A new Harvard study indicates that of two new types of alternative fuels for urban buses, it might be better in the long run to go with the cheaper fuel. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
A new Harvard study indicates that of two new types of alternative fuels for urban buses, it might
be better in the long run to go with the cheaper fuel. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Soot spewing diesel buses will soon be a thing of the past. But two different alternative fuels are
being considered for mass transit buses. One is compressed natural gas. The other is a low
sulfur-filtered diesel called emission controlled diesel.
A Harvard School of Public Health study of the fuel systems appears in the current issue of the
journal Environmental Science and Technology. Senior Researcher, Joshua Cohen says
compressed natural gas buses might be cleaner, but the health benefits cost six to nine times more
than the same health benefits of the clean diesel.
“If you spend your money on compressed natural gas buses, you’re not going to be able to buy as
many new clean buses as you could if you bought the clean diesel buses. So, that’s an important
consideration to keep in mind.”
So, while a single bus burning compressed natural gas might be cleaner, it’s so much more
expensive that, system-wide, it might be more beneficial to the environment to use the cheaper
clean diesel system in more buses.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Two Great Lakes states and one Canadian province are near the top of the list when it comes to the production of toxic chemicals. That’s the finding of the latest study from an international agency set up under NAFTA. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Cohen reports:
Two Great Lakes States and one Canadian province are near the top of the list when it comes to
the production of toxic chemicals. That’s the finding of the latest study from an international
agency set up under NAFTA. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Cohen reports:
If you want to find the largest producers of dangerous chemicals in all of North America, look no
further than the Great Lakes Region. Officials from the Commission for Environmental
Cooperation say coal-fired power plants, steel mills, and waste treatment facilities put the region
high on the list.
Victor Shantora is director of the agency:
“The ranking is Texas number 1, Ohio number 2, the province of Ontario is number 3, and
Pennsylvania is number 4. They represent over about 25% of total releases in North America.”
Among the toxic chemicals cited are hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and mercury. But the report
isn’t all bad news. It indicates while some of the toxic chemicals wind up as pollution in the air,
water, and soil, a growing amount of it is simply being transported for proper disposal in
landfills or for recycling.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Cohen in Columbus.
A recent study on pollution in North America shows a drop in environmental pollution between 1995 and 2000. The study was conducted by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which was set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports, one trend being noted is that smaller industries across the continent are becoming the big polluters:
A recent study on pollution in North America shows a drop in environmental pollution between
1995 and 2000. The study was conducted by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation,
which was set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement. But as the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports, one trend being noted is that smaller industries
across the continent are becoming the big polluters:
Officials for the Commission say it’s a good news-bad news picture of what’s going on across the
continent. The environmental watchdog says the biggest polluters such as electrical generating
plants and steel factories are releasing fewer hazardous chemicals. But smaller industries, who
have tended to pollute less are showing a significant increase in their emissions.
Victor Shantora is with the Commission.
“The smaller polluters, probably about 15,000 such facilities across North America, are actually
tracking upwards. And we think that that’s problematic.”
The study shows a seven-percent decline in the amount of toxins released by big industries from
1998 to 2000, while the smaller polluters showed a 32-percent increase over the same period.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club say negative publicity has shamed the big polluters
into cutting down on emissions. They say that hasn’t worked against the small polluters. So it’s
up to governments to force them to make the reductions.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Karpenchuk.
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new clean-air standards for some diesel-powered equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new clean-air standards for some diesel
powered equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The EPA’s new rules would cut the soot and pollution that’s belched by off-road diesel vehicles
such as bulldozers and farm tractors. Frank O’Donnell is with the environmental group Clean Air
“Currently there are very minimal controls on big diesel heavy equipment and the fuel itself is
extremely dirty. It’s virtually unregulated. And this EPA proposal will go a long way, over time,
making a significant reduction in the diesel pollution coming from heavy equipment.”
The EPA projects the new rules will prevent almost ten-thousand premature deaths each year
once the standards are fully phased in. But, that’ll take a while with the last of the dirty vehicles
probably taken out of service around the year 2030.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
A new musical looks at the pressures to develop pristine areas of the Great Lakes north woods. Lure of money and love of land conflict in the North Country Opera Continued.
The remote northern areas are where people go to get away – to vacation, fish, and relax. But for a variety of reasons the region’s north woods are being developed and settled. In the process, the wild, the quiet, and the slow pace of life that attracted people in the first place is disappearing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney tells us about a playwright who is trying to get people thinking about the changes development brings:
The remote northern areas are where people go to get away – to vacation, fish, and relax. But for
a variety of reasons the region’s North Woods are being developed and settled. In the process the
wild, the quiet, and the slow pace of life that attracted people in the first place is disappearing.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney tells us about a playwright who is trying to
get people thinking about the changes development brings:
Jay Steilstra writes songs and plays that celebrate the natural beauty and slower pace of life in
rural northern Michigan.
(sound of music)
(“You see the white birches and pines, you know you’ve crossed over the line…”)
“I’ve always liked the North land a lot, the beautiful running water and the lakes are beautiful too
blue sparkling, and the white birches and the evergreens.”
Twenty years ago, Jay Steilstra wrote a musical play called the ‘North Country Opera.’ It told the
story of a man from the big city who falls in love with a woman and the way of life in the
fictional Northwoods town of Grand Marais. By the end of the play he’s left city life behind,
moved north, and married Sari, the owner of a small working class bar, and the two live happily
ever after. But a couple years ago, Jay Steilstra realized the up north life he writes about is being
“There is a real Grand Marais, and I’ve been there many times, and it’s a little lovely town, and I’d
hate to see that turned over to condos and completely defiled, if I can use such a strong word.”
So, he’s written a sequel ‘In North Country Opera Continued.’ His characters grapple with the
pros and cons of development, after two big city land developers show up at Sari’s bar.
“You’re not going to believe what just happened. The offer I just got for this place. And you
know that eighty acres old Ereos got for sale, who knows for how long. McKinley, she’s talking
to the real estate agent right now, and she’s good. You should see her work. And chip says,
maybe shops or some galleries and you know the snowmobilers are short of motels in winter and
well, a lodge, upscale, good taste, and all elegant even, maybe even a boutique, and my god, the
money they’re talking its unreal.”
Tracy Lee Komarmy plays the bar owner named Sari in North Country Opera Continued. She
says the musical play has an anti-development message, but she says it also explores why
development has an appeal and allure.
“I think everybody might kind of feel the thrill…’What if they put in a lodge, a fancy
lodge…What if they did that?…’You know, going up north, I could see that.”
And Jay Stielstra’s musical shows how people in rural communities often yearn for the jobs and
money development brings, and for the stores, products, and lifestyle they see in books,
magazines, and on TV.
(sound of play)
“Nowadays are different. People change. You have to admit that.”
“Well, what do you want? Forty acres of malls and boutiques?”
“Well, it would be nice to have some things nice around here, like on TV.”
Steilstra: “If you’re living in a small town in extreme northern Michigan, it is difficult. A very
good friend of mine, after he retired from teaching school, lived in Seney. He loved the north and
loved the air. He loved the cold rivers. But it was 85 miles to the bookstore. So yeah, wouldn’t it
be nice to have a Borders? So, you’re right, people do miss things and they do have temptations
and willingness to make those kind of compromises, so it’s understandable.”
(sound of play…singing)
“When the dollar comes to town she wears a fancy gown. She flirts and she teases gets anything
But in the end the character Sari says no and turns down the developers offer to turn her bar into a
fancy lodge complete with chic boutiques. She realizes that the beauty of the land and the
rewards of a simple life surrounded by friends are more important to her than money and fancy
things. It’s a message that’s hit home for Tracy Lee Kormarmy who plays Sari.
“Working on this piece, I’ve continually come back to my roots and come back to nature and am
reminded over and over of what really matters. And Jay just captures it beautifully. I hope
everybody leaves reminded of what really matters.”
(music…”It’s a wonder the stars how they twinkle at night…” fade under)
Jay Stielstra’s ‘North Country Opera Continued’ premiers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He hopes it
might be performed elsewhere in the region.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.
(“It’s a wonder the sun shines so warm and bright. It’s a wonder I will never understand…”)
Alison Clarke shows how high the bear in her yard reached. Her bird feeder is more than 8 feet tall. Photo by Chris Julin.
Bears, like this black bear peering from a north woods forest, have been moving into the city of Duluth.
The black bear population is growing throughout the upper Great Lakes region. Most of those bears live where you’d expect – in the woods. But now, a few bears have decided to move to town. And that’s making some people anxious. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin has this report:
The black bear population is growing throughout the upper Great Lakes region. Most those bears
live where you’d expect – in the woods. But now, a few bears have decided to move to town.
And that’s making some people anxious. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin has
Alison Clarke lives in northern Minnesota in the city of Duluth. She has big windows that look out on her
backyard. There’s a pair of binoculars on the dining room table. And there’s a list of birds she’s
seen in the yard. Actually, she has more than birds on her list.
“Let’s see. March 16th was the first observation of bears this year. Grabbed the neighbors’ suet
that was hanging out there. That was probably the 300 pound or so sized one.”
Alison Clarke records a bear sighting every two or three days – sometimes in the middle of the
(sound of outdoors)
Out in her yard, she points to a bird feeder sitting on top of a wooden post.
“It’s eight and a half feet from the ground to the base of the feeder. The largest bear that we’ve
known can reach with its claws and nose up to the base of that feeder.”
This is the middle of town, but the yards are full of pine trees. Creeks and rivers wander all
through the neighborhood on their way to Lake Superior. And they make great thoroughfares for
bears. Bears have always walked through Duluth – on occasion. Now, about 10 bears have taken
up permanent residence in town.
Alison Clarke is on the lookout for bears. She keeps her garbage in the garage. She doesn’t leave
her windows or her sliding door open unless she’s nearby. But one time she walked around the
corner of her house and came face-to-face with a mother bear and her cubs.
“They’re not going to eat me, but if I were to surprise them, it’s
a significant potential danger.”
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources put a trap in the yard a couple years ago. They
didn’t catch anything. The bears are so wise to the ways of people that one of them would stick
his head in the trap to check out the bait, but he never stepped into the cage.
So Alison Clarke wants the city of Duluth to get rid of the bears that live in town. That means
killing them. The Department of Natural Resources says there’s nowhere to relocate the bears.
Minnesota’s woods are full of bears. And besides, they say bears come right back if you catch and
Some people in the neighborhood want the bears removed. Some of the neighbors want the bears
left alone. And some of them aren’t sure.
(sound of Kirstin & Kyra)
Kirstin Peterson is digging in the garden with her four-year-old daughter, Kyra. They don’t come
out in the backyard after dusk. And Kyra isn’t allowed to play in the yard alone.
“I’m conflicted. I don’t know if I want the bear to be killed by humans just because we’ve entered
their territory. Or I’m not sure if they’ve entered ours. (Kyra: “Bears are scary.”). When it comes
to threatening my child, I get to be myself a mother bear. (Julin: “So what do you want to have
happen?”). For it to go away (nervous laugh).”
That probably isn’t going to happen. Martha Minchak is the state’s wildlife manager in Duluth.
She says the bears are comfortable in the city. She says the state will bring in professional
trappers to catch bears that are persistent trouble-makers – but that’s a last resort.
“If we do have really chronic problems, where folks have tried everything else they can do to
clean up the situation – remove the bird feeders, gas grills, pet food, that kind of thing – and the
bears continue to come back, then we’ll try to get the contract trappers out wherever we can set up
the traps and try and remove some of these bears.”
Last year in Duluth, a bear took a swipe at a 10-year-old boy on a bicycle. Martha Minchak says
people are lucky that no one’s gotten hurt yet. She wants the city of Duluth to bring in sharp-shooters, or have an archery hunt. But she says state and city budgets are so tight that nothing
like that will happen this year.
City hall is getting some phone calls about bears, but the city has no plans to take any action.
Some bear activists from Minneapolis are planning a workshop in Duluth. They want to
demonstrate guns that fire bean bags, and other “non-lethal” methods to chase bears away. State
wildlife managers say they’ll go to the workshop, but their number one priority is to get people in
Duluth to lock up their garbage and pet food and quit tempting the bears.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chris Julin.
Joe Rappa holds up the final product: biodiesel made from used vegetable oil. Photo by David Sommerstein.
It doesn't take much to brew a mini-batch of biodiesel. Here are all the ingredients Joe Rappa used to make his batch of biodiesel. Photo by David Sommerstein.
This winter, U.S. automakers have unveiled more environmentally friendly cars, SUVs, and trucks. They include gas-electric hybrids, even hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. The new models will reduce smog and other emissions and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But a cleaner domestic fuel already exists for diesel cars and trucks, and you can find it at most restaurants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein profiles a man who brews his own biodiesel from used vegetable oil:
This winter U.S. automakers have unveiled more environmentally friendly cars, SUVs, and
trucks. They include gas-electric hybrids, even hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles. The new
models will reduce smog and other emissions and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But a
cleaner domestic fuel already exists for diesel cars and trucks, and you can find it at most
restaurants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein profiles a man who brews
his own biodiesel from used vegetable oil:
Joe Rappa’s VolkSwagen Quantum looks like any older car. It’s a maroon station wagon with
180,000 miles on it. It’s got a diesel engine with the tell-tale diesel rattle.
But even though we’re inside an enclosed garage in an auto lab, there’s no black exhaust, no acrid
diesel smell. Instead, it smells like a kitchen.
“Some people say it smells like French Fries, some say it smells more like hamburgers on the
grill than anything else. But everyone smells something different with biodiesel.”
Rappa teaches automotive courses here at the State University of New York in Canton. He lives
120 miles away. Several times a week he commutes in this car powered by biodiesel – a fuel
made from used vegetable oil he collects from local restaurants. He says anyone with a diesel car
can do it themselves.
“It might be a bit unnerving at first because we’re so conditioned to put the same fuel in our car,
that y’know that you go make something in your garage and then go pour it in the tank of your
car goes against everything you’ve been ever taught for the last 20 years that you’ve been
Joe Rappa has a mischievous smile when he talks about brewing his own fuel, especially with
most people worrying about the price of gas, the places our oil comes from, and what it does to
politics and the environment. But Rappa insists he’s not an environmentalist.
“I don’t consider myself a big polluter, either. I’m a tinkerer. I always have to fool around with
something. It’s funny, my dad always used to kid me from the time I was a little kid, ‘You’re not
happy unless you’re screwing around with something.’ My bicycle worked fine, I’d take it apart.”
As an adult, he bought a diesel car. One day, he started reading about biodiesel on the Internet.
“And the more I looked at it, the more I thought, that’s kind of silly, but I bet I could do that, and
got a hold of the chemicals and started fooling around and making mini-batches, and once I was
confident the mini-batches were actually biodiesel and something I can burn in an engine, I
started making bigger batches and putting the stuff in my car.”
Today Rappa spends Sundays in his garage brewing up to 120 gallons of it at a time. He’s
considered a leading expert on biodiesel bulletin boards on the Internet.
Most of the enthusiasts he e-mails with are environmentalists. They see biodiesel as a way to
reduce our reliance on foreign oil and clean up the choking exhaust cars and trucks belch out their
tailpipes. Rappa says biodiesel creates less than half the smog-causing emissions of regular
“The particle emissions out of the tailpipe, 70% less simply by switching fuel, 70-80% less
hydrocarbon, 70-80% less carbon monoxide, those are some serious numbers.”
Nitrous oxide levels are a little higher, though. Those also contribute to smog. But for Rappa,
the big number is price. It costs him 54-cents a gallon to brew the stuff.
Rappa snaps on rubber gloves to show me how it’s done. Basically you mix methanol and lye to
make methoxide. Then you add the methoxide to the oil. The ratio depends on the amount of
animal fat in the vegetable oil, which you figure out through what’s called a titration, and the
amount of biodiesel you want to brew.
“Now we just add the methoxide to the vegetable oil.”
Rappa uses old Pepsi bottles for this demonstration and a wine carafe to hold the oil.
“Put our lid on there. Give it a shake. Immediately it turns to a milkshake consistency. And the
reaction only takes a couple seconds to take place. You mix it thoroughly and it’ll start to get
dark as my biodiesel starts to form.”
The result is honey-colored biodiesel. Glycerine – basically soap – settles on the bottom as a by-
product. Rappa cautions this takes practice. You have to boil the vegetable oil to remove any
water in it. You need to make sure you separate the biodiesel from the glycerine.
In fact, most people who use biodiesel in their cars buy it commercially. Their number is
growing. The National Biodiesel Board predicts biodiesel production will increase by 20 million
gallons this year. Most it is made from soybeans. Some producers use other vegetable oils. But
a U.S. Energy Department-funded study says there’s enough used vegetable oil and other waste
grease to produce 500 million gallons of biodiesel each year.
(sound up of driving)
That’s plenty to keep Joe Rappa’s car on the road and encourage others to join him.
“I still chuckle every time I pour in fuel I made in my garage in the tank of my car.”
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.
A 600 member order of nuns based in Michigan has just completed a major renovation of its “motherhouse.” The top to bottom environmentally-friendly renovation includes the largest privately funded geothermal field in the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
A 600 member order of nuns based in Michigan has just completed a major renovation of its
“motherhouse.” The top to bottom environmentally friendly renovation includes the largest
privately funded geothermal field in the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy
The motherhouse is home to the order’s headquarters and retirement
facilities for the nuns. During the renovation, everything that could be
recycled or reused was. The primary source of heating and cooling is a
270 acre geothermal field of water pipes which uses the earth to cool or
heat water depending on the season. Sister Janet Ryan says the nuns had
to finance the 55-million dollar renovation mainly with loans. But they
felt it was worth it, to serve the order’s mission of helping the poor,
the abandoned and the forgotten.
“The Earth is one of the most forgotten, and really we’ve
lost touch with the fact that Earth is the Mother of all life.”
Ryan says nuns typically don’t make a lot of money – so the order hopes to
generate new sources of revenue to help pay back the loans. That could
include tours, retreats and even allowing people from outside the order to become residents of a
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.
The U.S. military is mapping out a strategy to avoid compliance with environmental laws. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The U.S. military is mapping out a strategy to avoid compliance with environmental laws. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The U.S. military cannot be fined for violating environmental laws, but right now all branches of
the service are required to obey them. Some in the Pentagon want to change that. Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is asking top brass to find examples of how environmental
laws hurt military preparedness. It would give President Bush ammunition to invoke exemptions
to many environmental laws. Jeff Ruch (rook) is with the environmental group Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility.
“This Wolfowitz memo is part of a broader campaign by the Pentagon to free itself from most
Last year, a report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found
that complying with environmental laws did not hurt military preparedness.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a wider probe into a chemical compound used to make Teflon-coated cookware and other well known products, such as Stainmaster, Scotchgard and Gore-Tex. The chemical is known as C8, and it’s manufactured by DuPont. It’s been found in the air and water across the country. Now environmentalists are putting pressure on the EPA to ban it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston has more:
The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a wider probe into a
chemical compound used to make Teflon-coated cookware and other well known
products, such as Stainmaster, Scotchgard and Gore-Tex. The chemical is
known as C8, and it’s manufactured by DuPont… It’s been found in the air
and water across the country. Now environmentalists are putting pressure on
the EPA to ban it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston has
The EPA has launched the most extensive study yet to determine whether the
chemical C8 and similar families of chemicals cause reproductive and
developmental damage to women and girls. The 3-M company, which used to
manufacture C-8, has studied the effects of the chemical on lab rats. The
findings: rats exposed to the chemical lost weight. They experienced delayed
sexual maturation and their offspring commonly died prematurely.
scientist Robert Rikard, though, says the company has used C8 for more than
50-years. He says concerns about the chemical are unfounded. That’s even
though C8 belongs to a family of chemicals that some companies have stopped
manufacturing because of health concerns. 3-M stopped making its Scotchguard stain repellent
after finding one of the chemical compounds sticks around in the environment. It’s also
been found in the bloodstreams of people worldwide. The EPA doesn’t have guidelines in
place to regulate C8. And it could be months before there the agency finishes
its extensive study of the chemical compound.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.