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What will 2017 Bring? Dramatic Change?

20 Dec 2016

edit_calendar_ssk_47433454In prior years, we knew that regulatory and environmental change was coming but we expected it to be slow and incremental.  With an unknown quantity like President Elect Trump, one thing is clear – no one really knows what may happen.  Here are a few possibilities:

1.  Coal/Cleaner Energy Generation – revitalizing the coal industry was part of Mr. Trump’s midwest stump speeches.  Will Mr. Trump be able to reverse Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan? What about the Paris Climate Accord?  Certainly, his team is looking at both of those right now. The dispute in Michigan v. EPA, decided in June 2015, continues to rage.  In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA didn’t properly justify its rule governing mercury and toxic pollution (MATS) from power plants because it did not specifically address costs at the initial stage of the rulemaking process. In April, the EPA announced it was standing by its MATS rule and concluded that the benefits far outweighed the costs.  Petitioners continue to litigate whether the EPA properly evaluated costs.  Here in Michigan, new legislation has been passed (and is awaiting the Governor’s signature) intended to encourage additional investment in energy generation and transmission while balancing consumer choice and a greater percentage of renewable energy generation.  Will it work? At a reasonable cost?

2. Power Generation Subsidies/Oil/Gas Generation – Mr. Trump’s attacks on “crony capitalism” would seem to mean that he will stop financial incentives for solar and wind generation.  Will he also attack oil and natural gas supports in the tax code?  Will he open up ANWAR to oil/gas exploration?  Will he scale back attempts to regulate fracking?  This will be difficult in light of the December EPA Report  which concluded that fracking posed problems such as:  fracking water withdrawals compete with other water needs; spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water may impair groundwater resources; injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells may allow gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources; discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and contamination of groundwater due to disposal or storage of fracturing wastewater.

3. Pipelines – will Mr. Trump reverse the Obama administration’s dim view of oil and gas pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines?  How will this affect Michigan where public awareness of two 60+ year-old pipelines under the Mackinac Straits has galvanized both sides of the political spectrum into action.  In 2014, Michigan convened a pipeline task force which issued a report in 2015.  In September, 2015, the State entered into a written agreement with Enbridge to prevent the transport of heavy crude oil through the Straits Pipelines.  The task force also recommended that the pipelines be independently evaluated and that additional financial assurance be provided.  The State solicited Requests for Information and Proposals (RFPs) and Enbridge agreed to pay $3.6 Million for the evaluation of the Straits Pipelines.  An independent evaluation of alternatives to the Line 5 pipelines is also underway.  When those will be completed is not known.

4. Infrastructure – Mr. Trump campaigned on infrastructure (although to hear him tell it, that only encompasses airport quality), and Governor Snyder appointed a 21st Century Infrastructure Task Force which concluded that the State needed to be investing $4 Billion more than it was in infrastructure to address roads, bridges, internet, water, sewer and other infrastructure needs.  Given the recent nationally publicized Flint Water debacle, will Michigan find the intestinal fortitude to fully invest in infrastructure or will we continue to patch and delay?  Given the State’s recent fight against a federal judge’s order to deliver clean water, and Michigan legislators “default anti-tax setting,” the future does not bode well.

5. Brownfields – as previously reported, Michigan adopted legislation streamlining its brownfield funding laws and deferred action on Dan Gilbert’s “transformational” brownfield funding legislation.  Will that resurface in early 2017?  I expect it will.

6. Other issues – there are a number of other issues on the horizon including cleanup standards, the maturing of the Great Lakes Water Authority and its ability to deliver clean water and septic services at a reasonable price, Michigan’s effort to reimagine its solid waste program, water withdrawals and protection of the Great Lakes from invasive species and nutrients leading to algal blooms.

Earth Day at 44…. still crying?

22 Apr 2014

Earth Day brings me right back here

Earth Day brings me right back here

Happy Earth Day 44.  We have come a long way from the challenges and problems that led to the first Earth Day –  a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California; the dead zone in Lake Eriesmog in Los Angeles and burning rivers in the Midwest.

The first Earth Day led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of environmental laws like the Clean AirClean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.  As the EPA and its state counterparts have continued to regulate, there has been a backlash of business and media outcry which certainly impacts the public’s views.

The challenges we face today are more complex and likely more daunting than those of 44 years ago.  We still have oil spills, but they are from rail cars, pipelines, larger ships and deeper wells.  Lake Erie and many other bodies of water are still challenged by more diffuse and “below the radar” sources of contamination.  While reducing the impacts of asbestos, lead and NOx from our daily lives, and healing the ozone hole, we now face questions regarding greenhouse gasses, smog impacts from and in China unlike anything LA ever faced, and the challenges and benefits posed by fracking.

Once the “low hanging fruit” of easy cleanups were “picked,” what we were left with was less shocking or engaging than dead fish and burning rivers.  Consequently, there’s much more debate about the best way to address them or whether they need to be addressed at all.  The issues are just as important – maybe more so, but it’s unlikely that our polarized nation would agree on what changes would be best, if any.

Lionfish – It’s what’s for dinner?

12 Nov 2013

It's what's for dinner?We here in Michigan have been concerned about the Asian Carp invading the Great Lakes, and rightfully given the recent reports that the Grass Carp (not the worst of the Asian Carp) is breeding in Lake Erie.

However, an even worse invasive species problem is reported to be growing (and growing fast) in the waters off Florida and Bermuda – the Lionfish.  The NOAA reports that there are large populations of lionfish detected in the Atlantic. These fish are native to the Indian Ocean and have no natural predators here.  They eat massive amounts of fish (who don’t recognize the lionfish as a predator), they multiply in large numbers (one female can lay up to 2 million eggs per year!), they tend to stay near the ocean floorand are hard to catch and they have poisonous spines to protect themselves. In short, it’s a perfect storm for an invasive species. One organization is predicting an enormous swath of the Gulf of Mexico and the shores of North and South America will be decimated by this fish.

While studies go on, there has been a concerted effort to catch and serve these fish for food in Florida restaurants.  If you’re looking for a recipe – you might want to try this site which promotes humanity’s role at the top of the food chain to combat invasive species.

This situation reflects how the Great Lakes are not alone in fighting invasive species which can impact both our ecology and our economy.


Next Week is Great Lakes Week – in Detroit

4 Oct 2011

Did you know that from October 11 – 14, there will be a series of meetings in Detroit to evaulate how to improve the quality of the Great Lakes?

The week’s activities will bring regional and national leaders together with representatives from the U.S. and Canada to highlight efforts to implement solutions for the lakes’ most pressing problems. Great Lakes Week also gathers the annual meetings and conferences of various organizations in one place, making it one of the most wide-ranging Great Lakes summits in history.

Something fishy?

25 Jul 2011

Fish seem to be the topic d’jour.  The Detroit Free Press has been running a series about the asian carp, which Kevin blogged about last May.  I watched a show about the possible extinction of bluefin tuna due to sushi demand.  Michigan Public Radio has been running a series about Great Lakes fish.  Earlier this month, Time magazine’s cover story was about aquaculture.  The story is interesting and I recommend reading it as it talks about the likelihood that fishing the oceans has hit its maximum and that the most sustainable way to meet the growing worldwide demand for fish is aquaculture.  Aquaculture, as the article points out, has its challenges but may be the most cost-effective and least environmentally harmful method to raise animal protein.  One particularly interesting point is that there are some fish that are easy to raise largely on plant-based food.

I find it interesting that here in the Great Lakes, we seem to have figured out how not to overfish. In 1955, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission was established by the Canadian/U.S. Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries. The Commission coordinates fisheries research, controls  invasive species and facilitates cooperative fishery management among the state, provincial, tribal, and federal management agencies.

The interagency management of fishery resources in the Great Lakes was formalized in the 1980s when A Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries was ratified.  The Joint Plan implemented a framework for cooperative fishery management. The Joint Plan also recognized that the fish community in each lake must be managed as a whole and some supression of the expression of individual rights was
necessary for the common good. Each Great Lake has a committee tasked with defining objectives for the structure and function of the Lake’s fish community and identifying environmental and other issues that may impair the achievement of the objectives.

The rest of the World could take a lesson from the Great Lakes States, Provinces and Tribes – they’ve figured out a way to allow sport fishing, native fishing and some commercial fishing in a truly sustainable way (now if we could just get rid of those pesky asian carp!).

Separate the basins! Save the Great Lakes?

5 Jul 2011

Asian Carp and every March 17th - green dye

Tourists to Chicago are likely to hear how some 100 years ago, the State of Illinois, as an engineering marvel of the age, reversed the flow of the Chicago River (which used to flow into Lake Michigan) so that now it flows away from Lake Michigan and into Mississippi River basin (the reason for this had to do with sewage flowing into the City’s drinking water supply).  

Reportedly, every day, 2 billion gallons of water flows away from Lake Michigan which 100 years ago would flow INTO the Lake (the third largest body of fresh water in the world).  

With the latest invasive species threat, Asian carp, something Kevin blogged about recently,  a number of groups have proposed separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi basins.  But that effort picked up some serious scientific credibility and traction with the latest report from a group of scientists in a well respected journal, the Journal of Great Lakes Research.  The report, whose abstract I have read, takes on four common arguments against separating the River from the Lake: 

1. An existing electric barrier bars the carp.  The authors cite dozens of positive DNA samples taken from waters upstream of the canal as solid evidence that “the electric barriers have not been fully effective on Asian carp.”

2. Asian carp are already  in the Great Lakes so there’s nothing to be done.  The paper claims there is no compelling evidence that, despite DNA samples showing a barrier system breach, the fish have begun reproducing.

3. Even if Asian carp get into the Great Lakes, they won’t be able to thrive.  The authors argue there are places in the lakes, particularly warm, algae-rich areas including Saginaw Bay and the west end of Lake Erie, where the fish will find enough food to thrive.

4.  Even if the fish do get established, they won’t do the harm some have claimed.  The paper argues that the carp could negatively impact what’s left of the lake’s native fish species in a variety of ways.

The Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t plan to finish its ongoing study until 2015 at the earliest.  However, these scientists say more study isn’t needed (and when do scientists ever say that?) and they support proposed legislation to force the Corps to speed up the study.  In that way, everyone will know the costs and the risks and can evaluate the best way to proceed.  Certainly, the shipping industry will not like this but Michigan and just about every Great Lakes jurisdiction (except of course, Illinois) is very concerned about the decimation of the local fishing industry by this invasive species.  For once, the Courts have been unhelpful and the focus now falls on Congress.

Attack of the Asian Carp – Literally – and with Video.

19 May 2011

Will the Asian carp scare turn out to be another Y2K, Mad Cow Disease or Bird/Swine Flu?  Do you know that President Obama named a so-called “Asian carp Czar”?  After watching the videos below (and there are tons of others like it on YouTube), you may start to understand why it is a serious issue. In addition to their negative ecological impact, Silver carp (a variety of Asian carp) are startled by boat motors causing them to jump up to 10 feet out of the water. According to the EPA, “reported injuries include cuts from fins, black eyes, broken bones, back injuries, and concussions.”

The invasive species (originally from Asia – obviously) are eating machines and quickly grow to between 3-4 feet long and up to 100 pounds. Aside from the fact that one of these hundred pounders could unexpectedly jump into your boat, many experts believe that the fish will seriously disrupt the Great Lakes ecosystem.  These carp feed on vegetation like locusts — potentially starving out trout and other native fish vital to Michigan’s fishing industry. The species have spread through much of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and some have reached waters not far from Lake Michigan in the Chicago area.

My In-laws have a house on Mullett Lake and we go up a couple times every summer. Since I particularly enjoy taking out their Jet Ski on the lake, I decided to Googled “Asian Carp Jet Ski” — and found this article. According to the article, a man riding his Jet Ski in the Illinois River “ran into the large, leaping fish that knocked him from the Jet Ski.”  I was hoping that a personal water craft would not scare the carp like a boat motor, but if the preventive efforts fail to keep them out of the Great Lakes, it appears that I’m going to have to deal with flying fish (Mullett is connected to Lake Huron via the Inland Waterway). Then again, it could be worse, at least I don’t water-ski anymore.