Great Lakes threatened by toxic coal ash + climate change

CO2 2022/2021 : 417.39 ppm / 414.54 ppm

Dear Michigan Climate News readers,

What happens to coal after it's burned? It's transformed into toxic coal ash, and it poses a threat across the Great Lakes. In other news, Grand Rapids could feel more like Memphis by 2100 and Michigan could offer crucial habitat for the beleagured monarch butterfly.

Enjoy your week!

— Nina Ignaczak, Editor of Michigan Climate News + Planet Detroit

p.s. Send us tips, or let us know what you want to see in this newsletter by taking our reader survey!

p.p.s. Please forward this email to a friend who might enjoy it and tell them to subscribe!


Coal ash timebomb ticks away in the Great Lakes

Source: Earthjustice Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination /

Many coal-fired power plants have been located on the shores of the Great Lakes, and there’s increasing concern that climate change-related flooding could cause water from coal ash ponds – waste ponds storing wet ash that include heavy metals like chromium, arsenic and selenium – could enter Lake Michigan. These impoundments are vulnerable to extreme weather events that can cause embankments to be overtopped or even fail entirely.


How hot? By 2100, a hot day in Grand Rapids could feel like Memphis, Tennessee and Flint could be as warm as Columbus, Georgia. Data scientists found that climate change could make average summer highs in Grand Rapids 9.2 F hotter, with Saginaw and Lansing experiencing similar warming under a commonly used, high emissions scenario,. Other parts of the country will experience less temperature variation while still warming to dangerous levels. Houston is projected to experience 6.4 F of warming, and its summers will feel like Lahore, Pakistan and Phoenix will see an increase of 7.2 F with summer temperatures similar to present-day Al Mubarraz, Saudi Arabia. (MLive)

Monarch refuge: Parts of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Ontario could provide increasingly important habitats for monarch butterflies, according to new research. “There are areas where there might be what we call climate refuges, areas that are potentially going to be better for monarchs, and we could focus the conservation action there,” said Elise Zipkin, an associate professor at Michigan State University who published the recent study. Researchers predict a changing climate could boost monarch numbers in places like Michigan while parts of Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa become too hot and dry for milkweed, the monarch’s sole host plant, to thrive. (MLive)

Mega sites: To further court big business, Michigan is investing in three “mega sites” to attract electric vehicle battery plants and chip factories. The state is using $5 million to prepare three locations of 1,000 acres or more near Lansing and Flint. Boosters say large allotments of land are needed to attract these sorts of industries. The Michigan Strategic fund, which is the public funding arm for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, approved the funding. In other EV news, four Kroger stores in southeast Michigan will add charging stations. The company Volta Charging plans to install at least eight chargers at stores in Lapeer, Roseville, Southgate and Westland, after receiving $98,750 from a state program with DTE Energy to improve charging infrastructure. (Bridge, Detroit News)

Cleaning up the mess: Michigan will receive $25 million from last year’s federal infrastructure bill to cap abandoned oil and gas wells, reducing the release of noxious gasses and planet-warming methane. Some of the money may also go towards remediating the area around wells sites to mitigate safety and pollution issues. According to Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) the state has 447 abandoned wells or related facilities that need to be addressed. "This is the government coming in and cleaning up what oil and gas companies have left behind and walked away from that have been really damaging people's environment and their livelihoods and their lives," White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu said. (Detroit News)

Drought and flood: An 11-week heat wave and extreme drought are hitting China, drying up the Yangtze River and threatening food security and hydropower generation. The lost hydropower has forced the country to at least temporarily use more climate-heating coal. Meanwhile, Pakistan is enduring a monsoon season that Sherry Rehman, the country’s climate minister, called “a serious climate catastrophe.” Flooding that began in mid-June has left 1,000 dead and destroyed nearly 300,000 homes. “In the 2010 flood, one-fifth of Pakistan was under water. This is worse,” Rehman said. The nonprofit Germanwatch listed Pakistan eighth on its list of countries most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by human-induced climate change. Yet, as of 2020, the country had produced just 0.3% of the world’s historic fossil fuel emissions. (Guardian, NY Times)

What questions do you have about the environment and climate change in Michigan? Please let us know by reaching out to me at or hit reply!

Header photo: A of view the billion-dollar cleanup effort at the site of the TVA coal ash disaster at the Kingston Fossil Plant in December, 2008. Creative commons via Appalachian Voices.


Our reporting 

runs deep.

Get the latest local enviro news in your inbox with Planet Detroit.

Scroll to Top