Saturday, December 25, 2010

On holiday hiatus, and wishing all a prosperous New Year! (With something about our awesome Great Lakes to stick to an environmental theme!)

Mitten State is taking a holiday hiatus in a warmer climate until mid-January, and wishing all fine New Year. For Michiganders we share hope for a resurgent 2011 that sees economic recovery anchored by growing clean energy, tourism, rail transit, Smart Growth and other natural resource-based industries.

We will return in mid-January with new Governor Rick Snyder and his team, and a Republican legislature vowing serious financial restructuring. In the midst of 2010’s economic malaise and all the political changes one thing stays constant: We are the only state in the Union, no…..the only place on the planet …. blessed with primary stewardship for 18 percent of the world’s fresh surface water supply. No other state lies entirely within the basin of the world’s most tremendous freshwater resource. Let’s  say that again: Our Great Lakes -- connected to our rivers, inland lakes, ponds, creeks, streams, and wetlands -- are a world-class natural resource and our ace in the hole. Let’s protect them.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fearmongering with falsehoods: Wherein I ask WJR's John McCulloch to stop perpetuating harmful urban legends about light bulbs


Environmentalists -- frequently criticized by foes for fearmongering -- have no corner on the market as aptly demonstrated this morning by conservative WJR (Detroit) talk show host John McCulloch's irresponsible comments on the cleanup of broken light bulbs. This kind of nonsense creates an atmosphere where criminals are empowered to rip off frightened people who swallow the urban legends that McCulloch peddled this morning. Here's my letter snail mailed today:

John McCulloch
News/Talk 760 WJR
3011 West Grand Blvd. Suite 800
Detroit, MI 48202

Hello John:

Caught part of your Friday, 12/23 segment on efforts to repeal the federal light bulb
efficiency standards that essentially ban the incandescents.

While I support implementation of the new standards, I respect and understand the argument against them. That is not my reason for writing.

I write to ask you to please stop perpetuating the false claim that broken compact fluorescent light bulbs require professional Haz-Mat cleanups and that evacuating one’s home is an appropriate response to a broken bulb.

Unscrupulous contractors have preyed on frightened homeowners, fleecing them for thousands of dollars in scams involving CFL cleanups. This outrageous and probably illegal scheme is made possible when respected personalities like yourself perpetuate the myth that such cleanups are necessary. It is a scare tactic that poisons the policy debate with falsehoods and gives credence to the loathsome thieves who prey on the fears of people who figure it must be true because John McCulloch said it.

CFL bulbs do contain mercury and require care when broken. I’ve done it. It’s a pain the rear. But it’s neither a crisis nor a grave danger. Here are some sources for learning what’s required:

  1. The fact-checking service concludes that broken bulbs are neither a grave danger to a home’s inhabitants, nor do they require a professional cleanup:
  2. The EPA’s guidelines for CFL cleanup:

The cleanups require neither the evacuation of one’s home, nor the employment of outside contractors.

I don’t seek or expect to change your position on the light bulb standards. But I do respectfully suggest that you provide listeners with accurate information.

Thank you for your time.

Hugh McDiarmid Jr.
Farmington, MI

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bitch please, we're from Michigan! And hey, whaddya know, we lead the nation in rail trails!

There’s a Facebook group called ”Bitch please, I’m from Michigan.” It has 72,000 members.

Unemployment in your state nearing double digits? Bitch please, I’m from Michigan! Potholes on your commute? Two inches of snow shutting your Washington D.C. roads? Please!  

We love that Facebook page. We’re tough. And we aren’t afraid to tell the rest of the world to kiss our backsides when we need to.

But, today, we put a moratorium on complaints and celebrate a huge Michigan success story. As the Grand Rapids Press’ Howard Meyerson reported here last week, Michigan now leads the nation in the number of miles of abandoned railroad converted to public trails! It almost makes you want to ask, “Bitch seriously. In Michigan?”

We have almost 2,500 miles of trails that are a huge draw for walkers, joggers, cyclists, families, skiers, dog walkers and outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes. And it has all happened since 1991 when the Hart-Montague Trail became the first one in Michigan. The Michigan trails success is the product of a lot of hard work in local communities, forward-looking planning and financial backing from individuals, governments and foundations. And leadership from groups like the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.

Perhaps the most telling passage in Meyerson’s column is the observation that the trails plans were initially regarded with skepticism, confusion, and hostility: “The early public hearings were loud with fear about muggings and vandalism, livestock harassment and other suspected problems. Few realized that the trails would raise property values, stimulate small business growth, add vitality to small communities and become regional tourist attractions.”

Twenty years from now, I wonder which of our new initiatives we will be saying similar things about: Passenger railroad service? Renewable energy systems? Limits on climate pollution? The designing of walkable downtowns aimed to please people rather than cars?

Each of those issues has detractors who say it will never work. Too expensive. Too disruptive. Too…..different. Surely not every new idea will work out. But we can not be afraid to try. And what do we have to lose? Our status as the nation’s most miserable state economy? I mean, bitch, please!

Monday, December 13, 2010

More irrelevant and boring information: 2010 on pace to be planet's warmest ever

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about why the public discussion on climate change really does not hinge on the science at all. The discussion has been hijacked by forces that have little regard for the fuzzy, complicated, scienc-ey stuff.

And true to form, the loudest of the loudmouths  have seized on the American Midwest’s snowstorms and cold snaps as proof of the climate change hoax. (Nevermind, um, the record high temperatures in Phoenix and Southern California.)

So even though the science doesn’t seem to push the public opinion needle, it’s still interesting to go all Old School every once in a while and see what the data says. Lately, it says that 2010 is on pace to be the warmest year ever recorded on our humble planet.

Why the Village of Milford is thankful that the legislature robbed Peter to pay Paul (and what happens when that money runs out?)

Charming Milford
Eleven thousand contaminated sites, most with no responsible party left alive to pay for a cleanup. So the state has raided another fund to pay enough to work on the riskiest of sites. It’ll last for 3, maybe 4 years. A temporary, one-time fix for a crucial program (Hmmmmm….seems I’ve heard of that happening before in Lansing.)

At least places like the Coe’s Cleaners site in the stunningly cute Village of Milford in rural Oakland County won’t be abandoned. The contamination threatens the village’s drinking water supply. Village Manager Arthur Shufflebarger says, "It's a longtime source of contamination. If that would have been discontinued, it would have been a huge concern. I'm very pleased that another source of support has been offered."

So what about when the money runs out?
Or, maybe we even want to address more than a handful of these sites as a way to get Michigan’s towns and cities to attract businesses and industry on reclaimed sites of contamination (brownfields, as they’re called)?. How about a 3/8ths of a cent sales tax on the 2012 ballot to let Michigan voters decide whether to permanently fund cleanup programs?

The devil, of course, is in the details. And in the politics.

Stay tuned on this one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Money to keep clean up leaking gas and oil tanks snatched by the Michigan Legislature to shovel into general fund abyss

There are more than 9,000 old, leaking underground petroleum storage tanks in Michigan. Where there’s an owner alive and viable (a responsible party), they are required to clean the mess up.

We pay 7/8ths of a cent on every gallon of gas we buy in Michigan to fund a program to help clean up the worst of these places when no responsible party is available to send the bill to. That’s important because some sites release dangerous petroleum pollutants into groundwater, streams or lakes. Others pollute nearby water wells. It’s also important because it puts toxic land that nobody would otherwise want back into productive use with potential to create jobs.

The tax was expiring this year, and the Legislature renewed it. You’d think that’s good news, but it’s not so simple. Legislators are using much of the money to shovel into general fund budget holes.

The program isn’t being picked on uniquely. Legislators have been robbing “non essential” programs for years to scrabble together the state budget.  And it’s going to get more cannibalistic, with $3 billion in cuts required for the next legislature to balance the budget. Cuts like that mean huge changes for lots of people. One set of proposals made by the lame duck administration in Lansing calls for privatizing the University of Michigan and eliminating State Police road patrols. Against cuts of that scale, small fry like toxic leaking underground tanks stand no chance.

So let’s just be honest. If we’re unwilling to pay enough taxes to clean up orphaned sites of contamination let’s stop collecting the 7/8ths of a cent tax altogether. We’ll have saved drivers 13 cents at each fill-up. And we’ll just write off the contaminated lands as permanent blight in our neighborhoods – and our reduced property values -- in exchange for our 13 cents. 


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Breaking News: Michigan Legislature passes restrictions on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer!

In the last lame duck legislative session of the year today, there was some good news for Michigan’s waters. The House and Senate passed restrictions on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer that will have direct, and significant impact on water quality in our lakes and streams.

Michigan joins several other Great Lakes states including Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin and Illinois in ensuring this largely unnecessary problem is no longer used indiscriminately on lawns that don’t need it.
Congrats to all those who worked, literally, for years to make this happen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Your handy guide to translating the fringe arguments against offshore wind energy development in the Great Lakes

What turbines would look like, from left, at 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 miles

Michigan has vast potential to generate energy from wind. Most of that potential is in the offshore waters of the Great Lakes. Now, the state is poised to adopt the first comprehensive rules for wind development in the Lakes.

It won’t be easy. Not everyone likes the idea of altering the view of our spectacular Great Lakes with wind turbines. Others don’t mind the view, as long as it’s not in their back yard – or more accurately, in front of their pricey lakefront properties.

Now Michigan’s anti-government bloggers are also up in arms about wind turbines. Their reasons run the gamut. They include cost (a debate worth having). Details over how to regulate them (again, a worthwhile discussion). And environmental concerns (Fringe Right bloggers mourning for the environment? Sweet Jesus! Has that EVER happened before. OK, we’ll get to that in a moment!)

Honestly, those in the distant hinterlands of conservativism will never support offshore wind turbines for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with cost or environmental concerns.

So, in order to prepare for the upcoming onslaught of doublespeak, I’m offering some translations for the arguments you will hear. But first, a note on costs.
Costs for wind energy keep going down while costs for conventional energy keep going up. In fact, Massachusetts regulators just OK’d a 15 year power purchase agreement for Cape Wind, the nation’s first offshore wind energy development.

The Massachusetts approval came after exhaustive review: 13 days of hearings, more than 1,300 exhibits and 3,000 pages of transcript. The conclusion: "[I]t is abundantly clear that the Cape Wind facility offers significant benefits that are not currently available from any other renewable resources. We find that these benefits outweigh the costs of the project." (and if you click on the link, don’t neglect to read the part about the 1,000 jobs created).

Now, the translations:
--- Wind energy shouldn't need taxpayer subsidies means (=) We have never raised a peep about the massive subsidies for conventional, polluting energy sources, but we’re mad as hell when it applies to something environmentalists support, Governor Granholm wants, or anything new and different.

--- Plans to regulate offshore wind are not up to par = Any regulation is bad. Any regulatory agency is evil. And anyone trying to enforce regulations is a jack booted thug.

--- The Great Lakes will be environmentally damaged by turbines = We don’t give a flying fruck about the environment when we support offshore oil drilling in the Great Lakes, oppose mercury emissions reductions, fight bans on water diversions, cheer more polluting coal power plants, oppose tougher vehicle emissions standards, fight against energy efficiency programs, encourage urban sprawl, urge lawmakers to bankrupt natural resource protection, or try to bury public transit initiatives. But, um, this time we do care. Really.

--- The wind doesn’t blow all the time, so it’s unreliable = This is an awesome sound bite. Game, set and match....beeeootch! We are betting nobody besides policy geeks goes to the trouble of exploring how decentralized power grids, demand load management and natural gas backup systems make this issue manageable.

 --- Coal power is tried and true, no reason to change = We talk a good game about embracing American ingenuity, cutting edge technology and striking out boldly for new frontiers like our manly heroes of the American Revolution. But when it comes down to it we're scared.

--- We don’t have faith in the leaders supporting wind energy = We despise Gov. Granholm and everything she stands for. We will despise Gov.-elect Snyder as well, should he dare cross us. The 2010 election was clearly a mandate against offshore wind.

--- It’s those pansy ass tree huggers who want wind energy = It’s those pansy ass tree huggers who want wind energy.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Biblical stewardship of the earth and its creatures? Not in Rep. John Shimkus' truncated Bible

Rep. Shimkus: Don't worry
Not sure how I missed this, but Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois wants to be the next chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee. And Rep. Shimkus has a rather unique perspective
on climate change.

He believes that mankind is incapable of harming the planet because the Bible declares God, not man, will destroy the earth. “The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth,” he said.

Now careful readers will note that the previous link was to the left-wing, Soros funded, Huffington Post which is part of the failed Pelosi-Huffington agenda and a tool of Statists, ecoterrorists and Communists. But Shimkus’ views were also chronicled in the New York Times, which is simply part of the liberal drive-by media and therefore more trustworthy. I guess.

Anyway, Rep. Shimkus declared that the conservative and Tea Party victories in the 2010 means that “The climate debate has, at least for two years, has ended with this election.”

In open defiance of Rep. Shimkus’ decree, climatologists across the nation apparently plan to continue to do research for the next two years. Some of these climatologists have never even slept with Al Gore. So, you see, technically the debate really isn’t over.

It also may be news to Rep. Shimkus that religious leaders across the nation and the world have called for action on climate change, through organizations like the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

Even within the modest environmental coalitions in Michigan, there are faith-based groups working toward sensible responses to climate change. Groups like the IHM Sisters in Monroe; the Michigan chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life out of Oakland County and  Michigan Interfaith Power and Light in Royal Oak.

These groups have bizarre ideas about the Bible teaching us that we must be stewards of the earth and the creatures that inhabit it. Stuff like: Lev. 25:23-24. The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.

 I don’t know where Rep. Shimkus’ gets his laissez faire Biblical interpretation. But I sure as hell hope he does not inflict such dangerous nonsense on our nation from the pulpit of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Wisconsin and Ohio to feds: Take your rail money and shove it!

Here in Michigan we’ve learned the hard way not to put all our eggs in one basket. The “right-sizing” of the domestic automobile industry – which Michiganders complacently assumed would always provide the lion’s share of our employment – resulted in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and has saddled us with the most miserable economy in a nation full of miserable state economies.

As this analysis notes, the percentage of Michigan’s gross domestic product tied to cars was 25 perecent in 1963. By 1998 it was barely 5 percent. As economist Charles Ballard notes in the analysis, “In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, having a non-diversified economy was not a problem since the dominant industry in Michigan -- autos -- was so wildly successful. Carmakers reigned supreme for so long here that Michigan seemed to develop the mindset that the good times would last forever.”

For the same reasons we need to diversify our economy, we need to diversify our transportation options. Putting virtually all our eggs in one basket – personal vehicles driving on public roads and highways – leaves us vulnerable in lots of ways: wild fluctuations in oil prices; chronic and ongoing underfunding of roads; and shifting population patterns that demand new and bigger roads in certain places, while existing and underutilized older roads still require the same level of upkeep as they did when they were in their prime.

So it is with curiosity that we learn that our neighbors in Ohio and Wisconsin are poised to tell the federal government to Shove It when they offer to help diversify those states’ transportation systems by helping them invest in better passenger railroad transportation.

If they do, Michigan stands a good chance of getting some of that money to help reduce its reliance on crumbling roads and expensive personal vehicles.

No, we can’t abandon our roads any more than we can abandon our automakers. But we can’t pretend that roads will always and forever be the smartest and most dominant way to get from Point A to Point B.

So if Ohio and Wisconsin want to flip the bird to federal help in hedging against an uncertain transportation future, we’ll be glad to help spend that unwanted money to put a few of our eggs in a different basket. We’ve learned the hard way.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Gov. Rick Snyder as a blank slate on conservation and natural resource issues: Let's paint a picture of Teddy Roosevelt or William Milliken, shall we?

Snyder: Blank slate

Sweeping changes to the political landscape effected by voters last week are not good news for environmental protection in Michigan or across the nation. The new Republican majorities and angry Tea Party-style anti-government pols in the Michigan and U.S. Houses will be less inclined to support the bold action we need on issues like climate, transportation, Great Lakes stewardship and scaling back huge subsidies for destructive and finite energy resources like oil.

But how will Michigan’s new governor, Rick Snyder, respond to the challenges of protecting natural resources in a bankrupt economy and amid a political climate where enforcement of environmental laws is  frowned upon?

TR: Speak softly, carry big stick
Will he be the man who excelled on conservation and water issues in a primary debate last spring, who served on the Nature Conservancy Board of Directors and who was endorsed in the primary election by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters?
Or will he be the man whose recent statements on cutting regulation and oversight are boilerplate anti-government talking points; the man who wants to fast-track dirty coal plants and whose platform includes a plan to grease the skids for huge polluting factory farms owned by out-of-staters at the expense of small, locally-owned farms?

No one knows, of course. But Great Lakes environmentalist, author and historian Dave Dempsey wrote perhaps the best analysis of the Rick Snyder question mark here.

In the meantime, every word Snyder utters will be magnified and overanalyzed and probably blown out of proportion. Every appointment he makes – especially for key environmental posts like director of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, will be scrutinized and dissected and agonized about.

But for the moment….he’s a blank slate. And we can always imagine that he will become the kind of Republican environmental champion that are so few and far between these days.

There's precedent. Dearth of environmental backbone hasn’t always been so prevalent in the GOP. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was a crusader for conservation and established our national parks system against hostile foes in his own party. Even President Ronald Reagan, the poster child for conservative principles, signed tough tailpipe emissions rules as governor of California, later stating: "I'm proud of having been one of the first to recognize that states and the federal government have a duty to protect our natural resources from the damaging effects of pollution that can accompany industrial development." Yeah, Ronald Reagan.

In Michigan, Republican Gov. William G. Milliken stayed true to his GOP principles while protecting the state’s resources. He helped establish Michigan’s pioneering “Bottle Bill” deposit on beverage containers. During his tenure he was considered a moderate Republican. In today’s climate there is no room for moderates. Right Wing bloggers – most of them too young to remember Milliken or moderate politics at all, vilify him as a liberal traitor.

Many Republicans believe conservative principles aren’t synonymous with abandoning environmental protection. They continue to keep the faith through organizations like Republicans for Environmental Protection. The group’s president, Rob Sisson is a proud Michigander and the former mayor of Sturgis.

So we'll see what the next couple years bring with Governor Snyder and a new legislature. It's gonna be interesting either way.


Monday, November 1, 2010

The National Mining Association sees Jihadists at the gates! Or is that the EPA?

“We need to elect strong environmental leaders tomorrow to defeat the pollution jihad that corporations are waging against our environment and public health.”

Imagine the howls of outrage from the ”drown government in a bathtub" crowd if environmentalists had issued this statement, comparing American corporations to Muslim holy warriors, and, by inference, terrorists.

Betting though, you haven’t heard of Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association, who called enforcement of environmental laws by the Environmental Protection Agency a “regulatory jihad” in this piece by the New York Times on the millions spent by the industry to blunt enforcement of, and elect officials hostile to environmental regulations they deem excessive.

Given the mood of the country, it’s probably ridiculous to suggest that the fossil fuel industry’s energy and money might better be spent deploying strong clean energy technologies and developing futuristic energy futures. No, better to cling tooth and nail to the status quo.

Even so, isn’t comparing pollution regulators in the U.S. to holy warriors in Islamic countries a bit over the top? Rush? Frank? Glenn?

No, I didn’t think so.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You want some input on utopia? Help Michigan Environmental Council craft the Michigan of 2060

The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) has taken a big step back from the everday chaos of crises, pressing issues and deadlines to issue a draft Michigan 50 Year Vision  for public comment.

The Vision lays out specific goals for a Michigan, circa 2060, that will be vibrant, healthy and engaging. You know…strong central cities, virtual energy independence, clean lakes and rivers, reliable and affordable transit options. Utopia, basically.

The Vision was more than a year in the making, and kicked off online today with the unveiling of the Water Vision document. The Water Vision – and the five other visions that will be unveiled in coming weeks – propose ambitious goals for the year 2060 as well as intermediate policy goals at 2, 10 and 20 years.

MEC is asking for plenty of public input between now and December from every corner of Michigan. It’s an ambitious undertaking, directed by MEC President Chris Kolb, with whom I share an office wall and a combative sense of humor (we like to pick on each other).

Anyway, such big picture things aren’t usually my cup of tea. Mission statements, strategic plans, goal-setting …. anything that peers more than a week into the future makes me fearful and bored silly at the same time. I blame 22 years of deadline journalism. Give me a crisis and a figurative gun to my head and the job will get done. Give me three months to write something and I’ll noodle ineffectually for 88 days before cranking into a 48 hour burst of adrenaline and caffeine, the world’s most popular psychoactive drug!

But I’m pleased with the Michigan 50 Year Vision and its potential for catalyzing constructive dialogue about Michigan’s future. Please consider taking a look and providing some input. There are spots on the web site to enter comments, and to view comments that have already been made.

And, if this week’s Water Vision doesn’t float your boat (float your boat…get it?!) wait for our other releases: Energy, Great Cities, Sustainable Communities, Transportation and Agriculture/Natural Resources).

Oh yeah, about the input. We’re moderating it. So if you want to spew bile about race, the President’s birth certificate (Obama, not Kolb), or similarities between enviros and Nazis do it on one of the sites where they’ve already given up on civil discourse.

And, remember, by 2060, there will be no incivility. It’s gonna be great!


Monday, October 25, 2010

This just in! Feds award $150 million for high speed Detroit-Chicago passenger railroad link

Michigan has received $150 million in federal funds toward high speed passenger rail service between Detroit and Chicago. Read about it on the Michigan Environmental Council’s web site, which darn near broke the news in Michigan.

If we can get our legislators to cough up $30 million in matching money, we’re that much closer to a Detroit-Chicago express in less than four hours!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Terror in Michigan! Oak, um, the Mackinac Bridge....maybe. Wait, rattlesnakes! Yes, rattlesnakes spread fear and wait, not death. But fear, yes! Be very afraid!

Leslie Pluhar died when her tiny car careened off the Mackinac Bridge in 1989.

Michael Jeffery died last year when an oak tree inexplicably fell on him as he was riding his motorcycle near Niles.

Debbie Luna died last month when a vehicle crashed into a gas pump near Grayling, sending the pump flying into her.

None of the deaths resulted in headlines that read “Mackinac Bridge creates panic among drivers” or “Oak trees strike fear into Michiganders” or “Gas stations and death: The untold story.” Yet rattlesnakes bite four people in Michigan this summer and we get: ”Massasauga rattlesnakes strike fear in region.”

Sweet Jesus! Grab the shotgun and bar the door! The Detroit News headline writers have told us what we should fear, and by gum, we're not going outside.

Michigan’s rattlesnakes haven’t killed anyone in at least 40 years, maybe more. They’re shy and sluggish and the smallest and least venomous of any in the U.S.. When they bite in defense they often don’t even release venom. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment has a  nice primer on the massasauga noting that the few bites that do occur often are the result of people trying to catch or kill the snake. Those folks are are Michigan's budding Darwin awardees.

Bullshit headlines like the News', and stories that fail to address the relative risk of wild animals contribute to the impression that the outdoors is a sinister, dangerous place to be avoided. 

As Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods” points out, exaggerated fears of both nature and strangers are conspiring to keeping children indoors – contributing to shorter attention spans, stunted imaginations, obesity and numerous other problems that could be treated by the balm of, say, spending the day building a fort in the backyard bushes with your friends. If it wasn't for the fact that your child would be KILLED INSTANTLY by a rattlesnake or CARRIED OFF IN THE FANGS of a coyote.

“The biggest barrier between kids and the outdoors is the fear that parents feel about strangers and about nature. All you have to do is watch CNN or Fox and you’ll see how they take a handful of crimes against children every year and repeat them over and over again. News media and entertainment media have basically scared us to death, scared us right out of nature.”

As for the stranger danger, what’s with that nasty Nancy Grace woman whose CNN Headline News show always seems to be scrolling “BREAKING NEWS: LANDFILL SEARCH UNDERWAY FOR 4-YEAR OLD BEAUTY QUEEN PENELOPE McTAVISH, STOLEN FROM HER PRINCESS-THEMED BED IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT BY STRANGERS!!!!” Sorry, that woman bugs me.

By the way, the EPA ranks indoor air pollution among the top five public health risks. Rattlesnakes aren’t even on the list.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

World's climate change panel due for an overhaul in wake of scandals that unraveled the whole rotten, global conspiracy

Had another interesting email exchange with WJR radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh Lite, Frank Beckmann in which he maintained that my belief that manmade climate change is occurring is because I’ve been “…duped by people who have conned us out of billions of our hard earned dollars through grants and regulations.”

Anyway, Frank and other climate skeptics have seized on each anomaly, inconsistency and error in the IPCC’s climate change theory as proof positive of a global conspiracy. Of which, presumably, I am a part.
Anyway, it’s important to remember that the granddaddy of these issues was the East Anglia email revelations, and that the authors of the emails were exonerated of wrongdoing in four separate investigations.

Skeptics who joyously told us the East Anglia emails were the smoking guns that were going to unravel the whole climate plot are apoplectic that it didn’t turn out that way. No worries….just more proof of the conspiracy, right?

Nonetheless, an overhaul of the way the IPCC operates, as outlined by the journal Nature is probably a smart move. Done right, it will increase transparency and bolster public confidence that has been eroded by opinion leaders, like Beckmann, who have convinced us that thug climatologists are in cahoots with Pruis owners and weak-kneed liberals to take away our guns and sell our children. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, 2010 tied so far for the warmest on record. 

You won’t hear that on Beckmann. Or Limbaugh. Or Hannity. Or Beck. Or FOX. Unless you hear only this excerpt: “Cooler-than-average regions included much of Australia, western Canada, parts of the northern United States, parts of western and central Europe, and central Russia.” Smells like a smoking gun to me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Detroit News lets Frank Beckmann spew more unhinged nonsense; so is Stephen Hawking part of the climate change conspiracy?

Stephen Hawking enjoying the spoils of the climate conspiracy
Conservative radio talk show host and football announcer Frank Beckmann has penned another  wild, flailing assault on climate change science in today’s Detroit News. He’s strung together unrelated threads of  factually tortured conspiracy theory sandwiched around words like “bogus” “hoax” and “grant seeking environmental alarmists.”

Frank’s columns must be increasingly embarrassing for those at the News who still believe that even the most opinionated opinion columnists should be held to certain standards of intellectual honesty. But it may be par for the course for an editorial page that continues to promote as fact climate contentions that even the most celebrated climate change skeptic-climatologists have denounced.

It would take a huge word count to address each of Frank’s scattershot accusations and pseudo-facts that sail around untethered by accuracy or context. So I leave you with two links:

First, this link from NOAA where you can see lower on the page the “climate dashboard” that shows actual recorded observations for global temperatures, carbon dioxide, sun energy, Arctic sea ice and sea level.

Secondly, this video with Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan talking about the greenhouse effect.

Hawking says “…one of the most serious consequences of our actions is global warming brought about by rising levels of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels. The danger is that the temperature increase may become self-sustaining, if it hasn’t done so already.”

Hawking, of course, is a literal genius the world’s most celebrated cosmologist and physicist. But Beckmann might well categorize him as just another “environmental alarmist” who has “fouled the air with their fraud.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

We're Number 27! Report shows unsexy efficiency program is working for ratepayers

Michigan’s energy efficiency requirements, passed in 2008, require our state’s major utilities to enact programs that make homes, stores and factories more energy efficient. And it’s paying off.

A new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy shows
Michigan moved up seven spots to number 27 on a ranking of the most energy efficient states.

That’s money in our pockets. Money we’re not spending on electric and gas bills.

It’s not as sexy as wind turbines or solar panels, but it’s the only energy solution that actual saves ratepayers money – roughly $3 in savings for every $1 invested in the program. It also holds at bay the need to build more power generation infrastructure – coal or nuclear plants, wind farms, etc. that drive up our utility rates.
We're talking programs that help businesses and homeowners afford smart low-energy lighting systems, boilers and furnaces that use less fuel, weatherproof windows and insulation to keep the cold out (or the cold in, depending on the season), etc. etc.

And, yes, there’s a line item on our utility bills for “energy optimization” to pay for the program. Seventy-nine cents on my most recent bill. That rankles some jerkwater bubbas.

But if we weren’t paying for efficiency, we’d be paying three times as much for new power production necessary to provide the energy we’re saving through the program.

Here’s hoping the next Michigan will push for even stronger energy efficiency program requirements. It isn’t sexy, but from what I’ve seen neither are they.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Update: MEC, MLCV weigh in on Michigan's gubernatorial debate

Update: Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters  weigh in here on Michigan gubernatorial debate shortcomings.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

DEBATE FAIL!: Great Lakes? Energy? Transportation? Rebuilding cities? IGNORED.

Michigan is smack in the middle of the world’s most astounding water system – 18 percent of the world’s fresh surface water surrounds us. It provides 40 million people with drinking water; fuels our water-intensive industrial economy and fertilizes our farmers’ bounty. It is threatened by sewage overflows, deposition of hazardous chemicals, and by Asian carp and other invasives.

We are on the cutting edge of advanced automotive batteries, have a burgeoning clean energy technology industrial sector and a vital tourism economy (all are growing – the only economic sectors in Michigan to do so recently).

We have world-class sand dunes, vast forests, fertile farmland and fantastic hunting, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, boating, mushroom picking, frog-spearing, cricket listening and Petoskey-stone hunting. Stone skipping, too. We also have a few cool cities where smart young college graduates want to live work and play. But not nearly enough.

So how did an hour-long gubernatorial debate take place tonight without any…ANY…mention of the role Michigan’s natural resources play in our economy and quality of life?

Not. a. single. one. Not in their opening or closing comments. Not in the questions from the moderators. The Center for Michigan says you can find the replay right here starting Monday, if you have trouble getting to sleep.

Thumbs down to moderators Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press and Nolan Finley of the Detroit News for ignoring energy, transportation, vibrant cities, and the future of the Great Lakes in favor of queries like “would you forego your salary as governor?” (as if that would make a difference) or “are you tough enough” to play political hardball? (seriously Nolan, how could that question elicit anything other than a minute-long infomercial?)

And thumbs down to Virg Bernero and Rick Snyder for utterly failing to incorporate our state’s important natural assets into any of your answers.

Oh, wait. I rewound the DVR and did find that Bernero did mention “…the green automotive future, the green technology, wind turbines…” during a frenetic monologue about manufacturing. So…there you have it.

Should either candidate want to feign interest in Michigan’s water, land or air,here’s a start. Until then, the hell with it. If this is all you got, I’m leaving the governor’s ballot blank in November.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Rick Snyder's boilerplate agriculture plan virtually ignores pollution issues: Where is the insightful, original candidate we saw in the spring?

Michigan journalist/blogger Eric Baerren says in his recent column that Republican candidate for governor Rick Snyder’s plan for Michigan agriculture involves loosening regulatory reigns on corporate mega-farms.

Indeed, such farms bear no resemblance to the idyllic family farms that probably service your local farmer’s market. They unleash animal feces and urine in amounts equivalent to a medium sized city – with few of the environmental rules that govern the cities' waste. The result in Michigan too often has been horrific overflows of hormone-laced animal sewage that choke the life out of streams and ponds. Because these disasters often occur in sparsely populated rural areas, they don't get much attention.

The Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club has been at the forefront of tracking and detailing these disasters.

Sadly, Snyder’s recently released agriculture plan is filled with boilerplate Republican chatter about reducing red tape, streamlining regulation and how overly zealous inspectors have choked agricultural businesses in Michigan. Other than a couple vague throwaway lines about balancing environmental concerns with economic growth, it includes no acknowledgement of the tremendous challenges of containing and managing the vast amounts of dangerous waste produced by these animal factories.

Most disappointingly, the Snyder document contains none of the nuance and insight that Snyder demonstrated this spring during his excellent performance at an environmental forum for candidates.

I’m looking for reasons to vote for Rick Snyder in November …. I think he’s demonstrated a deeper understanding of the complex issues facing Michigan than has his opponent, Virg Bernero.

But if Snyder is going to abandon his keen insights in favor of letting his positions default into robotic and well-worn partisan grooves, then we’re back to business as usual.

And that would suck.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

MI Supreme Court to decide whether "any person" really means any person when it comes to law protecting Michigan's natural resources

There’s a law, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act,
(MEPA) which gives “any person” in Michigan the right to use the courts to protect “…the air, water and other natural resources … from pollution, impairment or destruction.”

If Acme Sand Mining is ripping up globally significant Lake Michigan sand dunes and regulators are doing nothing to stop them, I can file suit to stop it. If Acme then dumps its toxic waste in Lake Superior, I can sue. Even if I live nowhere near the affected dunes and own no Lake Superior frontage, the law presupposes, I have an abiding interest in their health and well being.

At least, that’s the way it is supposed to work. In recent years, conservative-activist Michigan courts have chipped away at MEPA. In several rulings, the law’s scope has been limited. Now, it seems, only persons directly impacted by environmental damage have the right to sue.

I’m not a lawyer. But I wonder what part of “any person” the judges who eroded our citizen rights didn’t understand?

A Michigan Supreme Court case heard Wednesday gives justices the opportunity to definitively decide whether citizens have the right to sue to protect the state’s natural resources.

My employer, the Michigan Environmental Council, filed a "friend of the court” legal brief arguing that the court declare the law means what it says.

Since it was written by a horde of lawyers, it might better for the rest of to read the fine analysis by Sandra Svoboda of Detroit’s Metro Times.

Finally, for those wanting more legal meat to chew on, the whole issue is analyzed here more precisely, and in a more lawyerly fashion by Noah Hall on his Great Lakes Law blog.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Asian Carp's buffet may be bare, thanks to another invader who's devouring the base of the food chain like an NFL lineman at Ponderosa

Ok, so,…the good news is that when the Asian Carp begin multiplying in Lake Michigan, it may not be the Armageddon we’re fearing. The bad news is that’s only because the invasive quagga mussels have already eaten up most of the base of the food chain, leaving slim pickin’s. “Beaten the carp to the buffet table” as one researcher put it.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that drastic changes in the Great Lakes’ food chain over the last few decades due to invasive species means “trends for the food web are murky.” That’s researcher-speak for “We have no goddamn idea what’s going on right now, much less 5, 10, or 20 years from now. We can count quagga mussels and quantify the 80 percent loss of the phytoplankton at the base of the food chain. But please, for the love of God don’t ask us to predict what’s next.”

It’s a crap shoot, this business of hauling in exotic creatures from foreign lands in the ballast water of international freighters and releasing them into the world’s greatest freshwater ecosystem. There are almost 200 invaders, according to the latest count.

It’s a giant, uncontrolled, uncontrollable biology experiment in which random creatures are thrown into the Great Lakes without the slightest clue to their impact. Then we stand back and see what happens next. And our best hope is that the result is just sucky, and not catastrophic.

We could ban oceangoing ships from the Great Lakes – which accounts for an estimated 75 percent of the invasive species arrivals. It would even create new jobs and stimulate economic activity. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, we’ll just stand back and see what happens. Not much of a management plan.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Michigan House of Representatives mulls moratorium for roadside Television on a Stick

OK, so maybe this billboard's not in Michigan. So what?

Legislation to put, effectively, a one-year moratorium on the construction of brightly lit digital billboards in Michigan has cleared a State House of Representatives committee, but is stalled on the House floor as supporters try to rally the 56 votes needed for passage.
In the meantime, the City of Walker – outside of Grand Rapids – has chosen a prudent course. They’ve put their own six month halt on the monstrosities to try and get out from under an avalanche of industry requests for digitals. Industry wants to get the requests in under the wire in case the legislation goes through.
More cities are banning or slowing the spread of the digital distractions.
If I had my way, we’d go the route of Maine, Hawaii and some other state I can’t remember that have banned billboards altogether.

That idea raises the hackles of lobbyists for out-of-state billboard companies who are crawling all over the State Capitol in Lansing as we speak to ensure Michigan’s legislation dies.

It also raises the hackles of well-meaning libertarians and right wingers and others who see a ban as an infringement on the rights of billboard companies and advertisers. I could make some very reasonable, well thought out arguments why our rights to see the landscape should trump their right to clutter it up. But I don’t feel like being reasonable.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Breaking Good News: Michigan House passes phosphorus fertilizer restrictions

The Michigan House of Representatives this morning passed a bill restricting phosphorus in lawn fertilizer. The legislation, if approved by the Senate and Gov. Granholm, would be a significant step in protecting our lakes and ponds from runaway algae growth and oxygen depletion.

Progress on the fertilizer legislation is encouraging. In terms of reducing nutrient pollution to our waters, it’s a much bigger deal than the ban on phosphorus in dishwasher detergent that took effect in Michigan this summer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Whacko environmentalists are a much easier target than genetics when it comes to blame for bedbugs

I bite. And I'm a powerful political tool!
Sending this off to one of my local papers today:

The Oakland Press’ Sept. 21 story ”Bedbugs’ Big Comeback”
did an admirable job of alerting the public.

Unfortunately, it repeated the discredited but potent falsehood that the ban on dangerously toxic chemical DDT is a reason for the comeback of the nasty little bugs.

DDT was wildly successful in eliminating bedbugs in the 1940s. A few – those genetically predisposed to be resistant to DDT’s poisoning – survived. They bred, producing even more resistant offspring. By the 1970s DDT was largely ineffective against bedbugs and remains so to this day.

(Sept. 8, 2010 issue) tests of pesticide effectiveness against bedbugs during the last two years at Cornell University ranked DDT dead last. “You almost have to spray directly on the bug to do anything to him,” it quoted a Virginia Tech entomologist as saying “Or hit him with the can.”

Why is this myth – that if only the environmental wackos had not banned DDT we’d be safe from bedbugs – persisted? It is the product of an ideologically-driven minority that seeks political and public policy victories regardless of the cost to public health, our natural resources or scientific honesty.

Fact checkers – both at newspapers and at their home computers – should not be giving legitimacy to utter falsehoods like this one.

Hugh McDiarmid Jr.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

U.S. House committee findings: Sixteen hundred miles away, Enbridge Energy technicians scratched their heads for 18 hours

Enbridge restarted the pipeline twice before finally shutting it.
There was a leak in the gas line to our clothes dryer last year. We called Consumers Energy Co.

Their truck was there within minutes. The guy’s Deteco-machine found gas in the house and within minutes another truck with two guys and a gal screeched up and began unloading gear like a Marine Corps assault team.

The dug holes, took out ceiling tiles and combed every nook and cranny in the place. At one point they were suggesting that a backhoe might be called shortly to claw around our foundation in a frenzied treasure hunt.

Thankfully, they found the problem and shut it off. Then they noticed our outdoor gas meter was outdated. In a few minutes they’d torn off the old one and installed a new one – a procedure that involved an awesomely deafening few seconds of high-pressure gas blasting out of the pipe as he swapped meters. Think jet engine. And no smoking. Then they were gone with dark warning of what might become of us if I turned that gas line back on before getting it repaired.

It was professional, efficient, and fast – and I remain impressed to this day with how seriously these folks took their jobs when safety was at issue.

How is it then, that when the alarms detected Enbridge Energy Co.’s oil leak in Marshall, that it took technicians monitoring the problem 1,600 miles away in Alberta, Canada 18 hours to shut valves? 
That and other vexing issues are raised in a U.S. House committee report reconstructing the timeline of the oil spill. The Free Press’ Todd Spangler wrote this excellent account.

Folks who want to keep abreast of the latest on the Enbridge Oil spill have numerous places to do so… reason why I haven’t written more about it, others are doing it much better than I could.

But this committee report needs noting. It paints a picture of a company inexcusably out of touch with the infrastructure of its pipeline system – 1,600 miles away – infrastructure critical to maintaining the safety of Michiganders.

By the time one 911 caller told an operator that “the entire downtown smells like gas” Enbridge was still pumping oil into the water and scratching their heads. Or some other part of their anatomy.

A libertarian-minded friend told me, he hopes the disaster will be a wake up call to other companies to make sure their safety protocols are as close to infallible as humanly possible.

I hope so too. But wouldn’t mind our regulators kicking the backsides of violators too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

This Mother of all Engineering Reversals might help out our Great Lakes

Chicago River dyed green for St. Paddy's Day
Once upon a time in Chicago, human waste was piped directly into the Chicago River, which sluggishly moved the shit out into Lake Michigan. There it sat, stinking and rotting in the harbor and wrecking the city and contaminating its drinking water supply and killing people with typhoid fever and cholera. That really sucked.

So around the turn of the last century those cunning Chicagoans devised a plan to save the harbor from human feces.

Ah…you’re probably thinking “stop spewing toilet water into the river, I mean, what the hell were we thinking in the first place?”  Wrong.

"Drink like raging alcoholics from morning 'till dusk and pour green dye in the river on St. Patrick's Day"? Wrong again.

No, those clever folks re-engineered the entire river system so that the Chicago River now flows OUT of Lake Michigan instead of IN to the lake. All the feces now floats away from the lake, and issues with stinking human sewage are someone else’s problem. Not Chicago’s.

Well, as you might expect, tinkering with Mother Nature leads to unintended consequences. Connecting the river to the Gulf of Mexico-bound Mississippi River has provided a superhighway for invasive species. Wetlands and other natural features have been altered in myriad ways. And of course the Great Lakes is now losing, rather than gaining, water from the Chicago River – a significant issue in an era where global warming and poor water use practices threaten to permanently lower lake levels.

So when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says he wants to restore the natural flow of the river it is a very interesting proposition. It would be a huge engineering feat, a great expense and would need to overcome numerous political hurdles over the next couple decades. But why not?


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back from the Upper Peninsua. Beats Toledo, suckers!

Back from vacation in Michigan's splendid Upper Peninsula! And we got the U.P. for Toledo?

Nice trade, Buckeyes!

(Photo: My in-laws' dock on a U.P.  lake with lots of fish that's for me to know about, but not you ;)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Governor wannabes get sized up, called to account on nonprofit environmental group's web tracker

Electing public servants who will fight for policies to protect our natural resources is perhaps the most important way we can help make Michigan cleaner, safer and better positioned for the future.

But picking the diamonds from a rough Election Day ballot clogged with stooges, robotic party hacks and self-aggrandizing narcissists takes some work.

So it’s nice that the Michigan League of Conservation Voters has made it easier to size up the candidates for governor this year with its candidate tracker website.

The group is keeping score. Monitoring promises made and positions staked out by both Democrat Virg Bernero and Republican Rick Snyder.

Comparison charts, recent statement by the candidates and other helpful information is available. After the election, the organization will hold the winner accountable to practice what they preached during the campaign.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Straits of Mackinac at risk? Enbridge wants to send divers down to shore up "unsupported" sections of underwater oil pipeline near Mackinac Bridge

So this is fascinating. Enbridge Energy, whose oil spill fouled the Kalamazoo River system, wants to drill ten or more “support structures” underneath the waters of the Straits of Mackinac to make its twin 20-inch oil pipelines there safer.

In this application to the state, they suggest that the “do nothing” option “presents a future risk to the pipeline.”
One wonders why this safety measure, to “minimize the distance between presently unsupported pipeline spans” wasn’t on the drawing board three months ago. Or three years ago. Or ten years ago. Or when the pipeline was built in the first place (which appears to be the 1950s.)

And one wonders how many other oil pipelines across the country may be in need of additional safety maintenance, but aren’t getting it because their owners aren’t as gun shy as the beleaguered crew at Enbridge.

Thursday update: Numerous media outlets have picked up this story, including this morning’s article in the Detroit Free Press this morning’s article in the Detroit Free Press. Enbridge says the work was planned prior to the Kalamazoo spill. And not to worry, everything is under control.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Save the planet! Ask for directions dudes!

Relax  Kate. I'm sure Sawyer knows exactly where you are
A British insurance company with a bizarre pink website has discovered an easy way for men to reduce pollution and save gas: Ask for directions, jerk!

The company commissioned a study
showing that men blunder around lost for 276 miles each year in part because they refuse to ask for directions. Women, by comparison, are quicker to seek help and drive only 256 miles lost each year.

In fact, 41 percent of men have pretended they know where they’re going when they’re lost; and 12 percent refuse to ask for directions at all. Almost half the men said even when they ask, they don’t trust the directions.

The company suggests that we can all save money and gas and the planet by planning our trips better and not being so arrogant and proud.

That’s probably good advice. But I feel unqualified to offer an opinion, having never experienced this particular problem.