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Environment & Science

This Enbridge boat is one of several on standby in the event of an oil spill.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The oil pipeline company Enbridge pushed to limit what a state regulator could consider regarding relocating the Line 5 twin pipelines across the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge did not want the Michigan Public Service Commission to consider a proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac which would house a new section of Line 5.

Courtesy of Kate Madigan

An industry group says some solar panel installers are thinking about leaving Michigan. That’s because they believe sales will drop dramatically because of a cap on how much residential and commercial solar a utility must allow.

A 2016 law sets a cap on some outside renewable energy sources  based on one percent from of a utility’s average peak demand. Consumers Energy is close to hitting that peak.

Common tern holding a fish
Phylis Cooper / USFWS

Research shows chemicals banned years and even decades ago are showing up in some Great Lakes shorebirds. Scientists found P-C-Bs used as a coolant in electrical transformers, fire retardants called P-B-D-Es and derivatives of the insecticide D-D-T in terns. The pollutants were at levels high enough to potentially harm the health of the birds. 

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

Surface water levels of PFAS chemicals have plummeted in a creek that flows into the Huron River, after a state investigation.  

Investigators went upstream from Ann Arbor to try to discover the source or sources after PFAS chemicals showed up in the city's treated drinking water in 2018. 

A main source was discovered to be the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was discharging PFAS-laden effluent from Tribar Manufacturing, a plating company, into Norton Creek, which flows into the Huron River. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Some environmental groups are criticizing the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for a planned carbon offset program.

The DNR is planning a pilot program that would account for the carbon taken up by the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The forest absorbs carbon dioxide. That has value on a voluntary carbon market. Polluters can buy that carbon value as a way of offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A new report found Michigan’s energy use changed dramatically during the first few months of the pandemic.

In the second quarter electricity use dropped by 32% in the industrial sector compared to the same time period last year. That's the biggest drop in the country.

Michigan Allocates $20 Million to relieve customer water debts

Oct 19, 2020
© J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Michigan residents who are behind on their water bills will soon be getting some relief.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will distribute more than $20 million to 116 water utilities, through an intermediary, to cover water bill debt that their customers accrued since March 1 when the pandemic emergency began.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There’s an experiment underway on one of the islands in Lake Michigan near Sleeping Bear Dunes. This story involves a Russian exile, a rare seed… and booze.

On a National Park Service boat headed out into Lake Michigan the deck is filled with hand tools for gardening and a bunch of guys who make whiskey for a living. We’re traveling to South Manitou Island.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to go back a couple of years.

EGLE

The operator of a Detroit dock site that partially collapsed into the Detroit River late last year will pay the state $60,000 in fines.

The Revere Dock, which was illegally storing limestone aggregate along the river when the site collapsed in late November, 2019, has also entered into a consent agreement with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. A sinkhole also formed on the site sometime after the collapse.

Michigan Radio

A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists says Michigan's electric utilities are losing money at times because they're using their own coal-burning plants when it would be cheaper and cleaner to buy electricity from market sources.

And that cost is being passed on to consumers.

Joe Daniel is an energy analyst with USC. He says statewide, electric customers pay on average an extra $60 a year on their bills because of the issue, which appears to happen simply because of past practice.

JEFFREY PAUL

Storm chasers and meteorologists observed a record number of waterspouts over the Great Lakes this month, according to the Toronto-based International Centre for Waterspout Research. 

The group confirmed 240 of the spectacular weather events over the Great Lakes between September 28 and October 4. 

 

A waterspout can form on a cloudy day, when cold air passes over warmer waters. The resulting vortex sucks down condensation from the cloud cover, creating a phenomenon that looks like a tornado.

 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Deer season started for bow hunters on October 1. The Department of Natural Resources will be testing harvested deer for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Even if a deer looks and acts healthy, it still might be affected by the neurological disorder.

Scio Residents for Safe Water

A plume of the toxic chemical 1,4 dioxane released by the former Gelman Sciences complex has contaminated wells and threatens Ann Arbor’s main source for drinking water. A proposed amendment to a consent judgement would require more groundwater testing and more cleanup of groundwater to remove the chemical.

The proposal would also pump the treated water into the nearby First Sister Lake. However, the treated water will still have trace amounts of dioxane in it.

A man is making a model of the Spinosaurus
Paolo Verzone / National Geographic

Dust off your shovels, aspiring paleontologists, we’ve got some digging to do. October’s issue of National Geographic focuses on new discoveries in paleontology, straight from the researchers who made them.

Nizar Ibrahim was one of those researchers, and his work is featured prominently in the magazine. He’s an assistant professor of biology at University of Detroit Mercy. He’s also a National Geographic Explorer, a grant program that National Geographic extends to groundbreaking researchers in  many disciplines.

absentee ballot and envelope
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Today on Stateside, President Donald Trump raised doubts about the integrity of elections Tuesday night during the first presidential debate of 2020. We hear from a member of a Michigan coalition fighting those claims. Also, physical barriers between Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit have aggravated racial and social tensions over the years. We’ll hear from two activists who want to see them torn down. And finally, paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim talks about how his discoveries in the Sahara have helped us rethink what we know about dinosaurs. 

Pickpik

Fungi foragers rejoice: a new mushroom-hunting season is upon us. Many species of wild mushrooms grow throughout Michigan, and this is the perfect time of year to try to find them. But before you savor that tempting toadstool, make sure you’ve done your research. (No, really.)

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A scientific expert says Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Energy has not submitted enough information to the state for permits to build a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. The groups Oil and Water Don’t Mix and the National Wildlife Federation included a geological engineer who build tunnels in an online news conference.

Brian O’Mara reviewed the reports in the tunnel proposal submitted to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. O’Mara says Enbridge did not take nearly enough core samples of bedrock along the route of the tunnel, and what they did take showed it’s not solid bedrock all the way across.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Energy has been eager to show news media its new Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center in Mackinaw City. Its purpose is to try to prevent another anchor strike or other damage to Line 5, the dual pipelines carrying oil and natural gas liquids.

Consumers Energy

The Michigan Public Service Commission says it will update state requirements for long range plans submitted by electric utilities.

The agency is asking stakeholders to submit recommendations for how these plans, known as Integrated Resource Plans, or IRPs, should change to help meet the governor's new target of carbon neutrality by the year 2050.

Carbon neutrality means on balance, no new carbon dioxide emissions are added to the atmosphere, through a combination of carbon emissions reductions and carbon offsetting, via things like planting forests and other carbon capture projects.

One Michigan county tells the story of a nation plagued by water pollution

Sep 24, 2020
J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Farms housing thousands of animals are one of several sources contaminating the Pine River and dividing a mid-Michigan community.

Murray Borrello, wearing khakis and a loose-fitting brown button-up, walked down a backroad during the summer of 2019 listening to the sounds of the woods. Water from the Pine River flowed slowly beneath him as he looked out over a bridge.

“Oh, I hear a frog,” the Alma College geology and environmental studies professor said. “That’s a good sign.” 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit will be spending more than $9 million to deal with lead-based paint in homes. Although lead-paint has been banned since the 1970s, the old paint on walls, floors, and window sills is still toxic and a leading cause of high blood lead levels in children.

The federal grant from Housing and Urban Development had very specific requirements.

Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

The state of Michigan is expanding quarantines to try to stop a pest from killing hemlock trees. Michigan’s 170 million hemlock trees are important because they help prevent erosion along streams and keep them cool, which helps fish habitat. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) says hemlocks are also important to the timber and lumber industries, nursery and landscaping industries, the Christmas tree industry and the tourism industry.

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is the insect pest killing hemlocks in five counties along Lake Michigan: Allegan, Muskegon, Oceana, Ottawa, and Mason. It feeds on the starches of the trees.

Michigan State University

The state of Michigan is launching a pilot effort to establish a wastewater surveillance system for COVID-19.

Yes, the novel coronavirus can be detected in human poop—even when people are asymptomatic, or have yet to show symptoms. And there are a number of pre-existing wastewater testing programs already running in Michigan.

© J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue

At the shoreline, between lake and land, Melissa Wiatrolik reflects on those who were here before Michigan became Michigan. She had been raised in a community that honored the dead, that understood that their ancestors were always present. As a child, she had watched her own family clean the gravestones of those before her. She had attended ghost suppers to both celebrate and feed the deceased. She had grown up with remembrance, and now, at the shores of Lake Michigan, Wiatrolik worked to keep her ancestors at peace.

someone getting a shot
Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some clinical trials for potential COVID-19 vaccines are going well—but don’t expect a vaccine any time this year, says an infectious disease specialist with Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System.

Dr. Allison Weinmann is involved in phase three clinical trials for Moderna's mRNA-1273 Coronavirus Efficacy (COVE) vaccine study. Henry Ford is participating in the national study, which has recruited 30,000 volunteers to receive either the vaccine or a placebo, and monitor the results for both safety and efficacy.

Note: An audio version of this story aired on NPR's Planet Money. Listen to the episode here.

Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups.

None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried.

Velsicol Chemical operated on the banks of the Pine River in St. Louis, Michigan from 1938 to 1978. It was the site of the infamous PBB mixup. The entire plant was buried in place and now it's leaking.
Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finished the second phase of a new method for chemical pollution cleanup at a Superfund site in St. Louis, Michigan.

This site is 52 acres where the Velsicol Chemical plant once stood. It manufactured DDT, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and chlorobenzene among other toxic chemicals. 

Kristen Dage

Way up in the Andes mountains sits a little bit of East Lansing. On the Cerro Pachón mountain in Chile, the Southern Astrophysical Research, or SOAR, telescope looks out at the stars. It’s a partnership between four institutions including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Michigan State University. Talk about working remotely.

Demonstrators unfurled a large "Shut Down Line 5" sign during the flotilla.
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

The State of Michigan is holding a number of public meetings online regarding the proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac for Enbridge's Line 5. The first is being held Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office has settled a case dealing with leaky underground fuel tanks. The state will be getting $35 million to clean up the sites now owned by Premcor Refining Group, Inc.

“We entered into this settlement with the group because Premcor is the entity that is liable under state law for the releases at these sites. So, you know, we're just trying to reach a settlement if that's sound and enforceable and it's in the best interest of the public,” said Ryan Jarvi, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office.

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