From the Headlines – July 25-29, 2022

Manchin moves: Climate advocates are perhaps allowing themselves to feel some small bit of hope after Senate Democrats announced a $369 billion dollar climate and tax package that would provide tax incentives for wind, solar and other renewable power sources as well as tax credits for electric vehicles. This is a significant reversal for Sen. Joe Manchin who had previously shot down the Build Back Better program, which included more than $500 billion in climate spending. But in addition to offering less money for responding to climate change, the bill also includes “poison pills” in the form of guarantees for new onshore and offshore oil drilling. And public lands would have to be opened up to oil and gas drilling before new solar and wind energy could be placed on them. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change previously found that current fossil fuel infrastructure alone was enough to push the planet beyond the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 C that was set by the Paris Agreement. Still, Leah Stokes, a climate expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the bill would be a “game-changer” by getting the country 80% of the way to president Biden’s goal of achieving a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. (NY Times, Guardian, Gizmodo)

Networking: A seemingly boring but significant bit of climate action happened this week when the operator of the Midwest’s electrical grid announced they would spend $10.3 billion on upgrading electrical transmission infrastructure. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) approved 18 new projects that include 2,000 miles of new transmission lines, capacity that will be essential for transitioning to renewable power. “When the wind stops blowing, when the sun is not shining immediately in the state of Michigan, how do you preserve reliability, and resiliency, and keep the lights on?” asked Charles Marshall, vice president of planning for ITC, which owns the bulk of transmission infrastructure in the Lower Peninsula. “You do that by having a transmission system that can deliver those generation resources from afar.” Michigan will receive 110 miles of new transmission line running from Indiana as well as other upgrades, but the system-wide expansion would connect the state to a large amount of wind energy from the Great Plains and future expansions could add solar power from the South. (Freep)

Flood control: Recurrent flooding in Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, both from the Detroit River and sewer backups, has created difficulties for residents who often struggle to pay for expensive sea walls to keep water off their properties. And a new federal floodplain designation is stymieing development, making it more difficult to secure the Community Development Block Grants and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits that are often needed to build affordable housing. However, plans from the city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to remove the flood plain designation involve closing off some of the canals from the Detroit River, raising concerns in an area that is defined by access to the water. One plan entails building new levees and seawalls and disconnecting the Fox Creek and Phillip Canal from the Detroit River, although the river would still be accessible from the canal system via the Lakewood Canal, which would have a stop-log structure for use when waters are high. (Outlier)

‘Round and round’: Detroiters are struggling to access the city’s sewer insurance program that covers repairs to private water and sewer lines. “I’m just going round and round and round with nobody able to find me in the system, but they have cashed my check already,” said Kacrina Johnson, a resident of Detroit’s Belmont neighborhood. American Water Resources, the company running the program for the city of Detroit, requires residents to speak with a claims specialist based in the city. But Johnson has been waiting for 60 days to hear from a specialist, and other Detroiters have complained of similar experiences with the company. (Bridge Detroit)

Priorities: $57 billion budget bill signed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer contains money for protecting drinking water, food access, and electric vehicles. Some notable pieces of the budget include:

  • Food: $50 million dollars for agriculture and food processing, with $12 million for facility improvements at Detroit’s Eastern Market.
  • Public health: $260 million to create a new public health and environmental science laboratory.
  • Lead pipes: $48 million for replacing lead service lines and upgrading water treatment systems, prioritizing disadvantaged communities. 
  • Private wells: $5 million in grants for health departments to provide free or low-cost water testing to owners of private wells, which provide drinking water to around 1.1 million Michigan residents. 
  • EVs: $130 million for a University of Michigan electric vehicle teaching, training and development center. 
  • Air: $4.4 million to hire staff to reduce businesses’ wait time to obtain air quality permits. (Crain’s)

Lead increase in Flint: Lead levels in Flint drinking water have increased during recent testing, although they still fall below the federal limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb). The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) said 90% of samples from homes and businesses were under 10 ppb, but an increasing number of sites have lead levels above 15 ppb. The agency attributes the change to including more “Tier 2” sites in the testing program, i.e., homes and businesses with relatively little water use. “The longer water stagnates, the more likely it is to absorb lead and other minerals,” said EGLE spokesperson Scott Dean. Around 95 percent of homes in Flint can no longer be included in testing because their lead service lines have been removed. EGLE says their focus will soon shift to interior plumbing, where fixtures can contain lead, and continued education on reducing lead exposure. (MLive, MI Radio)

Wilderness or no: A push to designate around 50,000 acres of federal land in the Upper Peninsula as “wilderness” has sparked conflict between those wishing to protect the Ehlco forest and Trap Hills areas from extractive industries and others who believe the change would hurt the region’s economy. A wilderness designation would prohibit mining, logging, and certain forms of recreation like mountain biking and snowmobiling. “A lot of our economy depends on having a healthy ecosystem and people using it, but it’s also based on the need for jobs and safety and hospitals and places to live, and that takes a balance of development and protection,” said Andrea Denham, director of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy, which has yet to take a position on the issue. Representatives from the timber industry and U.S. Forest Service have questioned the wilderness value of the areas in question on account of nearby industry and previous logging, but if the pictures included here are any indication, they look pretty nice. (MLive)

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