From the Headlines

September 11, 2020

image of algae covering the waters surface

September 11, 2020

Getting the lead out: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) nearly $1.9 million in funds to test drinking water for lead in schools and childcare centers across the state. EGLE and the Department of Health and Human services say they will target areas where children have high blood lead levels and where schools are unable to pay for testing. In 2018, Detroit shut off the drinking water for a number of schools on account of high levels of lead and copper. The following year, “hydration stations” were installed with purified water. (WLUC, Free Press, Chalkbeat Detroit)

Keeping the heat on: The Michigan Energy Assistance Program–one of several state programs that help residents with utilities–is set to have its cap lowered at the end of the month. It had previously been raised from $2,000 to $3,000 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the State Emergency Relief Program and Home Heating Program are also available to assist residents and may be critical for many during the colder months. DTE Energy suspended an earlier shutoff moratorium for seniors and low-income residents on July 29, but said that it’s offering a on- time balance reduction for those not qualifying for debt forgiveness, along with payment plans and energy efficiency programs. DTE can be reached at 800-477-4747. Consumers Energy has not shut off any customers since March 16, but said they will resume doing so. They can be reached at 800-477-5050 for payment options. BridgeDetroit lists the relevant agencies that need to be contacted here. (BridgeDetroit)

One more thing: A small-ish detail about whether or not Enbridge Energy has permission to move the new Line 5 pipeline inside a portion of the underground tunnel–which the state legislature previously approved–has emerged as a focal point in efforts by tribal governments and others to block the project. Pipeline opponents are looking to get the Michigan Public Service Commission to include broader concerns about energy and climate change in their investigation of the issue. “What we’re really discussing is allowing this pipeline to continue to exist for the next century,” said Whitney Gravelle, a lawyer for the Bay Mills Indian Community. Lawyers for Enbridge argue that climate concerns are “irrelevant” to the relocation request. How the commissioners handle tribal sovereignty and rights to self-determination in their analysis may be critical. Meanwhile, an Ingham county judge lifted the partial shutdown on Line 5 Wednesday, allowing it to resume full operations. (Bridge)

Buried problems: EGLE has agreed on a settlement with a subsidiary of Valero Energy Corp. that will provide $35.2 million for cleaning up 79 gas stations across the lower peninsula that have leaking underground gas tanks. Of the 23,633 leaking tanks in the state, the EPA said that 8,185 of them still need to be cleaned up. (MLive)

Clean your boat: European frogbit–an aquatic plant with small leaves and white flowers–has been in Michigan since at least 1996, but the invasive species appears to be moving across the state, inhibiting the movement of ducks and fish while also causing problems for boaters. This summer, the plant showed up in several lakes in Washtenaw, Ingham and Jackson counties. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) believes that it’s being spread by boats. The agency is reminding boaters to follow the state’s “clean, drain, dry” rules, removing vegetation from boats and trailers and draining bilge tanks before taking boats out. (MLive)

Nature is crowded: Bike stores are selling out, state parks are packed, and people are buying RVs. These are just some of the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped life for Michiganders, keeping them closer to home and drawing them to places like Tahquamenon Falls and Belle Isle, which has had to block of its entrance to vehicle traffic for periods of time nearly every Saturday and Sunday this summer. With all this activity, there have been perhaps inevitable complaints about visitor behavior in parks and incidences of tourists spreading the coronavirus in northern Michigan. On the plus side, this summer travel has helped the DNR parks division make up for lost revenues from the closures at many sites this spring. (Lansing State Journal

Make them Great-er: Our friends across the river at the Windsor Star have a piece arguing that the pandemic is a good time to invest in Great Lakes infrastructure, funding cleanup projects like the one taking place on the American side of the Detroit River as a way to stimulate the economy and hopefully emerge from this crisis with a cleaner environment and more publicly accessible open space. The Detroit RiverWalk serves as an example of the kind of development that can come from these types of projects, which the author said triggered $1 billion in public and private investment. “Public space investment is a very efficient way of changing the quality of life for the broadest segment of the community,” Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy said. (Windsor Star)
Yes, it’s climate change: The horrific images of wildfires in California are showing us that climate change is no longer a question of ‘what ifs’, but a very painful realization of what is. A piece in the New York Times lays out the connections between the historic fires that have burned over 2.5 million acres this year and a warming world. “Warmer temperatures dry the fuels, and all you need from there is a spark,” Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said. (NY Times)

Brian Allnutt is a writer living in Detroit. He covers open space, environmental justice, food and gardening.