From the Headlines – Week of 3/22/21

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UM divests: The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents adopted a measure Thursday to disinvest its roughly $14 billion portfolio from fossil fuels, making it the first public university to do so. Student activists had been pushing for divestment for years. The move means that the university will no longer invest in companies engaged in oil or coal extraction or businesses that are the most significant greenhouse gas producers. It will shift those investments to renewable energy, with a pledge to make its entire portfolio “net zero” by 2050. “We are among the first but certainly not the last university to make these commitments,” Regent Mark Bernstein said. “So I say to the leaders of these institutions — listen to your students, they are knocking on your doors. Let them in, sit down with them, and learn from them. They will educate you. And inspire you to do the right thing.” (Freep, Planet Detroit)

Asbestos ‘removal’: If your asbestos removal company has been charged with bribery, a failure to wet down and errr…. properly remove asbestos, well, guess what? You can still operate in the city of Detroit. BBEK Environmental performed asbestos mitigation on at least 4,000 houses between 2017 and 2019 as part of Detroit’s demolition program before eventually being removed because it failed to hire an independent company to perform required air quality tests. Instead, the company has moved on to larger, private jobs in the city. Among other projects, BBEK is working on remediating buildings at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds, including the historic bandshell set to move to Palmer Park. “It’s troubling to hear about repeated violations by a company and that they’re still able to do business,” State Sen. Stephanie Chang said. She has helped introduce a package of bills to tighten rules around asbestos abatement in the state. (Deadline Detroit)

On the water: As reported here, the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority has held a concession agreement with the Moroun-owned Ambassador Port Company over the last two decades, wherein it pays a high rate of interest on a loan from the company and hands over much of the authority for what happens on the riverfront. A new deal would end this arrangement while selling the 34-acre Detroit Marine Terminal to the Morouns outright. However, port authority Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Doctoroff has questions about the proposed arrangement. “It’s important to understand that I do not disagree with the goal of the port’s getting out from underneath the master concession agreement, which many have described as unconscionable,” he said. “The question in my mind is, ‘Was this specific deal done at this specific time the best way to achieve that goal?’” Chang has asked for more vetting of the proposal, which would need to be approved by the Detroit City Council. (Planet Detroit, Crain’s)

Warming waters: New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that deep beneath the surface of Lake Michigan, the water is warming, especially in winter. Since the early 1990s, NOAA researchers have taken measurements as deep as 460 feet, in what is likely the largest study of its kind. Large lakes are sometimes referred to as “climate change sentinels.” These changes could cause water to mix less frequently, creating low-oxygen conditions that favor invasive species and lead to fish die-offs. (Detroit News)

Rural water struggles: Ishpeming in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is struggling to fund an overhaul of its sewer system while paying for other city services with a declining, lower-income population that is growing older. The state is pushing to replace lead components in city drinking water systems over the next two decades. Ishpeming’s city manager, Craig Cugini, said that roughly 80 to 90 percent of his town’s system needs to be replaced. “The lifecycle for water infrastructure should be about a hundred years,” he said. “But nobody for the last hundred years has been collecting the money necessary to replace the water infrastructure.” This problem isn’t confined to Ishpeming. Rural residents often pay far higher water bills than some of their urban and suburban counterparts, although many cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland also see high charges. Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development unit may be able to pick up some of the slack, paying for the replacement of pipes and new water treatment facilities. “Without that infrastructure in place, you’re not going to keep any type of industry or business in those areas,” said Tim Neumann, executive director of the Michigan Rural Water Association. (Circle of Blue)

‘Close to doing nothing’: Wolverine World Wide’s plans to clean up a toxic waste dump in Kent County amounts to ”no action,” according to Rick Rediske, professor of environmental chemistry at Grand Valley State University and co-chair of the Wolverine Community Advisory Group. He said that the phytoremediation plan, which aims to plant trees to suck up pollutants, would backfire. Trees increase infiltration of rain and snowmelt, which could cause more PFAS from the site to migrate into the nearby Rogue River. Also, the site already has trees on it. “I mean, there’s really no potential difference between the existing forest and what they’re proposing,” Rediske said. (MLive)

Road closed: Marquette’s Presque Isle Park — home to the iconic Black Rocks — is closing its only route to overnight travel for a month to make way for blue-spotted salamanders. These 4 to 5.5-inch amphibians spend the winter in underground burrows and then migrate each spring into breeding ponds. In 2019, 429 road-killed salamanders were found, but only three were found after a road closure last year. Marquette residents are walking out to the park on rainy nights, using flashlights and headlamps to watch the salamanders migrate unobstructed. Which sounds like a lot of fun to us.(Freep)

Oh, Canada! As members of Canada’s Liberal party pressure Michigan to keep Line 5 open, the country’s Conservative party has voted against a proposal to recognize that the climate crisis is real. It was a close vote, but 54 percent of Conservative delegates rejected a motion to act on climate risks and pressure businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole had pushed for the measure, arguing that an ambitious climate policy would be necessary to defeat the Liberals in the next election. (MLive, Guardian)


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