Local/Michigan Headlines: New Contract for GRPS Superintendent; Michigan’s Coal “Needs”

Here’s some articles published elsewhere in the past twenty-four hours or so that really shouldn’t be missed:

  • Increase in syphilis cases worries local health departments – There has been a rise in cases of syphilis in several counties–including Kent–in Michigan. County health departments and other organizations are responding with increased educational efforts aimed at increasing knowledge of the disease.
  • State champions green industry with new report, conference – The State of Michigan has staked much of its economic future on the promise and potential of “green jobs.” It recently held a conference and issued a report on how the sector is growing. According to the report, green sector jobs grew by 7.7% from 2005 to 2008.
  • Michigan Does Not Need — Nor Should It Have — New Generation from Coal – This piece by local activist Shirley Kallio offers a good critique of claims that Michigan needs more coal-fueled power plants to meet the state’s energy. Kallio looks at claims that energy demand is growing, that coal is the cheapest energy source, and that coal is the most reliable source of energy and critiques those assertions.
  • Media Bites: Sprite – The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) provides an analysis of a recent Sprite commercial, looking at both how the product is marketed and Coca-Cola’s efforts to privatize water.
  • Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s pact extended three years by Grand Rapids school board – The GRPS board extended Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s contract by three years even as teachers in the district continue to work without a contract.
  • Detroit People’s Task Force battles false crime lab evidence – “Thirty-five Michigan prisoners and their loved ones are leading a battle against convictions based on deliberately falsified or invalid, unscientific, crime lab evidence.”
  • Doctors: Medicaid cuts will hurt patients – The Lansing State Journal reports that cuts to Medicaid will hurt patients. One in six Michiganders rely on the program and the state has received more money to fund the program through the federal stimulus package, but the money generally isn’t making it back to doctors. Not surprisingly, doctors are upset–but I read this article as all the more reason for a universal healthcare system.

If we missed anything, please let us know in the comments.

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Elevated Cancer Risk for those in Michigan Living near Unlined Coal Ash Dumps

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A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice finds that Michigan residents living near unlined coal ash dumps have a 1-in-50 chance of getting cancer from their drinking water.

Unlined ash dumps can be found in Ingham, Marquette, Monroe, and Ottawa counties. Of the seven sites in Michigan, only three have groundwater monitoring. The plants are operated by major energy producers in Michigan, including Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison.

The problem can be traced to the United States reliance on coal-fired power plants. Each year, such plants dispose of nearly 100 million tons of toxic ash in more than 200 landfills and wet ponds. The practice gained national attention in December of 2008 when one such disposal site burst in Kingston, Tennessee. Coal ash can be responsible for pollutants including arsenic, lead, selenium, boron, cadmium, and cobalt.

The analysis is based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data collected by the government. Under the Bush administration, the data was largely kept from public release as the administration dragged its feet. The report cautions that the actual number of polluted sites may be significantly greater than what the EPA is reporting.

Midland Coal Plant Stopped

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Over the past two years, we’ve reported on plans to build several new coal-fired power plants in Michigan. However, these plans have been the target of strong opposition from grassroots activists across the state.

We’re happy to hear that one of the plants–proposed for Midland, Michigan–will no longer be built. Mid-Michigan Energy, a subsidiary of LS Power, halted plans to pursue the plant citing regulatory and economic uncertainty. In recent months, the EPA has indicated that it will likely begin to regulate carbon emissions, while Governor Jennifer Granholm has ordered all companies planning to build coal-fired power plants to head back to the drawing boards to see if alternative power sources could meet the state’s needs.

Activists with the Midland group Midland Cares welcomed the news and said that it is an opportunity to pursue alternative energy sources. In response to the news, the statewide coalition Clean Energy Now said that it was due to the work of grassroots activists who educated, organized, and applied pressure on government leaders and Mid-Michigan Energy that the coal plant was not built.

Earlier this year, another planned coal plant in Marquette, Michigan was rejected by the EPA.

Michigan Utilities Seeking to Increase Electric Rates

Michigan’s two largest utility companies–Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison–are hoping for double-digit increases in electrical rates. The utilities are hoping for rate increases through a new state law that allows for rate increases to be automatically implemented if the Public Service Commission–a state regulatory agency–doesn’t rule on the requests within six months. Both utilities put in rate increase requests late last year.

Under the increase, average utility bills would rise significantly. For Consumers Energy, the average bill would go from $89 per month to $99. For Detroit Edison customers, the average bill would increase from $63 to $70.

Three organizations–the Michigan League for Human Services, the Michigan Catholic Conference, and the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan–are urging the Public Service Commission to block the requests. The organizations say that the proposed increases would hurt the poor and vulnerable in Michigan who are already struggling due to the state’s high unemployment rate. Moreover, the organizations point out that the increases are not tied to plans to build new power plants or expand renewable energy.

Last year, the Michigan Public Service Commission approved rate increases that were less than a third of what the two utilities were seeking. Rates are also gradually going up for Michigan residents as a decades long policy of subsidizing residential rates is being phased out.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Head: We may Never Need New Coal and Nuclear Plants

Renewable Wind Energy

Earlier this week, three former Michigan governors used Earth Day as an occasion to call for more nuclear power plants to be built in Michigan. The three–two Republicans and one Democrat–argued that nuclear power would help meet the state’s energy needs and offer a clean alternative to coal power plants.

However, in an article published this week in The New York Times, Jon Wellinghoff–who serves as Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission–said that there may be no need to build either new nuclear or coal power plants to meet the country’s energy needs:

No new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said today.

“We may not need any, ever,” Jon Wellinghoff told reporters at a U.S. Energy Association forum.

Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.

Of renewable energy, Wellinghoff said:

There’s enough renewable energy to meet energy demand, Wellinghoff said. “There’s 500 to 700 gigawatts of developable wind throughout the Midwest, all the way to Texas. There’s probably another 200 to 300 gigawatts in Montana and Wyoming that can go West.”

He also cited tremendous solar power in the Southwest and hydrokinetic and biomass energy, and said the United States can reduce energy usage by 50 percent. “You combine all those things together … I think we have great resources in this country, and we just need to start using them,” he said.

Problems with unsteady power generation from wind will be overcome, he said.

It’s nice to see someone both questioning the need for new power plants and praising the benefits of renewable energy. Hopefully, Wellinghoff is able to sway those in President Barack Obama’s administration who have been previously unwilling to rule out nuclear power.

In Honor of Earth Day, Former Michigan Governors Advocate More Nuclear Power

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Three former Michigan governors–Republicans John Engler and William Milliken along with Democrat James Blanchard–are commemorating Earth Day by calling for more nuclear power in Michigan.

The three write in the Detroit Free Press that:

As former governors, we support expanding Michigan’s nuclear energy capacity. Carbon-free nuclear energy has long been a workhorse for the state’s energy needs, powering one out of every four homes and businesses. Because nuclear energy produces virtually no air pollutants, it accounts for more than 87% of all carbon-free electricity generated in the state each year.

Aside from singing the praises of nuclear energy as “clean” energy, the three further argue–citing a nuclear industry front group–that building nuclear reactors in Michigan would help create jobs:

It takes as many as 2,400 skilled tradesmen to build each new reactor, and once built, they employ 400 to 700 workers at salaries few can match, according to the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.

Predictably, the three ignore questions over the immense cost of new nuclear plants, as well as debate over just how much electricity Michigan actually needs. They assert that Michigan’s “energy demand is surging,” but others said that such projections are based on flawed numbers and that energy demand will likely decrease.

Moreover, the international environmental group Greenpeace–who has campaigned against nuclear energy for years–has just released a report titled “Nuclear Power: A Dangerous Waste of Time” that highlights the risks associated with nuclear power. It points to the unsolved problem of radioactive waste; the risk of catastrophic accidents; and the dangers posed to global security.

In its report, Greenpeace argues that nuclear accidents and “near misses” are frequent occurrences and that there is no such thing as “permanent” ways to dispose of nuclear waste. Moreover, it criticizes plans to “reprocess” spent fuel as creating more waste and increasing health problems.

With the environmental and health impacts of nuclear power–including the possibility of increased cancer rates in Michigan’s Monroe County–do we really “need” nuclear power?

Michigan Coal Waste a Problem; Will be Exacerbated by New Coal Plants

Coal Waste Spill

Coal power plants–which are somewhat notorious for their carbon emissions and pollution of air and waterways–also produce millions of tons of waste annually. This waste is contaminated with toxic metals and is dumped into landfills, storage ponds, or old ponds, where it sits waiting for disaster to strike. This is exactly what happened last year when a waste pond operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority spilled over a billion gallons of toxic sludge across the surrounding community.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, existing coal plants produced 126 million tons of contaminated waste in 2005. Power companies want to open an additional 70 coal-fired plants–including several in Michigan–which would generate 15 million tons of coal waste.

While the Obama administration has said that it intends to regulate coal waste, it’s still a major problem as no regulations currently exist despite very real environmental and health concerns. According to the EPA, certain types of coal ash disposal sites pose a cancer risk nearly 1,000 times the acceptable level.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently conducted a study looking at coal waste and found that Michigan is one of the “Filthy 15” states (it ranks 12th) in which proposed plants would produce large amounts of toxic metals. The proposed plants would generate 686,879 tons of contaminated coal waste annually, including 634 tons of toxic metals.

When it comes to existing plants and coal waste, Michigan doesn’t rank much better. In 2005, it reported 2,129,700 tons of contaminated coal waste. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that there were 2,524 tons of toxic metals contaminating its coal waste.

West Michigan’s Ottawa County is home to one of the plants with the highest amount of toxic metals.

For those wishing to take action on the issue, the Natural Resources Defense Council has an e-mail action to demand that the EPA strictly regulate coal waste disposal. It would also be worth getting involved in current organizing in Michigan against the proposed coal plants.

False Solutions to Climate Change: From “Cap and Trade” to Plastic Coating the Desert

False Solutions to Climate Change

Over the past few years, “global warming” and “climate change” have become buzzwords in mainstream political discussion. Everywhere we turn, politicians, corporations, and even some environmental groups are offering “solutions” to these very serious problems.

However, in many cases, the solutions are false ones. Many of them require no fundamental change in our lifestyles and no real sacrifice, instead allowing those of us to who live in the global north to county our living our lives as we always have through an economic model that promotes inequality and the destruction of the natural earth. We’re told not to worry and that new technology will save us. As such, these new technologies dominate the policy debate.

To counter this, Rising Tide North America–a direct action group working on climate change and climate justice-has released a new pamphlet titled “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change” that provides a critical and highly readable look at the “false solutions” that the group says are “merely dangerous detours on the road to a just, livable planet, distracting us from the root causes of the crisis.”

An Array of False Solutions

In the pamphlet, Rising Tide North America critiques a number of “false solutions” including “clean coal,” carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, and biofuels. Along with these sections, it also criticizes a number of other technological solutions that have been proposed in recent years ranging from plastic coating deserts to genetically engineering trees.

A particularly useful section in light of the current global warming debate is its examination of so-called “cap and trade” systems. Under these systems:

“governments create a market commodity out of carbon pollution by issuing a finite amount of tradable pollution permits each year. As the theory goes, the amount of permits issued would decrease year to year and carbon emissions would be reduced. Because the permits are tradable, and emissions cuts are easier and cheaper for some businesses to make than others, the ‘invisible hand’ of the market will cut overall lowest possible cost to the economy.”

However, Rising Tide argues that this approach has not worked in Europe, calling the “European Emissions Trading Scheme” an “unmitigated failure, beset by fraud and market manipulation.” They point out that companies have over-estimated their emissions, received permits for free, and raised prices-all leading to windfall profits while doing little to address carbon emissions.

A worldwide system would allow the wealthy countries to purchase credits from the Global South to delay action, while offering no incentive to move towards a post-carbon society. At the same time, it would setup yet another poorly understood, experimental market-much like the complex trading schemes that led to the current financial crisis.

Real Solutions to Climate Change

The group argues that there needs to be a fundamental shift in U.S. policy that has for centuries degraded and exploited the natural world:

“Our Southern allies believe we should respond to climate change through commitments to reduced consumption and by payment of the ecological debt from the Global North to the Global South owed from decades of resource extraction. Investment in community-led renewable energy initiatives and sustainable, small-scale agriculture infrastructure geared to meeting the right of all people to healthy food are supported, corporate development is rejected.

The climate crisis demands that we, as residents of the Global North, ask what kind of world we want to live in, and recognize that the answer is as much a social issue as it is an environmental one. Climate Justice is more than a theoretical goal–it is a practice in the movement against climate chaos. No effort to create a livable climate future will succeed without the empowerment of marginalized communities. No justice will be found without an end to policies long-pursued by the wealthy countries which treat communities–from Iraq’s oil fields to Indonesia’s palm oil plantations to Appalachia’s coal fields–merely as resource colonies.”

To that end, the group argues that we must replace the concept of unlimited “growth” with one that prioritizes meeting human needs and sustainability.

Coalition Takes Legal Action against Proposed Michigan Nuclear Plant

Legal Action Against The Proposed Fermi 3 Nuclear Reactor in Michigan

A coalition of environmental groups has taken legal action against the proposed construction of the Fermi 3 nuclear reactor in Newport, Michigan.

The coalition–which includes Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club–filed fourteen legal contentions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this week. It argues that Detroit Edison’s proposed plant would have devastating impacts on Lake Eerie’s western basin. There are already 33 atomic reactors operating in the region.

The coalition cited past problems with Detroit Edison in particular:

“The track record of the Detroit Edison Company is abysmal. The partial

core-melt accident at Fermi 1 in October, 1966 and the 1993-94 Holiday

dumping of millions of gallons of radioactively contaminated water into Lake

Erie by Fermi 2 speaks to this record,” said Michael Keegan of Don’t Waste

Michigan. “The proposed Fermi 3 would represent another half-century of

safety and security risks for the Great Lakes shoreline. Many concerned

local residents don’t want to play yet another round of radioactive Russian

roulette,” Keegan added. Michael Keegan resides in Monroe and has been

following the Fermi reactors for three decades.”

The coalition further argues that the electricity needs could be met by alternative, cleaner renewable power sources such as solar and wind.

Ad Opposes Bay County Coal Power Plant

An environmental group opposing the construction of the largest of eight proposed coal power plants in Michigan has released a new commercial that is airing in the Midland / Bay City area.

The commercial, viewable below, calls for alternative sources of energy and asks that Governor Granholm hold to her promise of reviewing and limiting these new coal plants:

Permit Back on Track?

According to various news reports, the permit process for the 800-megawatt coal power plant in Bay County is back on track, with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) moving the permitting process along. A sixty-day public comment period begins today on the plant and public hearings are scheduled for April 14-15.

A recent article in the Bay City Times discussed the possibility of using carbon sequestration technology to limit emissions from the plant, but the so-called “clean coal” technology is unproven and it is not certain that the site would be able to make use of such technology, even if it did exist.

Currently, the plant is slated to be a supercritical pulverized clean coal plant. That means it will pollute less than traditional coal plants, but it is still far from being a “clean” energy source.

Opposition to Bay County Plant

MidlandCARES has been organizing opposition to the proposed plant and produced the commercial featured above. The group is organizing to promote healthy and sustainable renewable energy sources.

On its website, the organization has a collection of links critical of pulverized coal power plants. It argues that the coal power plant is unnecessary because of Michigan’s declining energy needs and the feasibility of renewable energy resources that do not contribute to global warming.