From the Headlines – Week of February 15, 2021

Green budget: Details from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed annual budget have begun to come into focus, with clean water and the environment emerging as priorities. A total of $100 million is included for promoting climate change resilience, healthy schools, and improving the Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s (EGLE) emergency response capabilities for handling environmental contamination. “There’s been a pathetic level of disinvestment on the environment in Michigan going back decades,” said Michigan environmental policy advisor Dave Dempsey, adding that Whitmer is “taking steps, however small, to reverse the long-term trend.” (Great Lakes Now)

Stopping shutoffs: U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Debbie Dingell penned an opinion piece supporting their legislation to create a $1.5 billion fund to help communities pay water bills for low-income residents. Cities and counties would need to reconnect water service and impose a shutoff moratorium to receive the funding. Citing the need to wash hands and maintain proper hygiene during the COVID-19 pandemic, they write, “We’ve had enough of punishing people for being poor, leaving them susceptible to this deadly pandemic and other daily dangers simply because they cannot afford their water bill.” (WaPo)

Movin’ on up: A team of researchers, including Ypsilanti’s own American Society of Adaptation Professionals (or ASAP if you’d rather), is developing the first scientific model for predicting how climate change will affect economics and shifts in population. Researchers predict that warmer winters, abundant fresh water, and forests that are less susceptible to wildfires could compel people to move to the Great Lakes region. “The really important piece we need to know is what is the threshold that matters for people to pick up their heads from the dinner table and say, ‘You know what? I can’t stay here anymore,” said Beth Gibbons, ASAP’s executive director. Of course, Michigan is not immune to threats from climate change. Invasive species, more substantial rainstorms, and rising lake levels have all impacted the state. But compared to other areas, we may be getting off easy. (Bridge Michigan)

Shots for food workers: The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services announced that nearly 80,000 workers in the food processing and agricultural industries will become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the “1B” group. This means that these workers could begin getting vaccinated as soon as March 1 and that they will be eligible regardless of immigration status. In the spring and summer of 2020, large outbreaks occurred at Michigan greenhouses, meatpacking plants, farms, and dairies. (Michigan Radio)

Warming waters: Michigan streams and rivers are changing along with the climate. Larger storms produced by climate change send warm, pollutant-laden runoff into waterways. Warmer water stresses aquatic life and reduces the number of species that can survive in rivers. According to Michigan State’s Dana Infante, dam removal is one option for cooling streams, but it needs to be balanced against the potential to spread invasive species. Planting trees and other plants to catch rainwater and shade waterways can also help keep them cool and prevent flooding in urban areas. (Michigan Radio)

Catch and release: Michigan’s extensive PFAS contamination at sites like the closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base near Oscoda has made the state a case study for how the so-called forever chemicals spread to fish and wildlife. PFAS can cause developmental problems, hormone and immunity issues, fertility problems, and cancer. And these chemicals could be contaminating the game animals and fish that Michigan’s hunters and anglers eat. Last month, Wisconsin officials advised against eating Lake Superior smelt because of high levels of PFOS in the fish, but a similar warning was not issued for Michigan. Meanwhile, there is so much PFAS in the Huron River watershed that officials advise against eating any fish at all in a five-county area. (Bridge)

Hunger strike: A new metal recycling facility in Chicago raises charges of environmental racism that many Detroiters may find familiar. The company Reserve Management Groups was forced to close a scrap yard on the city’s whiter and more affluent north side after numerous environmental violations but now wants to open a similar facility on its heavily Latinx southeast side. Of particular concern is a metal shredder that the new plant will employ, sending harmful particulate matter into the air. The area where the plant would open already contains two Superfund sites and multiple cement kilns, and toxic waste dumps. Community activists have instituted a hunger strike to block the city from giving the facility its final permit. (Guardian, WDET)

Tilting: Faced with the choice of reckoning with his state’s massive failure to deliver electricity during a severe winter storm or blaming windmills, which path did Texas Gov. Greg Abbott choose? You already know. But the situation in the state is far from funny. Houston reported 300 carbon monoxide poisoning cases this week as people have brought generators indoors to try to keep warm. And the city’s leaders issued a boil water advisory, saying that the water could be contaminated. So how did this happen?  Some wind turbines in the state did indeed freeze, as did pipelines for the gas power plants that provide much more of the state’s electricity. And both were compounded by Texas’ isolated power grid, which cuts it off from the much larger East and West Coast networks. Texas might also have winterized its windmills and other infrastructure, which has allowed wind power operators to continue operating in Canada and northern Europe during the cold months. (WaPo, The Cut, Forbes)


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