Friday, March 26, 2010

New Website Helps People Get Involved in Local Coastline Cleanups

The environmental organization Great Lakes United launched a new website called Find My Cleanup, which aims to connect community members to local cleanups going on their area.

The site already has several postings of spring cleanups going on around the Great Lakes. There is a listing for a Detroit area cleanup for Lake St. Clair on Sunday May 23, 2010. The event which is billed as the Nautical Coast Cleanup is presented by the St. Clair Shores Waterfront Environmental Committee. The event is in its 15th year and has gathered over 474 tons of debris over the years from the Lake St. Clair shoreline.

15th Annual Nautical Coast Cleanup

Find Local Cleanups in your community:
Find My Cleanup

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Closing the Great Lakes Compact Loophole

Yesterday to observe World Water Day, Michigan activists held a press conference in Traverse City to bring Michigan House Bill 5319 back into the public spotlight. The bill would close the door on the Great Lakes Compact loophole. In a press release Traverse City attorney and water activist James Olsen said “the Compact left the door wide open for out-of-Basin exports of our water intended for consumers. If Michigan does not close it, global special interests will exploit global water scarcity at the expense of Michigan’s livelihood and quality of life.”

Take Action: Flow For Water

Press Release:
Michigan Water Protectors Push for Public Trust Protection

Michigan House Bill 5319

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Report Shows Energy Industry Lacking in Mercury Emission Controls

A recent report released by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) ranked the nation's top fifty power plants based on mercury emissions. 16 of the 50 power plants were in the Great Lakes region. According to the report by the EIP, mercury removal is possible:

"Years of inaction and delay have prevented Americans from enjoying the power plant mercury cleanup that is required by the Clean Air Act. In 1990, Congress passed the Clean Air Act amendments that set in motion EPA’s requirement to regulate toxic emissions from power plants. But, in 2005, EPA backed away from a protective power plant mercury regulation and instead adopted a weak cap-and-trade scheme, a move that a federal Court of Appeals later overturned.

...Today’s power plant mercury emissions levels are no cause for celebration. When EPA adopted its weak cap-and-trade power plant mercury rule, during the Bush administration, the agency predicted that power plant mercury emissions would drop to between 31 and 34 tons per year by 2010. EPA also concluded that the use of available pollution controls aimed at reducing soot and smog pollution could reduce mercury by 70 percent, to 15 tons per year, and that even stricter cleanup requirements could reduce mercury by 90 percent, to 5 tons per year. The bottom line: Power plant mercury emissions remain unnecessarily high; emissions are significantly higher than the levels that would be achieved if power plants were required to install currently available pollution control technology like bag-houses, scrubbers, and sorbent controls."

This report comes at a time when there is much debate over whether to build new power plants. Here in Michigan there has been a lot of opposition to new coal plants in Bay City and Rogers City. While Michigan only has one power plant listed in the report, it ranked 8th in the nation for mercury emissions. The DTE Energy owned Monroe power plant emitted 1,147 lbs of mercury in 2008. That was an over 23 percent increase from 2007 and a third of Michigan's total mercury emissions for all of 2008.

EIP Report:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

St. Clair Shores Site Gets $864,000 for Cleanup

The Detroit Free Press reported yesterday that the EPA has awarded $864,000 for PCB cleanup in St. Clair Shores to clean up the 10 mile drain as well as contaminated parts of the Lange and Revere Street canals.

The EPA is installing 25 weirs which are small metal plates in the sewer line which will block sediment but allow water to still flow. They are hoping to follow a sediment trail to the source since they still do not know where the PCB's are coming from. In 2002 PCB's were removed but have since returned. On March 3 of this year upon finding more PCB's the site was recommended to be put on the National Priorities List but is still waiting approval.

Here is the EPA document describing the site as well as the EPA's findings

A Few Highlights From MSU's Great Lakes Conference

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending Michigan State University's 2010 Great Lakes Conference "Learning from the Past, Looking Towards the Future." The presentations had a broad range of interesting topics and challenges that are facing the Great Lakes as we move forward into the new millennium.

“Quagga Mussel Impact on the Nearshore Zone: Why Do Our Beaches Stink?” By Harvey Bootsma Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Water Institute

Harvey Bootsma of Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Water Institute presented findings concerning the possibility that quagga mussels may be excreting phosphorous and thereby contributing to higher concentrations of near shore phosphorous. This coupled with more water clarity from the quagga mussels are perfect conditions for cladophora. Cladophora is algae that are known for contributing to unsightly muck on beaches. When cladophora die they can harbor botulism that get into fish and can lead to massive bird kills when the birds eat the fish.

While Bootsma concedes that there “is no smoking gun yet,” they suspect that quagga mussels are altering Lake Michigan’s phosphorous cycle. So far tests that they have conducted have indicated that quagga mussels are concentrating large amounts of phosphorus near the shore. The increased phosphorous acts as a nutrient source for the cladophora, while the increased water clarity of the quagga mussels also contributes to the growth of cladophora.

These findings are troubling, Bootsma says that while the knee-jerk reaction may be to limit phosphorous going into the lake, the problem is more complicated now. Further offshore, plankton need phosphorous so further limiting it could contribute to the decline of plankton that would lead to a decline of fish like alewives which feed off of plankton and in turn get eaten by bigger game fish like salmon and trout.

There is still much that needs to be known such as how the phosphorus mixes at the bottom of the lake and mussel bed, and how fast the phosphorus is at leaving the water table.

“Impacts of Climate Change on Great Lakes Ecosystems”

This talk by Dr. Kimberly Hall of the Nature Conservancy focused on how to anticipate and adjust conservation strategies based off of climate change.

According to Hall temperatures will be 6.5-7.5 degrees warmer by 2080 with increases in the winter minimum and summer maximum. There will also be more extreme heat events, and a longer growing season along with changes in wind and currents.

Hall’s talk focused on a climate adaptation clinic she took part in where they took the following approach in evaluating current conservation strategies in light of climate change:

-Estimate exposure to climate change
-Evaluate sensitivities/impacts
-Create system diagrams
-Create and revise hypotheses of change
-Evaluate conservation strategies

Other concerns related to temperature are that the warmer temperatures will broaden the range of other species in a northward push that will bring more invasive species to the region.

The other big problem will be phenological mismatches. Plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates all respond to temperatures at different rates. As they rely on each other for food, it will disrupt the food web as they respond to climate change differently.

The Nature Conservancy is currently working on making computer models to best figure out what ways are suitable to manage current ecosystems while accounting for climate change.

“Coastal Beaches: Status and Concerns” By Shannon Briggs Toxicologist MDNRE

Congress enacted the BEACH Act which appropriates $10 million per year to 35 different coastal states per year. According to Briggs Michigan does not get its fair share of funding despite having over 3,000 miles of coastline and 1183 public beaches.

When the EPA grants money, they focus more on the length of the beach season than the overall quantity of coastline. This is the reason that the American province of Samoa with its 126 miles of coastline gets the same amount of funding as Michigan. The Michigan’s coastline monitoring program has applied for some of the funds from the recent Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Otherwise the BEACH reauthorization act is threatened to be in a spending freeze until 2012.

Overall, Michigan’s beaches are doing really good despite the lack of funding for monitoring. Actions were reported only 2 percent of the time. Briggs still had concerns noting that you can’t report what wasn’t tested. They only have resources to test most beaches once a week during the swimming season. This will tell them if the water is safe to swim in or not, but it won’t tell them why the water has been fouled. One thing that they have done is to get volunteers to do routine beach sanitary surveys that ask questions like water color, if there are any smells, recent rainfall, or geese, etc. These surveys help provide a bigger picture of what is going on, giving a story behind the numbers and explaining the causes behind any pollution.

Here are some websites:

Has testing results of every Michigan public beach: Beachguard

Track CSO's and SSO's in your community

“Asian Carp: An Imminent Invasion?” By Dan O’ Keefe, Ph.D. Michigan Sea Grant

What more can anyone really say about the asian carp? O’Keefe compared the recent media hype to the Cuyahoga fire in Ohio that brought the Clean Water Act.

He highlighted some interesting facts including some of the ideal reproductive requirements of carp, which do need pretty specific conditions to reproduce:

-Temperatures above 64 degrees F
-A rise in water level
-Over 60 miles of free-flowing river that is upstream from a lake.
-Hard water

He did note that further study is needed and exceptions can apply.

O’ Keefe went on to show the areas of Michgan that are particularly vulnerable to asian carp. The lower western half of Michigan along the Lake Michigan coast is vulnerable as well as Saginaw Bay, and the southeastern part of Michigan from the St. Clair River down through Lake St. Clair and eastern Lake Erie.

O’ Keefe also pointed out that at the Lockport Lock and Dam there are three canals there. One of those canals is the old Illinois and Michigan Canal and there is the potential that the asian carp could bypass the electric barrier altogether and get through a culvert that empties into the Des Plaines River.

O’ Keefe advocated permanent ecological separation not only to stop the asian carp but a myriad of other invasive species that are found in the Chicago waterways but not the Great Lakes such as longspine daphnia, mottled fingernail clam, orangespotted sunfish, skipjack herring, and gizzard shad, just to name a few.

“Wind Farms and Coastal Communities” By Charles McKeown MSU Land Policy Institute

McKeown highlighted the current conflict that is currently going on with wind turbines and local communities and government. Michigan public act 295 required that 10 percent of Michigan’s energy should come from renewable resources. Michigan has a lot of untapped potential for wind resources, McKeown says that there is a 99 percent gap between Michigan wind power utilization and estimated capacity. Texas has already developed a third of its wind power capacity.

Mckeown compared wind power and public attitudes to puppies. Virtually everybody loves puppies and in Land Policy Institute surveys that asked the broad question of whether people were for wind power over 90 percent said they were.

There are no state guidelines for wind farms. It is an issue that is left to local planning committees. McKeown finds that the absence of local planning models, as well as the absence of knowledge for such a new technology in local governments leads to local fear and ultimately public opposition towards the issue. McKeown is looking to injecting science and rational thought to the debate.

The Land Policy Institute has been working on finding out what people like and don’t like about wind farms. In the slideshow the concerns were broke down into 5 different categories of environmental, visual, quality of life, economic, and fairness. Each issue has pros, cons, as well as the challenges of information gaps and remaining questions. The biggest issue seems to be the aesthetics and sheer enormity of the structures, as well as the feeling by some small towns that they are being exploited.

While these are all valid concerns McKeown said that renewable energy gets paid so much lip service on how it is going to help solve climate change, revitalize manufacturing, create energy security, and renew American innovation, while the reality is that we have a “wicked public policy program.”

McKeown had this following synopsis of the wicked problem in his presentation:

“A problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.”

MSU Land Policy Institute will be having a 2010 conference on April 23 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mining Update: Kennecott Exploring New Sites in the U.P, PolyMet Hearings in Minnesota

According to the website Save The Wild U.P. the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNRE) has announced that a public comment period has begun over the leasing of over 4000 acres of mineral rights to Kennecott in southern Marquette County, northern Dickinson County, and southern Houghton County.

In other mining news Minnesota's proposed PolyMet mine that would be in close proximity to the boundary waters had hearings this week in the Minnesota state Senate. According to the activist group Friends of the Boundary Waters, the meetings were productive and focused on earlier EPA criticisms over PolyMet's Environmental Impact statement. This was in the shadow of the damage deposit bill being withdrawn by the bill's author Sen. Jim Carlson. The damage deposit bill would have increased mining industry regulations.

Here our some recent press on the PolyMet mine from the past week:
If PolyMet meets its commitments, the DEIS suggests that its proposed mine poses no serious environmental impact

Mining industry's view: Benefits are enormous, risks addressed

This is the PolyMet Mine's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
PolyMet Mining Inc./NorthMet Project EIS

Friday, March 5, 2010

Pharmaceuticals are an Emerging Pollutant for the Great Lakes

A new report by the Alliance for the Great Lakes explores the emerging threat of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water. While many officials say that the levels of pharmaceuticals are low enough that they are not a public risk, it is still not known how these drugs will interact with existing chemicals in the Great Lakes.

There is also no way to really stop them at the moment. Wastewater treatment systems are not equipped to remove pharmaceuticals from the drinking water. There have been recent public campaigns to educate the public to not flush prescriptions down the toilet, as well as places you can bring unwanted prescriptions to be properly disposed of. Much of the waste products still come from secreted urine from patients on medications. Other pathways that pharmaceuticals get into the waterways are from landfills, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and health care facilities.

The report makes the following recommendations: creating drugs that degrade in the environment, introducing new measures for health care workers that can reduce pollution, more research in virtually every area, drug take back programs, and manufacturers being required to list their products' toxicity information.

See the report for yourself: Protecting the Great Lakes from Pharmaceutical Pollution

Alliance for the Great Lakes Press Release:
Drugs in Drinking Water: New Report Explores Emerging Great Lakes Threat, Solutions

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Editorial: Will Michigan Put Funding for Toxic Cleanups on the November Ballot?

Today Detroit News reporter Jim Lynch highlighted the issue that Michigan's toxic cleanup program is completely out of cash. Don't act surprised. This is a story that has seemed to surface about once a year for the past few years and yet nothing has been done about it by lawmakers.

Funding to cleanup toxic sites have been through two voter approved bond issues, one in 1988 and the other in 1998. The program brought $1.3 billion to fund the program. That money will be gone this year. We have our lawmakers to thank for that. In 2008 the MDEQ tried and ultimately failed to persuade lawmakers to put a new bond on the 2008 ballot. This came amidst stories in the press about the MDEQ not having enough money to inspect all of Michigan's toxic sites and them basically warning that this crises was coming. Now, the question is whether lawmakers will have the guts to put the bond proposal on the November 2010 ballot.

Before we dive into a debate about how fiscally irresponsible it is to protect our natural resources, consider that a 2007 expose in the Kalamazoo Gazette in 2007 found that Michigan was dead last in natural resource spending compared to any other state, only spending 0.4 percent of the state's $8 billion budget to protect the environment.

While we're at it let's remember that when companies come in that put the environment at risk such as sulfide mining, or new coal plants, we have to remember that while it does produce economic benefit in the short-term, in the long-term the financial burden of cleanup ends up being the taxpayers problem. Environmental issues are often seen as a very progressive idealistic issue, but they are also a conservative issue. When dirty companies go out of business the tax burden always goes to the taxpayers. Now we are dealing with a full fledged expensive crises that compromises the health of thousands of Michiganders.

Here is another story from the 2007 Kalamazoo expose by Alex Nixon:
Toxic sites threaten valuable Great Lakes resource

Michigan Messenger story: There’s still no funding plan for cleanup at thousands of toxic sites

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

EPA Proposes St. Clair Shores site to National Priorities List

The EPA is considering putting the St. Clair Shores area at Bon Brae and Harper Avenue on the National Priorities List (NPL). The area has been plagued by PCB contamination since they were discovered in 2001 when officials were attempting to get a dredging permit. The good news is that the sites that get put on Superfund's NPL are eligible to get federal funds.

The St. Clair Shores Drain (SCSD) eventually drains into Lake St. Clair by way of the Lange Street Canal and Revere Street Canal. While drinking water is safe, according to the EPA the main pathways of exposure are through eating fish in the canals, surface water, soil, or the sediments in the canals especially in the areas where the drain discharges.

In 2002 sediment was removed from the two canals though they have been re-contaminated since then. In 2006 the EPA installed a liner in the portion of the storm sewer where the contamination is the heaviest. The storm sewer has also been re-contaminated as well.

Here is the EPA document describing the site as well as the EPA's findings

The Gratiot County Golf Course in St. Louis Michigan has been designated as a superfund NPL site. From 1956 to 1970 the Velsicol Chemical plant disposed of liquid hazardous waste by burning it at the site. In 1982 the site was put on the NPL and 68,000 cubic yards of soil was removed from the site and it was taken off of the NPL. In 2006 more contamonation of soil and groundwater was found so now the site is back onto the NPL.

Kennecott seeks to amend permit; Minnesota to Hold Hearings on PolyMet Project

The Kennecott Eagle Project has amended their wastewater treatment permit which may exempt them from having to get a federal permit which is the final regulatory hurdle that the company faces. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment will host a public meeting on Thursday March 11 at 7 PM at Westwood High School.

The proposal can be viewed here.

Associated Press reporter John Flesher broke the story:
Kennecott seeks to amend permit

In other mining news there are going to be mining hearings by the Minnesota Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee next week that will discuss the proposed Boundary Waters PolyMet mine as well as a bill that would strengthen Minnesota mining laws.

This comes after the EPA slammed the PolyMet mine proposal last week as "environmentally unsatisfactory."

The hearings are scheduled for Monday, March 8 and Wednesday, March 10. Details of the meetings are here.

The proposed "damage deposit" bill that will be discussed can be found here.