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New legislation seeks to ban microbeads

26 Feb 2014

Courtesy of 5 Gyres

Courtesy of 5 Gyres

In this Michigan Green Law post from December and this post from last July, Arthur mentioned how plastic bits were being found in the Great Lakes and that “microbeads” found in toothpastes and various body washes may be the prime culprit.  Well last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Assemblyman Robert Sweeny introduced the Microbead Free Waters Act, which bans the tiny plastic beads used in facial scrubs, shampoos, body washes and toothpaste.  The legislation comes after high concentrations of small plastic microbeads were found in the Great Lakes last year.

5 Gyres, an organization aimed at reducing plastics pollution (and mentioned in Arthur’s July post), was heavily involved in preparing the legislation.  If the legislation becomes law, it will make New York the first to ban the sale of microplastics in personal care products.  It will be interesting to see if and when other states around the Great Lakes follow suit.

Click here for more on 5 Gyres and the proposed legislation.

LIFX smart bulbs now available

14 Oct 2013


Image: LIFX.Kickstarter

Just over a year ago, I blogged about the LIFX smart bulb, a Kickstarter funded project.  At that time, the project had just been fully funded (in record time) and production on the first batch of bulbs was about to begin.

As you may remember, LIFX is an energy efficient, multi-color LED bulb that can be controlled by a smartphone.   LIFX can also be turned on and off from an existing light switch – just like a regular light bulb – so you won’t be left in the dark (or light) if you lose your smartphone. 

The first batch of bulbs produced went to those who funded the Kickstarter project and the second batch already sold out.  No need to worry, however, as you can pre-order bulbs from the third batch which is expected to ship (and have limited retail availability) in the first quarter of 2014.  The ultimate price?  $89 plus shipping for an individual bulb ($85 each if you purchase 4 or more). 

It is unfortunate that the third batch won’t be ready in time for the holiday season as LIFX would certainly make for an interesting gift.

Another attempt to expand Michigan’s bottle bill

23 Jul 2013

   I admit that I have always been proud of Michigan’s Beverage Container Deposit Law (the “bottle bill”).  When I lived in North Carolina, every time I saw a discarded soda or beer can on the side of the road I would cringe and think about how that wouldn’t happen in Michigan.  Over the years, however, it has been disappointing that the bottle bill hasn’t been expanded to include beverage containers that have become increasingly popular over the last 20 years (e.g., water, juice, sports drink and energy drink containers). 

Michigan’s bottle bill currently covers carbonated and alcoholic beverages that come in any airtight metal, glass, paper, or plastic container (or a combination) under 1 gallon.  In 1988, the law was amended to include wine coolers and canned cocktails, and in 2012, it was amended to specifically exempt frozen pouch drinks. 

The stated purpose of Michigan’s bottle bill is to reduce roadside litter, clean up the environment, and conserve energy and natural resources.    Given this purpose and the fact that beverage containers may negatively impact the Great Lakes, it is unfortunate that every effort to expand the bottle bill (such as this one) to include non-carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage containers has failed.  I was therefore happy to hear that, once again, legislation to expand the bottle bill had been introduced in the Michigan Senate.  The proposed amendment would expand the 10 cent deposit and return on bottles to include noncarbonated water and nonalcoholic carbonated or noncarbonated drinks (with a specific exception for unflavored rice milk, unflavored soymilk, milk and other dairy derived products).

For an interesting weighing of the pros and cons of bottle deposit programs see this extensive analysis conducted for Maryland by the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, in partnership with the Center for Integrative Environmental Research and ECONorthwest.  The report ultimately concludes that if Maryland chose to move in the direction of a deposit program, it should establish the most effective deposit rate (10 cents per container) and that it should cover as may different container types as possible.    

Governor Snyder signs legislation amending Michigan’s wetlands protection law

17 Jul 2013

Ealier this month, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law Senate Bill 163 which, in part, makes changes to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA).  The law amends Parts 13 (Permits), 301 (Inland Lakes and Streams), 303 (Wetlands Protection), and 325 (Great Lakes Submerged Lands) of the NREPA.  The changes, which stem mainly from a 2008 audit by the EPA that cited numerous inconsistencies between Michigan law and federal law, include:

  • revisions to the standards used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to deny a permit – with an extension to any review upholding the Department’s decision;
  • revisions to a number of exceptions to the requirement for a permit under the parts pertaining to wetlands protection and inland lakes and streams, and revisions to the exemptions from regulation for wetlands protection;
  • the elimination of the October 1, 2015 sunset on provisions regarding wetlands protection preapplication meetings;
  • the addition of a rebuttable presumption with regard to feasible and prudent alternatives to developing wetlands not owned by the applicant, and prescription of the conditions that could be considered in determining alternatives;
  • the prescription of factors the MDEQ would have to consider in imposing wetland mitigation requirements; and
  • revisions in the areas of wetland mitigation banking and blueberry farming and production.

The new law also states that Michigan’s delegated responsibility to regulate waters only applies to “Waters of the United States” and “Navigable Waters” under federal law, court decision, or promulgated rule, and that determining whether additional regulation is necessary to protect Michigan waters beyond the scope of federal law is the responsibility of the Michigan legislature. 

Wetlands play a critical role in the management of Michigan’s water based resources and acre for acre, wetlands produce more wildlife and plants than any other Michigan habitat type.  Proponents of the new law say that it will simplify the permitting process to make it easier for developers and landowners to comply.  Critics believe that it will weaken the protections previously afforded under the law.  Let’s hope for our sake and Michigan’s, the critics are wrong.


AG Opinion Impacts Potential Dredging

13 May 2013

In February, we mentioned that, in an effort to combat the low water levels in Michigan’s smaller harbors, the Michigan House of Representatives had introduced a bill that would amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to include “the dredging of Great Lakes Harbors for use by recreational watercraft” as part of “developing public recreation facilities,” thereby allowing money from the State Natural Resources Trust Fund (the “Trust Fund”) to be diverted to harbor maintenance. 

Unfortunately, it looks like that legislation is dead in the water as Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette, recently released an opinion (Opinion No. 7270) that the Trust Fund cannot be used for the maintenance of existing public recreation facilities, such as maintenance dredging of existing harbors.  His conclusion is based on the fact that the Trust Fund was established through an amendment to the Michigan Constitution approved by citizens, and therefore the Legislature cannot substantively change the meaning or scope of the constitutional language adopted by the people.  Because the relevant constitutional language uses the term “development” and there is an absence of any reference to “maintenance”, it was determined that the plain language of the Const 1963, art 9, §35, does not authorize the use of Trust Fund money for the maintenance of existing recreational facilities, including maintenance dredging of Great Lakes harbors for use by recreational watercraft.

The opinion also addressed whether funds from the Waterways Account of the Michigan Conservation and Recreation Legacy Fund could be used for the operating and maintenance of public recreation facilities, including the dredging of existing harbors. The conclusion?  The funds can be used for such a cause but such expenditures must be directed to public, rather than private, recreation facilities and the primary purpose of the dredging must be to enhance access for recreational watercraft.  

The impact of these decisions may be lessened if the weather continues to cooperate.  While the levels of lakes Michigan and Huron are still 22 inches below their long-term average and 6 inches lower than last year, recent precipitation caused both lakes to rise 9 inches during April – a well above average rise for this time of year.

Final proposal from Detroit Water Department Rejected

22 Apr 2013

A couple weeks ago, the state of Michigan approved Flint’s plan to join Genesee and neighboring counties in the Karegnondi Water Authority project.  That approval, however, was subject to a final offer from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).  The final offer was delivered last week, but it appears that the proposal did not go far enough to lower costs in the Flint area and so Flint plans to join the pipeline project.  This means that Flint will ultimately separate from Detroit’s water system; an action that DWSD officials say will cause the department to lose about $22 million immediately and result in higher rates to residents throughout the region.  According to Genesee County officials, the rising costs and decreased reliability of Detroit’s system promoted the pipeline proposal.   

Once the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline is complete, Flint will get 16 million gallons of water per day from Lake Huron and 2 million from the Flint River.  The water will be treated in Flint at existing plants (after modifications are made) and then sold to city customers. 

For more on the DWSD’s take, here is their press release from earlier this month.

Closed Loop Turns Waste Gas Into Energy

4 Apr 2013

Recently, Arthur discussed how a Coca-Cola machine plant is using methane (landfill gas), piped into the plant to generate almost 100% of its electricity and steam needs.  The Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA), a regional wastewater treatment agency in California is also using methane to provide electricity for its Ontario wastewater treatment plant, but in this case, the IEUA is using an on-site fuel cell plant to turn its self-produced methane into electricity.  Fuel cells are devices that convert fuel into electricity through a clean electro-chemical process rather than dirty combustion.

As you may expect, the plant produces a lot of waste solids.  Some of that waste is consumed by an anaerobic digester on site at the plant,  but the bacteria in the digester produces another kind of waste – methane (which, as Arthur pointed out in his post,  is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2).  So IEUA installed a fuel cell power plant that uses the methane to make electricity – enough to meet 60% of the plant’s electricity needs.  The byproducts?  Water and heat, and the heat is fed back into the digester to keep the sewage eating bacteria nice and warm – a win-win situation.

Fuel cells have been around for a long time and many companies have been, and still are, trying to make them a viable solution to our everyday energy and environmental needs.  Fuel cells can provide cheap, reliable energy with reduced emissions and fuel cell plants are smaller than other alternative energy technologies such as wind farms and solar panels. 

This 60 minutes piece, which aired in 2010, featured a story on Bloom Energy and shows that fuel cell technology is not without its cautiously optimistic skeptics.  Bloom produces power generators using its patented solid oxide fuel cell technology and  boasts a customer list that includes Walmart, ebay, Google, Staples, Owens Corning and AT&T. 

IEUA received its fuel cell power plant from Canada’s Anaergia Inc., using fuel cells supplied by Fuel Cell Energy Corp. of Connecticut.  Anaergia Inc. provided the plant to IEUA for free and will get its money back over time by selling the electricity the power plant generates to the IEUA.