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.