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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.

Conservation, the Circle of Life and my Backyard

6 Dec 2013

This week’s Time Magazine had an interesting article regarding the “rebound” of animal populations, positing that increased hunting was necessary to prevent disease, starvation and problems between man and beast.

Clear cutting and development between 1850 and 1950 dramatically reduced animal populations.  More pro-conservation practices since 1950 have helped to foster a dramatic restoration of animal species, only now they’re living in our backyards – in some cases, literally (I took the photo of this deer in my backyard, this week – there were actually two, I just wasn’t fast enough to get them both in the photo).  Wetland and woodland preservation, inclusion of natural areas in development, poor garbage control and use of fruit trees (we have a cherry tree and crabapple trees) have fostered a symbiotic relationship leading to a suburban wildlife population.  This summer, we saw a redtailed hawk catch a squirrel and land right in front of our neighbor’s house.  These sightings and the problems that come with them were unknown in the inner-ring suburbs of the 1960’s.

While I won’t repeat all the statistics here, a Penn State Study noted that in 1900, the entire US whitetail deer population was estimated at 500,000.  It is now over 15 million!

According to the MDNR, in 1914, it was estimated that there were only 45,000 deer in Michigan and so regulations were changed to allow hunting of only antlered deer.  As a result, the deer herd began to rebound.

The State’s deer herd peaked at about 1.5 million deer in the late 1940s.  The State developed a Deer Range Improvement Program (DRIP) and a goal of 1 million deer. A combination of factors resulted in the population shooting past that goal to 2 million deer in 1989.

Crop damage, herd distress and deer-vehicle accidents increased (a point of the Time article) and the State has worked toward a population of roughly 1.3 million deer in the fall herd. As anyone who has lived in Michigan for some time knows, there is a significant culture of hunting that helps to maintain the deer population size. The Time article notes that other states across the country are starting to get the idea to allow hunts for bears and other animals whose populations have begun to explode to levels unseen in the last 100 years and are living in closer proximity to humans than ever before.

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.


The Center of the Blue Economy

8 Nov 2013


Astronaut Karen Nyberg tweeted this photo of Michigan and the Great Lakes from aboard the International Space Station on Oct. 13. (Courtesy Photo | Karen L. Nyberg)

The Governor’s office recently requested a White Paper relating to the so-called “blue economy.”  We here in Michigan have always known about our Great Lakes (and yes, I know they don’t belong to Michigan but they define us – if you don’t believe me – see the photo).

The White Paper was released this week and it notes what most of us would think of as the big four uses of water here in Michigan:

  • farming;
  • factories (energy);
  • shipping; and
  • leisure use.

The White Paper recognizes these (noting that water is responsible for nearly a million jobs and $60 billion in the Michigan economy) and also discusses water technology businesses, water research, modeling sustainable water uses and making water a long-term platform for sustainable growth.  The thought that Michigan with its abundance of riches (20% of the world’s fresh water!) is pursuing businesses and policies that will be based on the scarcity of clean fresh water is impressive as it normally seems that places without much water focus on shepherding it.  The focus on innovation, research, manufacturing and entrepreneurship is refreshing (perhaps a tad late, as other states and Canada are also focusing on this).

Also interesting to me is the White Paper’s silence on hydro-power or wind-power driven by the lakes (although that may be the focus of another of the Governor’s initiatives – a point I will discuss in a later blog post).

There is a delicate balance between the various uses of the Great Lakes and concerns regarding lake levels and invasive species that often pits farms and factories against shippers and against leisure users of the lakes.  I commend the Governor on beginning the process and trying to focus businesses and researchers on something that we here in Michigan often take for granted because of the abundance of riches we have.

Save the Bees

2 May 2013

Since 2006, discussions and speculations about honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder have been rampant. Reportedly, the disorder has wiped out roughly half of the commercial hives used to pollinate farmer fields.  This is an environmental problem with huge commercial ramifications.  There are many species of fruits and nuts that cannot easily reproduce without the honeybee.  Speculation as to what is causing the disorder has included high fructose corn syrup fed to bees, newer pesticides, and other causes.

On Thursday, the USDA and EPA released a report summarizing the “state of the art” knowledge of the situation and ultimately concludes that this disorder results from a confluence of causes.  Key findings include:

  • A parasitic Varroa mite is a major factor – while beekeepers treat for this, there are resistant mites;
  • Genetic diversity and variation is needed to improve bee thermoregulation and disease and mite resistance;
  • Nutritional opportunities need to be improved – like anyone else, weaker bees are more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites;
  • The report recommends improving forage and a variety of plants to support colony health – even to the point of encouraging innovative land management techniques to maximize available nutritional forage to promote and enhance bee health;
  • Most interestingly, the report recognizes Best Management Practices for bees and pesticide use exist, but notes that they are not widely or systematically followed – this needs to be improved;
  • The report concludes that additional research is needed to determine risks from pesticides.

Hopefully, this is a solid step toward minimizing this disorder.  One thing the report says we can do is plant a variety of flowers to give the surviving bees a healthy environment to feed.

Ballast Rule Changes Make for Strange Bedfellows

19 Sep 2012

Last Thursday the Michigan Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes met to discuss, among other things, Senate Bill 1212.  The bill would amend Part 31 (Water Resources Protection) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to require the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to issue a permit to oceangoing vessels engaging in port operations in Michigan if the vessel flushed its ballast tanks completely while at sea.

Ballast water is water carried by a cargo ship in its hulls when empty to keep the vessel balanced.  A large ship can carry millions of gallons of ballast water.  As a ship takes on cargo, the ballast water, which was taken in wherever the ship last unloaded its cargo, is discharged.  According to the National Wildlife Federation, ballast water from ships is the primary channel for unintentionally introducing invasive aquatic organisms into U.S. waters and most of the 185 invasive species found in the Great Lakes were introduced through ballast water discharge.

Michigan’s current law has been in effect since 2005 and is one of the most stringent ballast laws in the country.  The law requires all oceangoing vessels engaging in port operations in Michigan to obtain a permit from the DEQ.  The Department must issue a permit if the applicant can demonstrate that the vessel will not discharge aquatic nuisance species; or, if the vessel discharges ballast water or other waste, that the operator will use environmentally sound technology and methods, as determined by the DEQ, to prevent the discharge of aquatic nuisance species.

The bill proposes to identify one specific treatment method – deep water exchange – that could satisfy the permit requirements.  In essence, the DEQ would be required to issue a permit if the applicant could demonstrate that the vessel conducted a complete flushing of all ballast tanks with sea water at a location at least 200 nautical miles from shore at a depth of more than 2,000 meters, or another location approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

At the meeting last Thursday, representatives from the DEQ, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and the National Wildlife Federation testified against the bill.  Their main argument is that weaker ballast rules would invite more invasive species into the Great Lakes, thereby further jeopardizing the Great Lakes and its related fishing and tourism industries.  Representatives from the Detroit Regional Chamber, Nicholson Terminal & Dock Company and the International Association of Machinists testified in support of the bill, arguing that Michigan is driving away potential business because ships choose to go to ports in states with looser ballast laws.

For a copy of the bill visit here.

To view the Detroit Free Press guest commentary article on Senate Bill 1212 written by Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality visit here.