Lawmakers want citizen oversight of environmental decisions

By LAINA STEBBINS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Bills introduced by House and Senate Democrats would establish citizen oversight commissions to restore a layer of accountability in environmental enforcement – commissions which have not existed in Michigan for a quarter-century. The boards would allow public input and oversight over the Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality, water quality and oil and gas operations throughout the state. Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, the House sponsor of one bill, said high-quality oversight like this is necessary to ensure that incidents like the Flint water crisis will not happen anywhere else in the state. “We had multiple failures in the state department, which had been tasked with making sure things were safe for residents,” said Neeley in regards to Flint. “Moving forward, I think if we put these commissions back into place, we won’t see another [crisis like] Flint,” said Neeley.

Bills seek to tighten standards for sampling water

By LAURA BOHANNON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Bills in the House and Senate would tighten water sampling practices to improve detection of dangerous elements such as lead. Among the changes proposed would be to eliminate “preflushing” when taking a water sample. Preflushing is the practice of leaving cold water running for a few minutes the night before taking a water sample. Opponents of the practice say running water before testing it does not match how people actually consume water day-to-day. Preflushing “flushes” out the lead that’s stored in a pipe or faucet and as a result, some lead might not be detected in a sample, Robert Gordon, lead lobbyist for the Michigan Sierra Club chapter, said.

Opponents say energy bills would benefit utility companies

By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service
LANSING – A pair of Senate bills would shift the state’s focus away from renewable energy to the benefit of large utility companies – and Michigan’s budding renewable market could be left out in the cold, according to opponents like the Sierra Club. “Essentially, these bills would destroy our current system of supporting renewables, efficiency and all the things that make our energy portfolio cleaner and more sustainable,” said Mike Berkowitz, the staff political director of the Michigan Sierra Club’s Political Committee. “The bills would eliminate Michigan’s renewable energy standard, sunset our energy efficiency standard and gut our net metering program, which would essentially destroy the solar industry in Michigan.”

But the chair of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee, Sen. Mike Nofs, R–Battle Creek, said the plan would instead make Michigan’s energy market more competitive and fair, without the state giving certain types of generation preferential treatment. He and the committee’s vice chair, Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the bills.

Washington Avenue redevelopment project on its way. Someday.

By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Old Town Lansing Times Staff Reporter

A project that would make Old Town Lansing greener and more accessible has been on hold for years. Just the fact there’s a project — albeit a paused one — is news to some. According to the website of the Old Town Commercial Association, “the City of Lansing is planning to redevelop Old Town’s section of Washington Avenue… (the) redevelopment will allow for bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly enhancements.”

The project will create bike lanes to Washington Avenue, add rain gardens and implement historic lighting that would match the ones on Grand River Avenue. The project also seeks to add back-in angled parking. However, Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director Austin Ashley said he is not aware of any updates to the project that was put on hold by the City of Lansing.

Court OKs DTE power plant permits

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – The Court of Appeals has upheld state permits for DTE Energy Co.’s modifications of its coal-fired power plant on the Lake Erie shore in Monroe, despite objections by a major environmental group. In a unanimous opinion, the court rejected the Sierra Club’s challenge to permits issued by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in 2010 and 2012. The work has been underway during the Sierra Club’s appeal of a lower court decision in favor of the utility, said Randi Berris, a DTE senior media relations specialist. It’s part of a 10-year, $2 billion overhaul of the state’s largest power plant, she said. It was built in the 1970s.

Oak wilt is killing Michigan oak trees

By: Lia Kananipuamaeole Kamana
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

Michigan oak trees don’t have to worry just about getting cleared out for the construction of neighborhoods, homes, businesses and schools anymore. These days an oak tree’s biggest concern is a fungus known as oak wilt that constricts the water-conducting vessels. According to Steve Martinko of Michigan Organic Tree Care, the first kind of infection occurs in the leaves and spreads through the branches, trunks and roots.  

“The roots take the pathogen and disperse the infection like cancer,” said Martinko. Once oak wilt infects a tree, there is no cure and the best thing to do is start protecting nearby trees from getting infected.