahn, Nosh Pit

When Governor Gretchen Whitmer restricted restaurants to pick-up or delivery only, a few places decided to temporarily close. But many are trying to be nimble and stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karen Kahn is a co-owner of a vegan restaurant in Hamtramck. She says she’s watching her fellow-restauranteurs working hard to keep going.

“I'm very proud of them because it's staying positive in this environment. I really feel that if I had to close my doors, I don't know what I would do. You know?”