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.