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Michigan finally bans open garbage burning. Some of it, anyway….sort of

This week Michigan became one of the last Great Lakes state to outlaw burning trash in outdoor burn barrels.

But, not really.

The legislation signed into law allows open burning, but prohibits the most toxic items. Stuff like foam, plastic, rubber, chemicals, electronics, etc.

That’s better than nothing. And the evidence that open burning is a huge health hazard is unequivocal.

But we’re disappointed the ban didn’t include all household wastes. And, that it included language forbidding the state from outlawing the burning of any materials not on the legislation’s list.

With more than half the state’s residents living in places that exceed allowable levels of particulate matter, there’s no need to add to the harm. It’s 2012, and we have better systems in place to recycling, reuse, and more safely dispose of our garbage.


Tuesday Linkaround: Leelanau tops healthy list and U.P. mining gets national exposure

Or maybe it's Leelanau's grapes?

Michigan’s Leelanau County is at the top of the list of the state’s healthiest counties,  according to a recent study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Parts of Southeast Michigan, the Grand Traverse area and West Michigan seemed to house most of the healthiest counties; check out where your county landed in the study. Do you think Leelanau’s ranking had anything to do with its utterly refreshingly lack of fast food restaurants?

Farther North yet, the Christian Science Monitor has surveyed the imminent mining boom in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with this reporting. The otherwise even-handed piece fails to note that the current type of mining is much different and riskier than the mining of the U.P.’s past. So-called sulfide mining is a explained here.

Moving into urban issues, the historic River Rouge coal plant was the largest of its kind on earth when it opened in 1956. Mother Jones has a terrific photographic essay on the aging plant’s visual legacy. Scroll down the photos far enough to see the Sierra Club’s indefatiguable Rhonda Anderson, along with a good analysis of how her organization (an MEC member and ally) is working not just to replace the behemoth with cleaner energy, but help the community better absorb the loss of jobs the plant’s closure will create.

One of the state’s most invisible environmental challenges are the thousands of leaking underground petroleum tanks across the state. These sites threaten drinking water, surface water, soils and in some cases public health. Here’s the first in a Bridge Magazine series done by Michigan journalist and author Jeff Alexander. He explains how if the state does not act decisively, the problem will only get more costly.

Hey, there’s good news too: The Federal Government and five states, including Michigan, have come to an agreement to expedite the process of building off-shore wind farms around the Great Lakes region.

Finally, under the heading clean technology, some crazy Belgian is trying make pigeons poop soap, to help clean the cities they now soil. MEC has no position on soap-pooping pigeons.

— Marco Salomone contributed to this post

Friday Linkaround!

Make fun of biofuels, will ya'?

A few links of interest and mirth for our weekend sendoff.

Retired military brass stormed Michigan Tuesday, telling state policy makers that climate change is the biggest threat to U.S. security.  It must be tough for the “it’s impossible, can’t be done” crowd, since it’s hard to pigeonhole these warriors as sissy tree huggers. So the “antis” stuck to scoffing at President Obama’s reference to algae as a promising biofuel. Ooops, again, the warriors are convinced about the value of biofuels. The Blue Angels have already used a 50/50 biofuel mix, and a number of jet models have been certified to use the renewable blend including the iconic A-10 “warthog” tank buster.

Kudos to General Motors, by the way, for pulling their funding from the Heartland Institute and its deceptive efforts to muddy the truth about climate.

Also of national energy interest, an Associated Press analysis published last week showed zero correlation between domestic oil production and gas prices. More drilling here and drilling now, it seems, makes imperceptible ripples in the ocean that is the international oil market. Designing strategies to use less may be our best option. Hey, didn’t the military brass just tell us that?

Closer to home, did you know that an Eaton Rapids company can machine wind turbine hubs eight times faster than any factory in China? Cool. Keeping that momentum going is the goal of the 25×25 renewable energy campaign that you’ll vote on in November if all goes smoothly.

Up in Port Huron, the Times Herald nailed it with their editorial on the proposed yard waste ban reversal. It would “help landfills and kick compost businesses to the curb” the Times-Herald concluded.  Amen.

Down in Berkley, high school students ate bugs to raise money for MEC member group, the SE Michigan Land Conservancy.  We’ll stick with policy work.

And across the state, morel mushrooms are making an early appearance due to the bizarre warm weather. Of course,  weather is not climate, which you’d know if you paid attention to last week’s excellent analysis by MEC’s Brad Garmon.

Have a fun and safe weekend….we’ll talk next week.



Climate change? Or hot weather?

I’m a scientist by training. I know the difference between climate and weather. So the fact that it’s supposed to hit 87 degrees today, March 21, in Lansing, Michigan, and that my neighbors are mowing their grass, that the trees in my yard are sprouting fresh new buds, and friends have been slapping mosquitoes? That’s weather.

Weather is what’s happening now; climate is the larger trend that shapes the weather. So this freakishly strange heat wave? That’s weather.

But it’s weather weird enough to make even professionals flounder for words. As my local weatherman Jake Dunne told his Facebook followers: “Once again I am at a loss for words after making the forecast. . . . Folks, we are in the midst of a HISTORICAL run of weather… an event that will put March of 2012 in the record books, not to mention a month that will be talked about for decades.”

And as my colleague Hugh McDiarmid said the other day: Summer temps in March were fun for a while. Now it’s just getting plain creepy.”

Pam Matson, Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, Stanford University and Chair, National Resource Council Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change, was in town last week, reiterating again that the science on climate change is in: It’s real. It’s largely human-created. She’s got a short video summarizing the latest.

She’ll be the first to admit that we don’t know exactly what all it means, or how some systems like the permafrost in the boreal forest or the ice sheets will respond. But most of the scenarios  don’t seem as much fun as a backyard barbecue in March in Michigan.

The National Weather Service recently reported that 2011 was the 35th consecutive year with global average temperatures above 20th Century averages. Now, that’s climate.

Lest you think this is just a bunch of environmentalists trying to take the fun out of a 87-degree second day of spring, take a look at how other folks are responding. Like the Arbor Day Foundation. Or the Red Cross. Or the  military. Or the insurance industry – whose job is assessing risk. Even local farmers. I heard last week that some Michigan carrot growers selling to Gerber baby food in West Michigan are buying land farther north to move their crops and keep up with the shifting climate zones.

Is this streak of record-breaking temperatures across the continental United States directly attributable to global climate change? Not definitively.

But to paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, if you’re seeing the weather pattern I am and not pondering the larger trends of climate change, then you’re not paying attention. Or possibly you’re watching this lunatic’s YouTube video. If you want to read what real climate scientists are saying, check out the Michigan Climate Coalition.

So yes, pull out the grill and enjoy an early spring. That’s weather. I’m going to enjoy it.

But don’t ignore that creepy feeling in the back of your mind either. Embrace science. Don’t be afraid to start thinking about how a spring like this twice or three times (or more) a decade will feel. Or what it will mean for ecosystems, communities and economies. Or our Great Lakes.

Start reading up on this stuff; it’s going to happen more often in the decades to come, whether we like it or not.

Brad Garmon is director of conservation and emerging issues at the Michigan Environmental Council.


Yard waste bill: Guaranteed bankruptcy


Update: The House just voted 66-41 to bankrupt the state’s composting business. We will move to the Senate to try and save this industry. — MEC

Yesterday we told you about the calamitous  legislation being pushed in the Michigan House of Representatives that would decimate Michigan’s composting industry. The bills would send yard waste into to landfills rather than to dozens of Michigan composting companies that are turning it into valuable, locally-made products.

Lobbyists for the dump industry — er, landfill industry — are at it again today.

We talked to Tom Turner this morning. He has five composting facilities across the state. “Guaranteed bankruptcy” is his assessment on the legislation. A real two-fer for legislators — legislation that kills jobs and hurts the environment.

Here’s our latest take. Now would be a good time to call your legislators!


Wolves in sheep’s clothes

Beware wolves in sheep’s clothing. Or in this case the waste industry trying to cloak itself in green rhetoric.

The issue is legislation that recently passed out of the House Energy and Technology Committee to overturn the 17-year-old ban on yard waste going into landfills. It is on the floor of the House this week. It is a terrible idea on so many different levels that it’s hard to know where to start.

Let’s try:

  • It would result in significant and immediate layoffs of workers in the composting industry and the commercial businesses that sell compost products. Family business will go bankrupt. People would lose jobs almost immediately.
  • It would eliminate a significant source of nutrient rich compost that is rebuilding Michigan’s gardens, lawns and farms. Compost has micro- and macro-nutrients that commercial fertilizers lack.
  • It would fill Michigan’s landfills more quickly, and require more of them.
  • It will increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Details of the Michigan Environmental Council’s opposition are outlined in this letter to House members.

The powerful waste industry is touting the bills as a way to increase ‘renewable’ landfill gases that can generate electricity. But the gain – 30 mw of additional generation – is a pittance compared to the devastation the measure would wreak on family businesses across the state.

This is an issue where economic and environmental interests dovetail. The highest and best use of compost is not dumping it in a landfill. It is reclaiming the nutrients for use in farm field, vegetable gardens and landscaping.

Your state representative should be hearing from someone other than the waste industry lobbyists lurking in the shadows of the Capitol in dark trench coats (OK, we take poetic license!). Please call your rep today and let them know you oppose HB 4265 and HB 4266.

The yard waste ban is working, both for Michigan jobs and our natural resources. Let’s keep the momentum going.



TGIF Linkaround!

Gotta make the boss happy so let’s start with this replay of MEC President Chris Kolb on last week’s Focus on the Environment show on Eastern Michigan University’s WEMU radio. Kolb, with co-host Lisa Wozniak of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, talked about Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget, the Kalamazoo River oil spill cleanup and other issues.

Next let’s visit our neighbors down south…you know, the ones we grudgingly sharedone-third of our Big Ten men’s basketball championship with this year.

Don't try this at home

They’re wrestling overhow much unregulated water users should be able to siphon from Lake Erie and its tributaries. We defer to our friends at the Ohio Environmental Council who say the proposal is getting better, but isn’t good enough. Oh, and see you in the Big Dance, Buckeyes!

Down in Brooklyn, MI, home of Pumpkin Quest (!), people turned out for a discussion on the rewards and risks of a new and more intensive wave of fracking in Michigan. MEC’s James Clift was a panelist, though he didn’t make this radio station’s audio clip report that included State Rep. Mike Shirkey, who organized the forum.

Up north, MEC ally and member group Michigan Land Use Institute has this excellent story on Consumers Energy’s solar lottery. Twice as many people applied for the program as there were slots. We think we should let more people participate, and the 25×25 ballot issue will be the way to do it. Or, we could just throw our burgeoning renewable energy industry under the bus like State Rep. Ray Franz would do.

In weather news …… WHASSSUP Springtime??!! MEC has two beekeepers in the office, and their girls were happy with the mild winter. But the loss of ice cover on the Great Lakes – 79 percent over 38 years – is no small matter. Also, we may see more nasty insects this summer as a result. Hey, maybe Grist is right and a climate change conspiracy theorists make no %$#!!& sense.

Finally, in the “we can’t make this stuff up” category, here are two things MEC is not staking out a position on:  This lunatic with a wood stove heater in his Volvo, and these people who are fertilizing soybeans with urine.

Have a good weekend, and don’t forget to spring ahead!



Do Good, Have Fun!

Why is Michigan girl Allie Muchmore building a career here rather than in Chicago, Portland or Washington, D.C.? Our state’s tremendous natural resources, vibrant cities and sense of place have a lot to do with it. (photo courtesy Rod Sanford/Lansing State Journal)

 I’m a Michigan girl and I’m planning to keep it that way.

I could choose to move somewhere else. Lots of my friends have headed to Chicago, Washington, D.C. or other out-of-state destinations. I chose to stay, live and work in Michigan after graduating from college. Michigan has always had my heart, and now it has my dedication.


Have you seen one of those incredible sunsets over Lake Michigan you know you’ll never forget? Or dipped your toes into freezing Lake Superior or raced down the side of a sand dune so fast you didn’t think you’d ever stop? Tasted a perfectly ripe Michigan peach or a Michigan microbrew beer? Remember the perfect summer night by a bonfire where you laughed till you cried with friends and saw more shooting stars than you thought possible?

These are the experiences we Michiganders have in common—a sense of adventure, discovery and love for the outdoors. Read more

Linkaround: Lou Dobbs exposes us!

A compendium of the curious and interesting for a Friday afternoon:

Let’s get the serious stuff out of the way. First, a reminder that tree hugging and methamphetamine use don’t mix. Secondly, The Michigan Environmental Council has zero tolerance for turncoats who leak internal Lorax Strategy documents to Lou Dobbs so he can expose our secrets. Someone will pay.

If Dobbs’ revelation destroys environmental nonprofits, perhaps we can work for industry….for example, the Sierra Club is pitching this awesome job available by the oxymoronic Clean Coal Coalition! Or there’s the American Enterprise Institute, where they’re fond of pretty much just making stuff up.

Closer to home, we enjoyed this piece by Erin McDonough of MUCC on why legislators should keep their mitts off the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Did you know McDonough grew up on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. And that it once was ruled by a self-proclaimed king?

For more on really bad ideas, we turn to Rep. Ray Franz who wants to repeal Michigan’s renewable energy standard according to subscription-only MIRS news service report.

Let’s see here. Renewable energy is cheaper than new coal; creates jobs at more than 200 Michigan companies; reduces the billions we spend annually on out-of-state fuels; lessens pollution and improves public health; and is diversifying our state’s manufacturing base. So, yeah, let’s jettison it. Rep. Franz, you’ll recall, also wants to ban all research on offshore wind in the Great Lakes. Fortunately, Michigan’s renewable energy industry has matured to the point where it now has a fledgling trade group to stick up for it.

Finally, here’s some video of Lake Superior surfers during the Leap Day blizzard!

Have a great weekend!


‘All of the above’

It is trendy these days to champion every imaginable energy resource under (and including) the sun. Who hasn’t heard a politician, pundit, so-called energy expert or even President Obama declare support for using all options at our disposal to solve the nation’s energy problems?

This frustrates me. The trouble, of course, is that money is limited.  Money you spend to build a new baseload power plant (with a life of more than 40 years) is not available to upgrade the grid or fund energy efficiency.  At the end of the day we need to decide:  how much money should we allocate to generating energy, upgrading the grid, and to energy efficiency?

Read more