PFAS rules go to public comment, a case for public utilities, and we've got jobs!

November 15, 2019 | CO2 2019/2018 411.19 / 407.79 ppm <<

In this edition:

  • Making a case for public utilities

  • PFAS rules up for public comment

  • Dow Chemical settlement to fund $77 million environmental restoration

  • No-till farming could help Michigan farmers and sequester carbon

  • Clean energy is on the rise, but so are emissions

  • READ THIS: Lessons in survival

  • Solutions & Bright Spots: Sustainable Fashion

  • Events: Engage with Detroit’s environment

  • Jobs! We’ve got jobs!

Making a case for public utilities

Power outages, high utility bills, and continued reliance on dirty energy like natural gas are some of the issues plaguing Michigan rate-payers. In the Metro Times, Tom Perkins makes a case that the source of these problems is Michigan’s private utilities DTE Energy and Consumers Energy. The key points:

  • High rates: Michigan utility rates have increased steadily over the last ten years. An upcoming rate hike could add $10 to the average DTE customer’s bill. Notably, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has come out against this rate hike, calling it “excessive and unnecessary.”

  • Poor service: Michigan’s service and reliability are subpar by national standards; Perkins reports that “DTE customers… spent more time in the dark on average in 2017 than any other state utility — about 1,060 minutes for each of its 2.2 million users, while Consumers' customers, on average, spent about 600 minutes without power. “

  • Investors come first: Michigan’s regulated private investor-owned utilities must legally guarantee a 10% return for investors— paid by its customers.

  • High executive pay The utilities provide big executive salaries, adding up to nearly $25 million in the case of DTE Energy.

  • Money for lobbying. The full extent of direct donations to lawmakers, dark money non-profits, and PACS is unknown but, “A Metro Times analysis of state campaign finance records found DTE's PAC gave to nearly every member of the Michigan Legislature during the last three years, spending a total of about $964,000. Consumers' PAC spent about $690,000 in the same period.”

  • Stifling solar. Perkins reports the utilities have worked to undermine solar energy by encouraging lawmakers to discontinue net-metering, reducing the credit for energy put back on the grid by home-scale solar.

In contrast, municipal utilities in Michigan seem to suffer fewer outages on average than private ones and charge less, Perkins writes:

Public utilities are typically more reliable and are moving toward renewable energy much quicker than investor-owned utilities. An analysis of federal data by the Next System Project shows that public utility customers spend about 200 fewer minutes without power on average.

As Ann Arbor lawmaker Yousef Rabhi says, "We are not well served by a system that puts investors first and ratepayers last.”

Nationally, the conversation around public versus private utilities has accelerated with the California wildfires; the most deadly of which was caused by a downed Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) power line. As Ben Ehrenreich points out in an article in The Nation, California residents paid for this and other disasters while PG&E paid its shareholders.

PFAS rules up for public comment

Proposed standards for seven PFAS chemicals in drinking water will now go to public comment after the Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC) unanimously approved the draft rules on Thursday afternoon, MLive reports.

The controversial body created and approved by Governor Snyder during the lame-duck session and populated by representatives from business has been slow to move the rules forward. The committee will meet again after the public comment period before approving the regulations.

Midwestern cities respond to the climate crisis

Marquette, Michigan seems well-placed to withstand the threats of climate change, especially when compared to say Miami or New Orleans. But it and other Midwestern cities still face several threats from the climate crisis, Jim Malewitz reports in Bridge Magazine. In Marquette’s case, these come from increased precipitation and rising lake levels as well as threats from disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks migrating to the region.

Marquette leaders are taking steps to address the climate crisis, such as producing a “Marquette Area Climate and Health Adaptation Guidebook” to address climate change-related health risks and bring them to bear on city planning. The city has also begun requiring landowners to install “riparian buffers” along certain waterways that can reduce erosion and runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms. Another initiative looks to create landscaping that reduces tick habitat.

The Marquette article is part of a series compiled by Inside Climate News that looks at how various Midwestern cities are adapting to climate change.

Dow Chemical settlement to fund $77 million environmental restoration

Dow Chemical has agreed to fund ecological restoration efforts worth $77 million to clean up pollution from its Midland, Michigan plant.

The Associated Press reports:

Dow’s facility began operating in 1897. For generations it dumped or incinerated wastes that contaminated the 50-mile-long (80-kilometer-long) river valley, which extends into Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, with dioxins and related compounds linked to cancer and other illnesses.

A cleanup of the Tittabawassee River began in 2007 and is scheduled to finish in 2021. Money from this settlement will focus on Saginaw, Midland and Bay counties, restoring farmlands, wetlands, and forests.

In 2012, the Midland-based Dow Chemical Company was listed as the second-largest producer of toxic waste in the country, and it manufactured the dioxin “Agent Orange” during the Vietnam War.

No-till farming could help Michigan farmers and sequester carbon

In a piece for Michigan Radio this week, Lester Graham lays out the possibilities for no-till agriculture to prevent erosion, increase soil fertility and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Tilling the soil to plant crops and incorporate fertilizers is a hallmark of conventional agriculture, but many farmers are switching to a method that allows them to plant crops like corn, wheat, or soy without disturbing the soil.

This often involves using specialized equipment or herbicides to kill weeds and prepare for planting. By eliminating tillage, carbon is kept in the soil. No-till also prevents erosion and nutrient loss by keeping the ground covered and fertile organic matter in the soil.

Michigan State University professor Phil Robertson is studying no-till systems at the Kellogg Biological Station outside Battle Creek. And although this topic may not excite those with a limited interest in dirt or agriculture, it’s worth keeping in mind that agriculture, forestry, and other land uses account for around 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Clean energy is on the rise, but so are emissions

The International Energy Agency has issued its 810-page World Energy Outlook 2019 this week and The New York Times summarized it by saying:

Wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles are spreading far more quickly around the world than many experts had predicted. But this rapid growth in clean energy isn’t yet fast enough to slash humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and get global warming under control.

Overall, renewable technologies like winder farms and electric farms are getting cheaper, but this progress is being offset by higher energy demands, a rising global population, consumer preferences for S.U.V.s and slowing energy efficiency efforts.

However, the report stresses that change is possible, especially in light of new technologies, citing the natural-gas driven “shale revolution” as an example.

But it also concludes:

For a similar scenario to play out when it comes to carbon emissions, significant changes must be made quickly and governments must take the lead.

READ THIS: Lessons in survival

Solutions & Bright Spots

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More ways to connect

November 16 | Hazel Park Nature Initiative Fall Cleanup | Hazel Park >>>

November 20 | Michigan Sustainability Conference | Lansing >>>

November 20 "| You can pickle that! | Berkley >>>

November 21 | City of Grosse Pointe Urban Forestry Commission | Grosse Pointe Farms >>>

November 21 | How to compost at home | Novi >>>

November 21 | Detroit Outdoors End of Year Celebration | Detroit >>>

November 21 | Detroit Green Task Force | Detroit >>>

November 24 | Vegan Harvest Feast | Rivertown >>>

November 30 | Roots Detroit Exhibition of Land and Water Stewardship | NorWest Gallery >>>

December 3 | Oakland Beekeepers Club | Bloomfield Hills >>>

January 4 | Detroit Garden Center Annual Meeting | Belle Isle Nature Center >>>

January 28 | Seed Swap | Ypsilanti >>>

February 29 | Quiet Adventures Symposium | Lansing >>>

March 13 | Community Treehouse Gala >>>


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