Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Complete Streets passes the Michigan House! (posted quickly for the 20-somethings who use the Series of Tubes!)

I was going to wait until tonight to post this, but then the office interns told me they read Mitten State. So, because 20-somethings who are savvy about the series of tubes http://bit.ly/a5ninQ expect their news instantaneously, here it is: (as an aside, the interns were discussing String Theory today. WTF? Shouldn't interns be discussing beer and sports?)

This afternoon, the Michigan House of Representative passed Complete Streets legislation: http://bit.ly/9NXWkI It requires road agencies to consider and plan for non-motorized transportation when building or reconstructing new roads. This is a big step toward creating the type of bike- and pedestrian friendly infrastructure that is such an integral part of thriving downtowns across the nation. And a step away from building roads that are impenetrable fortresses for people trying to get across city streets.

Kudos to the House of Reps. I will try and add the "yes" and "no" vote tally soon so you can see who the heroes and villians are.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's official: Asian Carp have breached the last lock

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Asian Carp: Welcome to the neighborhood: I know better than to ask you not to **ck things up. At the risk of sounding biased against certain species (is it because they look different from me?) I wish you would have stayed in a neighborhood that's "more appropriate" for your type. I'm not very happy about your appearance here. Nor am I happy with the folks who could have tried harder to keep you out, including President Obama.

Sincerely, Hugh

Where the !@#%! is Stevens Point, WI and how did we lose a water tasting contest to them?

It should have been some consolation that this year’s winner of the “Best of the Best” water tasting competition comes from our Great Lakes neighbor, Wisconsin: http://bit.ly/by9TA1  But then I learned that the winner, the city of Stevens Point, actually draws its water from the Mississippi River watershed and not from the Great Lakes basin.

Seriously? A bunch of Brett Farve worshipping cheeseheads are celebrating while Great Lakes water gets shut out again? (“We put up a banner on Highway 51, by the fire station…” said the town’s 32-year old mayor. How quaint. Hey, Stevens Point: Detroit elected a 30-something mayor too. You wanna know how that turned out?)

Stevens Point brags that its water is used to brew Point Beer (creative name) referred to by locals as Blue Bullets. Big freakin’ deal. We have (or used to have) Stroh’s beer, referred to by locals as “Stroh’s Beer”. And we have breweries in Bellaire, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Webberville and on and on. 

This should be a call to arms for Michiganders, whose lone entry in the water tasting contest, the city of Allegan, was dissed by some backwater town that draws its water from the aquifers of the Muddy Missippi River (pictured).  What’s worse, not one of  Michigan’s candidates for governor seem to have the guts to address this issue head-on, as we have seen nary a word about this on Twitter or Facebook. Even the right wing attack dogs have yet to blame the water tasting loss on Gov. Granholm, the mainstream media and climate scientists.

Allegan wasn’t the only town to get dissed. Stevens Point beat out New York City’s water from the Catskill Mountains, and water from Silverdale, Washington which uses water from an underground well so pure it pumps it directly to homes without treating it. Now that’s cool. But I’m still pissed.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Senate confirms Michigan environmental maverick (a real one, not the fake kind) Lana Pollack to International Joint Commission

The U.S. Senate today confirmed former Michigan Environmental Council President Lana Pollack to the International Joint Commission. Pollack, my boss for three years, is a great addition to the agency, which is designed to facilitate cooperation, resource protection, resolution of disputes and treaty enforcement over boundary waters and land borders between the two countries.

There will be no better advocate for the Great Lakes than Lana, a tireless, fierce, smart and forceful woman who has already ingrained a lasting legacy on environmental protection in Michigan. But, like many brilliant minds, she can never locate her keys or reading glasses. I hope they have someone at IJC to help her with that.

Lana will do what she thinks is right. Always. The last IJC commissioner from Michigan, Dennis Schornack, was fired when he did the right thing http://bit.ly/94t4S4 Schornack, a lifelong Republican from Williamston, was appointed by, then dumped by, the George W. Bush Administration after he ordered a couple in Washington State to remove a structure they had built illegally in a 10-foot-wide "clear boundary vista" maintained at the 5,000-mile-long border with Canada. Right wing groups took up the cause as a case of jackbooted government regulators run amok, and Bush officials ordered Schornack to back down. He didn't. So much for securing our borders.

Pollack also will sooner get fired then back down from doing the right thing -- both for border security and for the "resource protection" mandate in the IJC job description that is so vital to keeping our Great Lakes great. She is a former Michigan state senator and served as MEC president for 12 years through the end of 2008. Prior to her tenure at MEC, Pollack was elected three times to the Michigan Legislature, serving as a state senator from 1983–1994.

To learn more about the International Joint Commission, visit www.ijc.org.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Environmental protection takes 72 percent budget hit in eight years. Who's going to be blamed when we can't adequately respond to a BP-style crisis?

The chart accompanying this Detroit News story http://bit.ly/cY6FcL illustrates exactly how drastically we've cut funding for environmental protection in Michigan during the last decade. The budget for these agencies has declined from $153 million in 2002 to $42 million proposed for 2010. That's a 72 percent cut.

If your household income was $60,000 in 2002 and you received the same cut, you'd be making  just shy of $17, 000 today.
We'll hear a lot about low taxes and limited government this election season. But given the choice, do Michiganders really want to see even more cuts to programs like deer check stations?  Monitoring of pollution flowing into the Great Lakes? Forest fire fighting personnel? Keeping state campgrounds open? Cleaning up contaminated industrial sites?

And when some BP-style disaster strikes and Michigan's environmental agencies do not have the resources to respond adequately, who's going to be blamed? 


Life in the 48217: Not fair, and not justice in the state's most polluted ZIP code

“Environmental Justice” has always seems a poor piece of phraseology. The word “justice” makes me picture either courtroom drama or streets full of angry protesters.

What Environmental Justice http://bit.ly/957ALo means, simply, is that people should not have to live in places with disproportionately high levels of dangerous toxins because of their income level, their race, their neighborhood, or any other socio-economic factor.

That ideal is a long way from reality. Poor people get stuck with the shitty end of the pollution stick all the time. They’re the ones living next to the smokestacks and downstream from the toxic discharges. Many simply can’t afford to move elsewhere. And they lack the political clout (read: money) to change the status quo.

It’s especially unfair to kids. When you’re born into poverty, perhaps to a functionally illiterate parent in a decaying urban neighborhood, how much more of a kick in the teeth is it to have to deal with crippling asthma attacks from smokestack emissions or a nervous system gone haywire from lead? How many combative, violent 6 year olds are written off as bad apples when their issues were simply the neurological fallout of lead poisoning?

Anyway, this tremendous package of stories from the Detroit Free Press’ Tina Lam shows exactly how in the state’s most polluted ZIP code – The 48217 -- our least fortunate citizens get the shaft: http://bit.ly/aiUtMy It has a sidebar gadget that lets you enter your own ZIP code for a ranking, also.

But at least now we have a framework to begin addressing these issues. In 2007 Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed an executive directive that requires the state to begin considering Environmental Justice issues in its decisions: http://bit.ly/bH6ysT

There are concrete steps that can follow. At least 14 states limit how close schools and day care centers can be to sources of toxic discharges. Two states require that regulatory agencies take into account the cumulative impact of pollution sources when issuing permits.

There’s an old saying that a good judge of a society is how it treats its least fortunate citizens. We can do better by The 48217.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Toxic cocktail of sewage overflows among worst in Metro Detroit rivers in 25 years, says the Freep

This spring’s heavy rains resulted in some of the most voluminous dumping of raw and partially treated sewage into Southeast Michigan’s rivers in the past 25 years according to today’s Detroit Free Press: http://bit.ly/cRQVcm

Two local beaches had bacteria counts 1,000 times higher than levels considered safe. More than 10 Metro Detroit beaches were closed last week due to the pollution.

I know this is a bit repetitive with one of last week’s posts http://bit.ly/bLX2eu. But does talking about raw feces in our rivers ever get old? No, I didn’t think so!

We consider ourselves a pretty civilized society, here in the early 21st Century in the most powerful nation in the world. How bizarre that we’re still discharging huge quantities of what the Freep’s Steve Neavling calls  “…a toxic cocktail of rainwater, fertilizers, human and industrial waste, chemicals, parasites and other pollutants…” directly into our neighborhood creeks and rivers.

The Freep story is the first I’ve heard of State Rep. Sarah Roberts’ bill to “require health officials to notify the public immediately of overflows and contamination on a popular web site or other medium that is easily accessible.”  It sounds reasonable to me, as long as we remind ourselves that notifying people isn’t a substitute for fixing the problem.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Why are Michiganders still using ethylene polymerization to get our groceries to the car?

California is on the verge of banning single-use plastic bags: http://bit.ly/dtM2nz. Well, not really banning them. You can buy them at 5 cents/per … a cost that has dramatically reduced their use in cities that instituted such rules.

Californians apparently average about 552 bags per person per year. Pretty much to get groceries to the car, then to the kitchen. (And maybe to scoop up some dog crap later.)

The new rule means less waste in the landfill, small reduction in oil consumption (it takes oil to make plastic). And reduced cost for merchants. I like it. This is America after all. And shoppers will retain their freedom to wastefully consume natural resource and pollute with wanton abandon. They just have to pay for it. That’s the American way.

In Michigan, we’re not early adopters of good environmental ideas (we used to be). If we proposed such a bold step, the timid crew that rules our State Senate would scamper to their lobbyist friends chattering in fear. It would not see the light of day.

Yes, you can recycle bags in a lot of places these days. But as this sequence shows (click through the arrows) http://bit.ly/aqHjEg recycling saves only one step in the intensive chemical processes used to create plastic bags.

We’ll get a bag fee in Michigan someday, friends. Because it should not take a process called ethylene polymerization to get our groceries home.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer's coming, get ready for more fecal matter closing Great Lakes beaches (and why your great grandma is to blame)

A popular Lake Michigan beach in South Haven closed earlier this week after too much human sewage was routed into the lake by substandard sewer systems. Simply put, too much shit in the water: http://bit.ly/b63PlI

This problem is not unique. Lots of Michigan beaches are shut down each summer because of dangerously high counts of E. coli, the bacteria that is an indicator of fecal matter in the water. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tracks contamination data from public beaches. In 2008 it reported that 5 percent of beach water samples in Michigan exceeded minimum bacterial standards:  http://bit.ly/9dK2c0. That translates to hundreds of beach/days of closure each summer.

According to the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, there are six beach closures today alone: http://bit.ly/bM8g3L

The beaches exceeding standards by the greatest amount in 2008 according to the NRDC include: Crescent Sail Yacht Club in Wayne County (45%), Singing Bridge Beach in Arenac County (30%), St. Clair Shores Memorial Park Beach in Macomb County (26%), Pier Park in Wayne County (20%), Silver Creek Channel (20%), Lighthouse Beach At Silver Lake State Park in Oceana County (19%), and Caseville County Park (17%). You can track recent beach closures in Michigan here: http://www.deq.state.mi.us/beach/

And we’re only talking swimming beaches – not places like the Rouge River downstream from my house, where rafts of condoms and piles of feces quite literally float by in the wake of heavy rainstorms.

Human waste is by no means the only culprit. Animal and bird feces contribute to E. coli, and it may even be reproducing in beach sand … meaning that shifts in wave action could drag the stuff out into the water: http://bit.ly/c55cz2

But human feces is, undoubtedly a huge problem. It's a little unsettling to think you could be swimming in the very same unmentionables you thought you'd flushed away yesterday. Or, worse yet, your neighbor's unmentionables. All told, it's  a black eye for the Pure Michigan image of the Great Lakes State, and for those in the 772 cities that the EPA says still have combined sewer systems: http://bit.ly/btAJh0

Such “combined” sewer pipes carry both stormwater runoff and “sanitary” sewage from your toilet. (Shouldn't they call it, "unsanitary" sewage?) When it rains hard, the sudden influx of stormwater and overwhelms the treatment plant. Emergency discharge valves open up, allowing the nasty mix to spill directly into the Rouge River, or the Kalamazoo River, or the Grand River or whatever.

Today, all new sewer systems are separated. Stormwater goes into one pipe.  Toilet water goes into another one. But there are enough old combined lines around to create a problem for decades into the future. Separating them is incredibly expensive, and not always the most effective use of scarce dollars available to spend on water quality improvement.

It’s a sterling example of how shortsighted policies of the past were penny wise and pound foolish. Building a single sewer pipe and dumping everything into the river saved a lot of money for the taxpayers of 1900, or 1920, or 1940. But their great grandchildren are now paying the price – both in terms of expensive solutions and in diminished quality of life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What the oil disaster would look like in Michigan

Want to know how large the plume of oil spreading from the BP oil gusher is, in relation to.....say, the Great Lakes? Or the Lower Peninsula of Michigan?

These clever folks have taken the NOAA oil spill map (updated daily) and superimposed it over wherever you want. Just type in the city and click "move the spill." http://bit.ly/9fNDcM

Sunday, June 6, 2010

U.P. mining venture sparks civil disobedience arrests, comparisons to lax regulation of BP Oil

Near Big Bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a proposed nickel mine will inevitably pollute the headwaters of streams feeding Lake Superior. Sulfuric acid and heavy metals leaching into the water are the rule for such “sulfide” mines. This type of mining is relatively new in the Upper Peninsula. It is much different, and more environmentally risky, than the traditional copper and iron mining that is so closely identified with the U.P.

The Kennecott Minerals Co. plan has received most of its approvals, but faces multiple lawsuits and now, escalating civil disobedience from activists who are going to jail for refusing to leave the public lands that have been (illegally they believe) leased to Kennecott: http://bit.ly/d5zGxW

I defer here to Andy Buchsbaum, head of the National Wildlife Federation’s regional office in Ann Arbor, who notes the similarities between the proposed mine and the BP oil disaster.

“A company with a history of polluting that wants to take valuable resources from deep underground. An industrial extraction operation with high risks to hundreds of miles of coastline, spectacular waters, a vibrant fishery…. and human life. An agency that promotes the industry rather than regulating it. No contingency plan if (when) the operation goes wrong. Sound familiar?”

Andy, goes on to recount the approval process for the mine. It’s a tale … not unlike what we’re learning about BP … of regulators in bed with industry, believing they are working on behalf of the polluting industries rather than for the public. One hid a report that was critical of the mine’s safety precautions. Another left a key government post to work for the mining company.

Here’s Andy’s blog post, with plenty of links to good info about the situation: http://bit.ly/9kYims Here are some links to the groups fighting the mine: www.StandfortheLand.com and www.SavetheWildUP.org
And, for good measure, here is Kennecott’s site: http://www.eagle-project.com/


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Environmental heroes: Faye Nelson, Margaret Weber making Detroit a better place

Each year for the past dozen, the Michigan Environmental Council (my employer) has given out a pair of prestigious awards – one to leaders who have made exceptional contributions to Michigan’s natural resources and a second to grassroots activists whose selfless and often uncompensated work has made a difference.
The awards have gone to Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, academics, and crusaders and bona fide tree huggers.

This year, Detroit RiverFront Conservancy President Faye Alexander Nelson is slated to receive Michigan’s top environmental award, and Detroit recycling pioneer Margaret Weber has been named Michigan’s grassroots leader of the year: http://bit.ly/dvR00b

Faye (pictured at top) spearheads the Detroit RiverWalk project that has transformed the city’s riverfront from a frightening, blighted landscape to a beautiful magnet for social interaction. If you haven’t been there lately, you need to come down: http://www.detroitriverfront.org/

Margaret has spent decades bringing recycling options to Detroiters. She has been one of the key voices in, finally, establishing a pilot curbside recycling program in the city, which with persistence can be the first step toward closing the city’s polluting, expensive incinerator: http://bit.ly/94Qktg (A shout out to the Metro Times’ Curt Guyette here, whose reporting on the incinerator issue is second to none)

You can learn a little bit about them with the link to the press release above. But suffice it to say that Detroit is a better, cleaner, more attractive and more hopeful city today thanks to the hard work and vision of both these women.

They’ll be honored Wednesday, June 9 at a fundraiser/reception at the Omni Hotel on the Detroit RiverWalk.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In Michigan, we're not ashamed to say we're proud of our pinus strobus!

From my friend Marvin Roberson:

 “I thought it might be nice to honor our state tree on my license plate, so I applied for "Pinus", as in "Pinus Strobus", or White Pine. The Secretary of State rejected it on the grounds that it was "offensive". This despite that the word itself appears on the state website dozens of times (being the state tree). Glad our botanically challenged morality police are always vigilant!”

Marvin is a forest ecologist who works for the Sierra Club. As far as I know, he is not a pervert. But, the Michigan Secretary of State isn’t so sure about him. Thusly, I’m reconsidering my judgment of Marvin's character because I trust the instincts of government bureaucrats.

In a phone conversation earlier today, Marvin noted that the word pinus also appears on a plaque on the grounds of the State Capitol. And that is pronounced like this: “pie nus.” Not pronounced like….you know….like the Secretary of State pronounces it.

Anyway, the white pine (pinus strobus) is Michigan’s official state tree. Nearly every old growth white pine was cut down during Michigan’s lumber boom, and only a handful of remnant old growth stands remain. You can see one of them at Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling: http://bit.ly/93IVqd

That last paragraph? A transparent attempt to legitimize a post that is, at its heart, a celebration of sophomoric humor. Or, as Beavis would say……. “heh! heh!  he said ‘pinus’!”

UPDATE: The Free Press has given the pinus situation some exposure! http://bit.ly/aGZeCe