Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Industrialized farming is ruining Lake Erie again

MLive/Jackson Citizen Patriot opinionBy MLive/Jackson Citizen Patriot opinion 
on September 15, 2014 at 1:17 PM, updated September 15, 2014 at 1:28 PM

In August, when the latest algal bloom in Lake Erie fouled Toledo's water supply, many of its 400,000 residents drove 100 miles to purchase bottled water.
Few recognized the huge animal feeding "farms" that they passed in Ohio and Michigan were the source of the pollution that fed the algae that produce the toxin that poisoned their municipal drinking water.

Dissolved phosphorus from confined animal feeding operation in Ohio and southeast Michigan produces algal blooms in Lake Erie via the River Raisin at Monroe, or as tributaries of the Maumee River emptying into Lake Erie near Toledo.

Blue-green algae, microcystis, produces the potentially lethal toxin, microcystin. Microcystin is costly to treat in public water systems, and at high concentrations impossible to remove.

Pity our Lake Erie.

Cleveland's polluted rivers caught fire in 1972 instigating the Clean Water Act. In the 1980's mismanaged municipal sanitary sewers and phosphate-laden detergents caused vast algal blooms in Lake Erie leading to international and state clean-ups.  

"Dead" Lake Erie rebounded after phosphorus reduction strategies worked then. Now the newest technology, industrialized farming, is ruining Lake Erie again.

No doubt the source of the phosphorus that feeds the algal fouling of Lake Erie that poisoned Toledo's water supply is agricultural runoff into the Maumee River.

Liquid manure applied improperly on Ohio and Michigan CAFO fields runs directly into the tributaries of the Maumee.

The question remains: Why do the great states of Ohio and Michigan allow a heavily subsidized industry, CAFOs, to threaten the water quality and health of their citizens?
State regulators, starting with MDEQ's Jackson District, administer CAFOs in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties.

MDEQ should enforce existing clean water regulations, and close those CAFOs that have racked up thousands of violations.

Michigan and Ohio should ban the risky application of liquid manure during the frozen winter months.

Soil tests for pathogens and high phosphorus concentrations should be done twice per year instead of once every three years.

CAFOs receive multi-million dollar federal and state subsidies to build giant lagoons for the animal waste produced by the unfortunate thousands of animal that are confined there.

CAFOs in SE Michigan produce billions of pounds of untreated animal waste annually.  Without these "agricultural" subsidies" and lax enforcement of clean water standards CAFOs would close in a week.

Want a $300,000 tractor? Apply for an AG subsidy. Want to spray untreated animal waste on your fields in volumes unabsorbable? The government will pay for your pumps.

From extreme nutrient loading to virulent drug resistant pathogens Lake Erie is again the sacrificial water.

Governmental regulators are well aware of the threat to Lake Erie, but have done little to save it.

"Right to Farm" proponents and international CAFO investors have sway. Still, staring down at the chartreuse stew flowing into county drains adjacent to subsidized CAFOs, one wonders, "Is industrialized CAFO agriculture sustainable"? No way.

 — Mark Muhich lives in Summit Township and is the conservation chairman of the Central Michigan Group Sierra Club.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind


HELIGOLAND, Germany — Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.
It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States.

Germany’s relentless push into renewable energy has implications far beyond its shores. By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago.
Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power.

More ...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Coast Guard: We can't adequately respond to Great Lakes heavy oil spill

By Keith Matheny

Detroit Free Press staff writer

The U.S. Coast Guard and other responders are not adequately equipped or prepared for a “heavy oil” spill on the Great Lakes, according to a Coast Guard commander who is pushing for action.
A major oil spill could spell economic disaster for the states in the Great Lakes region, severely damaging the multibillion-dollar fishing and recreational boating industries and killing off wildlife.
Rear Admiral Fred Midgette, commander of the Coast Guard’s District 9, which includes the Great Lakes, said everyone involved in spill response on the Great Lakes is moving with a sense of urgency to come up with a plan to address a major spill.
But they haven’t found a way forward yet.
“When you get environmental groups, technical experts, oil spill recovery groups and regulators together, that’s how you find what’s the best way ahead,” Midgette said Tuesday at an international forum on heavy oils at the Detroit-Wayne County Port Authority attended by a cooperative of oil and chemical spill professionals.
Midgette said he was particularly concerned that response plans and organizations “are not capable of responding to heavy oil spills, particularly in open-water scenarios,” in an Aug. 20 memo to the Coast Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Operations.
That’s a serious issue, said David Holtz, Michigan chairman for the nonprofit Sierra Club.

“How can Michigan and the Great Lakes be in a position where two large oil pipelines are operating underneath the Straits of Mackinac, and the lead responders — the first responders to an oil spill — say they couldn’t respond effectively if something happened to those pipes?” he said.

The Coast Guard’s warning, based on its 2013 study, comes as Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant convene a task force looking at petroleum pipeline safety throughout Michigan and the state’s preparedness for spills — including on the more than 60-year-old pipelines operated by Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
The Coast Guard noted other vulnerable locations, including,\ oil pipelines running under the St. Clair River between Marysville and Sarnia, Ontario, and near Niagara Falls and Buffalo.
The study also cited the interest by a Superior, Wis., company, Calumet Specialty Product Partners, L.P., and others, to establish a dock to facilitate Great Lakes oil shipping by barges out of western Lake Superior. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources dealt that effort a setback in January — requiring an involved environmental assessment — but it could eventually continue.
The Coast Guard Research and Development Center’s June 2013 final report was frank on the limitations in dealing with heavy oil that sinks below the surface and makes traditional skimming recovery methods ineffective.
“Current methods are inadequate to find and recover submerged oil, with responders having to reinvent the techniques on each occasion,” the report states, later adding, “Responses to recent higher profile submerged oil spills have shown responders have almost no capability in detection and recovery.”
Those high-profile spills include the July 2010 spill near Marshall, where an Enbridge oil transmission pipeline burst while carrying diluted bitumen or dilbit, a sludgy oil product thinned for transport typically using petroleum-based thinning agents.
The oil spill overwhelmed Talmadge Creek, a tributary to the Kalamazoo River, as well as a long stretch of the river. As the diluents evaporated, the heavier oil sank to the river bottom, combining with sediments, churned by the rushing water and complicating cleanup. Enbridge has spent more than $1 billion on the cleanup effort, which still is not complete more than four years later.
The Marshall spill showed that no community is ready to adequately respond to a heavy oil spill, said Beth Wallace, an environmental consultant who has worked to spotlight issues related to oil pipeline transport.
The Coast Guard report is “just a scary scenario for the Great Lakes,” she said. “I would hope that the governor, with the pipeline safety task force, will take a hard look at this.”
Oil companies need to do more in the way of transparency and financially providing for the necessary response if their products spill, Wallace said. And while the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration oversees many petroleum pipeline safety issues, it is typically not there when a spill occurs, she said. That’s left to local communities’ first responders or the Coast Guard if the spill occurs on a major water body.
Complications include that oil companies use a variety of products as diluents in dilbit that can have varying effects on what happens with the oil when it spills, experts said — and the companies often keep those diluents a trade secret. Other factors affecting how a heavy oil spill behaves include temperature and water conditions.
Even finding and tracking submerged oil is a challenge, said Kurt Hansen, a project manager at the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center at New London, Conn., specializing in oil spill response.
“Once the oil goes below the surface, that sets a whole new set of problems,” he said. “You’re going to have to figure out if it’s coming back up in tiny little droplets, because that’s going to need one set of recovery response and surveillance. Or, if it goes to the bottom in a clump, that’s going to need another set of response.
“And if it mixes with the silt and sand and dirt at the bottom, that’s going to need even a third set of response and information that you need.”
While responders are ready in most cases for surface oil spills, responding to a sinking oil spill requires pulling together equipment and response capability from a variety of locations — costing precious time, Hansen noted. What’s needed, he said, is pulling those capabilities together beforehand.
“Right now, there are no hard requirements for those systems,” he said. “Somebody’s going to have to look at the legal aspects of that, at what you can require.”
Said Holtz: “Speed is everything. So if the Coast Guard has to go to other places to get what they need to deal with a Great Lakes oil spill, that’s got to change. Either that or stop having pipelines in the Great Lakes.”
Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or kmatheny@freepress.com. Follow on Twitter @keithmatheny.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chemical Air Pollution Around The Tar Sands Is Getting Worse

Chemical Air Pollution Around The Tar Sands Is Getting Worse, Data Shows

Environmental activist Tom Steyer stands in from of the Syncrude tar sands facility in Alberta, Canada.
Environmental activist Tom Steyer stands in from of the Syncrude tar sands facility in Alberta, Canada.
Chemical air pollution surrounding the primary areas where tar sands oil is mined and processed in Canada is on the rise, according to new data released by the Alberta government.
The 2012 data released Thursday showed that levels of both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide — chemicals that help cause acid rain, smog, and myriad health problems — haverisen to levels two and three on a government-set scale of four at several monitoring sites between Fort McMurray and Fort McKay. Level four is the highest limit allowed to protect human health, but the report said levels two and three are still cause for concern and that there should be further investigation into the source of pollution. Nitrogen dioxide is also a greenhouse gas.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Toledo panic shows Great Lakes at risk

August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am  
Toledo panic shows Great Lakes at risk  
Gail Philbin

Toledo’s recent bout with poisoned drinking water should serve as a huge wake-up call to Michigan to take seriously the link between factory farming, water pollution and public health.

The story of how dangerous levels of a toxin ended up in the water supply of Ohio’s fourth-largest city is in large part the story of how we grow our food today and who decides what are considered good farming practices. The impetus for Toledo’s weekend water ban was microcystin, a toxin experts say can cause diarrhea, vomiting or abnormal liver function that probably formed in a recent algae bloom in Lake Erie. The soupy, pea-green growth in one of our Great Lakes is an increasingly common occurrence fed in part by phosphorus run-off from southern Michigan fields applied with commercial fertilizer or factory farm waste.

Why all the fertilizer and animal waste in our water? Because we eat lots of meat, dairy, poultry and eggs. The United States is the largest producer of corn in the world. Eighty percent of what we grow is consumed not by people but by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry and fish production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Vast monocultures of corn require large amounts of fertilizer to grow.

We also like cheap food and buy products that come from industrial-scale, concentrated livestock facilities, many of which have been constructed in the last decade in western Lake Erie watersheds that include southern Michigan.

Such operations are favored by federal Farm Bill subsidies that keep their product prices artificially low. This taxpayer-funded support often goes to help construct manure lagoons and other systems for handling the huge amount of waste factory farms generate. Even so, it can end up polluting nearby waterways, as shown in the 2013 report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape. The current subsidy system rewards polluters, giving an unfair advantage over healthy, sustainable livestock farms.

More ...
Lake Erie algal bloom, photo by Tom Archer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Michigan Conservatives Team Up To Support Clean Energy

A group of Republican leaders in Michigan are pushing the state to diversify its energy sources, an objective they say has been the domain of liberals only for too long.
The Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, which launched Tuesday, aims to get Michigan to adopt an “all of the above” energy strategy that includes renewable energy sources. The group’s statement of principles explains that pushing for clean, renewable energy makes sense for multiple reasons — it’s in line with the Christian tenet of being Earth’s stewards; it makes America safer by reducing our reliance on foreign oil; it’s in line with what voters in Michigan want, and will make the state’s Republicans more relevant to younger generations of voters.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sierra Club launches sustainable agriculture testimonials, Western Michigan University student project

Rosemary Parker | rparker3@mlive.comBy Rosemary Parker | rparker3@mlive.com 
Follow on Twitter
on June 26, 2014 at 8:54 AM, updated June 26, 2014 at 8:57 AM

KALAMAZOO, MI -- How do Michigan farmers and consumers feel about food from local farmers?

Since last month Erin Denay has been posing that question at farmers markets across the state to create enough video snippets to roll out one a day during the  month of July, part of a collaborative project with Sierra Club, said Gail Philbin, assistant director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

"We really want consumers and farmers already involved in the sustainable agriculture  scene to understand there are people supporting them," said Denay, 22, of Bay City. She is a senior at Western Michigan University majoring in environmental and sustainability studies and organizational communication.

Sustainable agriculture, she said, is farming that "revolves around the well-being of the surrounding environment, people, and animals while producing healthy, high-quality food that protects the quality of the land and water for future generations.

In the series of one-minute video testimonials produced by the Less=More sustainable agriculture coalition, Michigan residents talk about why meat, dairy, poultry and eggs that are locally grown under humane conditions are important to them, their communities and local economies, a news release from Sierra Club said.

"Sustainable agriculture is farming that revolves around the well-being of the surrounding environment, people, and animals," Denay said, " so as to produce healthy, high-quality food that protects the quality of the land and water for future generations."

"We want them to know we are here for them," Denay said, "and to draw more attention and tax dollars to them," the farms practicing sustainable agriculture methods.

Maynard Beery of Beery Farms in Middleville, for instance, told Denay that though he could not keep up with soaring demand for his grass fed beef "there is no way that I can compete with a 50,000 animal feedlot. They're happy if they wind up with $10 a head in profit and no, that's not going to support myself and my son."

Farm subsidies for which he  currently does not qualify would allow his farm to expand, he said.

The project also hopes to let people know there are 300 farmers markets in Michigan, and lots of choices when it comes to shopping for food. "We want to illuminate the opportunities to eat local, sustainable healthy food," Denay said.

What were the most promising findings of Denay's interviews?

"The appetite, pardon the pun, for local, healthy food is alive and well in Michigan," Philbin said.

The series kicks off July 1 with the release of the testimonial of Jill Johnson and Mary Wills of Crane Dance Farm in Middleville via Less=More's Twitter account, @MoreforMichigan, and its Facebook page.

The remainder of that week the videos feature Kalamazoo farmers and consumers, Denay said.

"Being involved with this project has made me so much more aware of the healthy, high-quality food that is being made available by small-scale sustainable farmers in Michigan communities," Denay said. "I want this testimonial series to really highlight the wonderful things they are doing and why they deserve our support so they can succeed and grow and continue to provide for their communities."

Sierra Club believes issues such as antibiotic overuse, the viability of local economies,  climate change, fair wages and working conditions for workers and animal welfare can be traced back to how food is grown.

"Many consumers are searching for a way to have some control over the food they eat because they are disillusioned or disgusted with the industrial food system," she said. "Growing your own food or buying from local farmers they know is a good way to do that."

Sierra Club is a member of the Less=More Coalition, producers of the video series. The group is made up of national, state and local organizations as well as consumers and farmers who support sustainable agriculture and seek to level the playing field for sustainable livestock farmers.

Specifically, the coalition is tackling inequities in the subsidy system that the coalition argues is weighted toward concentrated livestock operations.

In 2013, the coalition's report "Restoring the Balance to Michigan's Farming Landscape" noted that some farms continue to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies even when they have been fined for violations of environmental law and blasted the farm subsidy system for favoring concentrated animal feeding operations in the award of funds.

Less=More members include: Beery Farms of Michigan, LLC, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, LLC, ELFCO Food Cooperative, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Zeeland, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Farmers Union, Michigan Small Farm Council, Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.

The coalition is also asking people to contribute their own food stories to the series. For more information on submitting a testimonial, email:Moreformichigansc@gmail.com