The weekend’s just about here! Before you hit the soccer fields or tackle that yard work, here’s a quick look at some of the stories we’ve been following this week.
Fracking. The Department of Environmental Quality took a step forward with new proposed rules for fracking operations, but MEC and other environmental groups said they don’t go far enough to protect Michigan’s water resources and public health. For instance, the rules require drillers to disclose what chemicals they inject into the ground, but not until they’ve already done the drilling. “Some residents want to be proactive about testing their drinking wells,” MEC Policy Director James Clift told the Detroit Free Press, “but without knowing which chemicals they are going to be using, it’s a little trickier.” We’d also like to see a greater focus on ensuring that water withdrawals for fracking don’t harm Michigan’s world-class trout streams.
Straits pipeline. Speaking of protecting our water resources, we were glad to see more state officials join the discussion about how to protect the Great Lakes from the looming threat of an oil spill. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and DEQ Director Dan Wyant sent a letter to Enbridge, the company that owns a pair of 61-year-old pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac, asking for information about the pipelines and what the company is doing to prevent a spill. According to John Flesher’s Associated Press story, “‘Because of where they are, any failure will have exceptional, indeed catastrophic effects,’ their letter said. ‘And because the magnitude of the resulting harm is so great, there is no margin for error. It is imperative we pursue a proactive, comprehensive approach to ensure this risk is minimized, and work together to prevent tragedy before it strikes.’”
Toxic byproducts. It was also an interesting week in the Legislature. The House this week took up a package of bills that—as we wrote here recently—would allow contractors to use coal ash and other hazardous materials as construction fill or as a bed for roads and driveways without getting permission from the property owner. Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson noted that the bills have so far moved quietly through the House. “That’s unfortunate given the legislation’s potential impact on the land and ground water all Michigan residents share,” Dickerson wrote. “The coming election season would be an ideal time to ask your own representative or senator whose interests they’ll be looking out as the hazardous waste bills make their way toward Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.” Indeed.
Transportation funding. Much more attention has been focused on some other House legislation: A package of bills aimed at fixing Michigan’s crumbling roads. The funding proposal is a step toward improving our roads, but as MLive notes—and as we wrote last week—none of the money would go to public transportation. “With vehicle miles traveled down for the ninth straight year, public transit is increasing its importance in the Michigan transportation system,” MEC President Chris Kolb said in testimony before the House Transportation Committee. “It’s more than just a network of roads and bridges. We need to fund the whole system, not just a part of it.” Some 97 million passengers used public transportation in Michigan in 2012. Yet—as our Transportation for Michigan friends point out—the last time lawmakers gave public transit funding a boost, the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” ruled the airwaves and the Soviet Union was still a thing.
Air pollution. There was also important news at the federal level this week when the Supreme Court said the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to enforce its cross-state pollution rule. That means the agency can use the Clean Air Act to regulate air pollution from coal-fired power plants and other facilities that is carried on the wind across state lines. The Court’s decision will influence how Michigan’s utilities make decisions about their aging coal plants, and could help speed the state’s transition to clean energy. (Meanwhile, legal scholars and schadenfreude enthusiasts noted a “cringeworthy blunder” Justice Antonin Scalia made in his opinion on the case.)
Eureka! Finally, archaeology buffs—and pretty much everyone who likes things that are cool—had their minds blown this week by a discovery beneath Lake Huron. University of Michigan researchers found the remnants of ice-age hunting structures 120 feet beneath the lake’s surface. The blinds and other stone features were built some 9,000 years ago by prehistoric hunters to corral caribou as they migrated across what was then a land bridge. The structures were kept relatively pristine by the lake’s calm waters, and “probably would’ve been bulldozed away for a Walmart parking lot by now” if they were on land, an archaeologist told USA Today. Yet another reason to love the Great Lakes.
Paleo-Indian photo courtesy Michigan DNR.