Rising energy prices for natural gas have been hurting homeowners. Now, economists say 2006 is going to be a rough year for farmers as well. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner explains:
Rising energy prices for natural gas have been hurting homeowners. Now, economists say 2006
is going to be a rough year for farmers as well. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner
At the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention, agriculture economists predicted a 10 percent
drop in farmers’ income this year. Rising energy prices can affect a farmer’s ability to borrow
money, and they make nearly everything on a farm more expensive – fertilizer, fuel for
machinery and irrigation.
Keith Collins is chief economist for the USDA.
“As we look out to 2006, the general forecasts are for slightly higher diesel prices and for higher
natural gas prices which is the main component in nitrogen fertilizer, the most important fertilizer
that farmers use.”
Collins says to address the problem, the USDA is targeting grants and loans to energy production
and conservation projects in rural areas. The agency is also developing tools for producers to
evaluate and improve energy efficiency on their farms.
States that are looking at regional agreements to reduce air pollution could face legal challenges. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
States that are looking at regional agreements to reduce air pollution could face legal challenges.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Some states are upset with the pace of federal efforts to address climate change. So, they’re
considering teaming up on their own. For example, New York and some other eastern states plan
to begin a trading program in 2009, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to
Robert Percival is an environmental law professor at the University of Maryland. He says the
regional efforts must proceed carefully.
“If the federal government fails to take action against a major problem there’s no problem letting
the states step in as long as they do so in a non-discriminatory way.”
In other words, the states can’t interfere with interstate commerce, by ruling against utilities or
other firms that produce products outside their regional collaboration. If the states do
discriminate, they’d need to get approval from Congress, and with Capitol Hill and the White
House currently on the same page on many issues, it isn’t clear federal lawmakers would back the
One of the abandoned houses that a group of artists has covered in "Tiggerific Orange" paint to get the attention of city officials in Detroit. (Photo courtesy of the artists... who wish to remain anonymous)
Football fans are gearing up for the bright lights and glitz of this year’s Superbowl in Detroit. One event that won’t make the halftime show is a tour of the city’s dilapidated and abandoned buildings. They’re everywhere. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jennifer Guerra reports on a group of artists sneaking around late at night hoping to draw attention to the urban decay:
Football fans are gearing up for the bright lights and glitz of this year’s Superbowl in Detroit.
One event that won’t make the halftime show is a tour of the city’s dilapidated and abandoned
buildings. They’re everywhere. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jennifer Guerra reports on
a group of artists sneaking around late at night hoping to draw attention to the urban decay:
When you drive around Detroit, you can’t help but notice the abandoned buildings. Houses with
caved in roofs and charred out insides line the streets. I met up with Christian, an artist who’s
been living in Detroit for the past 15 years. He says when people from the suburbs drive into
Detroit… they don’t see a city so much as a burnt out chasm, and that’s not the kind of symbol
he wants associated with his hometown.
“I just think that the symbol of a burnt out abandoned house is a horrible symbol to grow up
around for the kids in the city. Some people have to look at beaches and mountains, these people
have to live with this sort of symbol of defeat. You almost feel like a social responsibility to do
something about it, you know.”
So Christian, along with his friends Jacques, Greg and Mike grabbed some smocks, a bunch
of rollers, and gallons of orange paint, but not just any orange paint… this is the shockingly
bright, stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of orange paint that you can’t help but notice… it’s called
Tiggerific Orange. And with that, the artists headed out in the middle of the night to paint their
first abandoned house. It should be noted here that what the guys are doing – trespassing and
vandalizing property – is illegal. So they’ve asked that their last names not be used…
Around 3 a.m. – while painting their first house – Christian noticed that they had some
company… the police:
“Well I was outside and they came by and he said ‘what are you doing?’ And I said we’re painting
the house. And he said ‘why?’ And I said because it needs a paint job, and he said ‘Have at it
bro!’… and he drove away… and it was like all right, cool!”
From there the guys went on to paint eight more houses around the area. They’re very choosy
about which houses to paint. The structures have to be residential and clearly abandoned. Also,
they have to be in a high traffic area.
(sound of cars driving by)
Mike – one of the painters – took me to a side street above two freeways. There, the artists had
recently slathered Tiggerific Orange paint on six abandoned houses clustered together.
“You wanna go closer? Just watch your step…”
From pretty much every angle along the freeways you can see all six houses. Each has fallen
victim to arson. Tires, wood planks and garbage cover what was once somebody’s front yard.
Even some of the debris is splashed with orange paint.
“There’s part of the floor that is fallen and is now perpendicular to the ground…so we painted
the underside of that floor…”
Through the windows you can see dirty, old-looking stuffed animals litter the floor. Mike says he
sees that kind of stuff left behind all the time.
“Families used to live in these buildings and now the buildings are not worth enough to tear it
down, the property’s not worth enough to bulldoze, and that’s not a judgment on the city or anything. I wish
it was worth someone’s time to bulldoze. If I had the resources to do that I guess I would, but all
I can do is spend a couple hundred bucks on paint.”
Mike would need a lot more than a couple hundred bucks to bulldoze those houses. Amru Meah
– the Director of Detroit’s Building and Safety Engineering Department – estimates the average
demolition cost for a residential building to be somewhere around 5500 dollars.
“No city could actually effectively demolish every building that became an eyesore or in bad
shape because you could actually have a situation where you gotta whole bunch of buildings… so
you’d run around and try to demolish two, three, four thousand buildings a year. That’s not
But the Tiggerific Orange paint is working. Of the nine houses painted so far, two have been torn
down, and according to Jacques – one of the guys with the orange paint – putting pressure on
city officials and creating awareness are huge motivators.
“People will drive by the houses on the highways and they’ll kind of catch a glimpse of it, but
they’re on the highway so they just drive right by. So the next time they go down the highway
they might remember, ‘oh my god, I want to look for that orange house!’ And so as they’re
looking for the orange house, they’re looking for all the other houses in turn. What that does is
that that raises sort of an awareness of what’s going on, and as we’ve already seen as two houses
have been destroyed: awareness brings action.”
But, as Jacques points out, four guys can only paint so many houses on their own:
“One of the beautiful things about the project is that it’s such a simple move. All we’re doing is
taking a roller, taking a paintbrush and painting the façade of a house orange, and it’s already
had so many ramifications. So, you know actually we would encourage anyone out there who feels the desire
to do it to just go pick up a roller and paint a house.”
But keep in mind… just because the police let the orange painters off the hook the first time…
doesn’t mean they’ll be so lucky in the future.
The lead paint on the inside of this apartment window is decades old. Toddlers who swallow lead paint chips risk behavioral disorders, lowered intelligence, and neurological damage. The dust created by opening and closing the window is also toxic. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
Some environmental issues are so old, they almost seem dead. One of those issues is lead paint. It got a lot of press in the 1970’s, but even today there are nearly 300,000 kids with high lead levels. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to protect children when older homes get a facelift. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has this look:
Some environmental issues are so old, they almost seem dead. One of those issues is lead
paint. It got a lot of press in the 1970’s, but even today there are nearly 300,000 kids with
high lead levels. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to protect
children when older homes get a facelift. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn
Allee has this look:
The 1970’s were filled with horror stories of toddlers eating lead paint chips. It was
pretty serious stuff. Children became mentally retarded or even died from it.
You don’t read those stories much anymore.
(sound of kids playing)
But for Chicago lead inspector Earl Coleman, lead paint’s still a daily reality. Today he’s
at this house because a child here tested high for lead. It’s a high priority inspection –
there are eleven children living here… and that’s not all.
“This particular stop’s also a daycare, so we get extra benefits from the fact that it’s not
just a child in the house. All those that come here and get service will benefit from this
Coleman sets up his lead detector.
And starts in a children’s room. It’s decorated with Disney knickknacks and pink paint.
As he checks the walls, he explains lead chips aren’t the only danger.
“What happens is, with lead, once it begins to deteriorate, it creates dust, and from that
moment on dust then is spread very easily.”
This invisible dust gets on furniture, clothes and toys, and to a kid, any of these is
fair game for chewing. Coleman eyes the window nearby.
If it’s got lead paint, opening or closing it could spread toxic dust. Two grade-school
girls comb their dolls’ hair while sitting just below the window. Coleman leans over
them to get a reading.
“If a child’s been cooped up in the house all day long and they want to know what’s
going on outside, the best place to look is through the window, so you touch the window,
you sit in the window, and yes, we have lead here.”
A minute ago, this was just a play area, but with this simple check, the girls now are
playing under an official lead hazard. Ingesting dust could be as easy as forgetting to
wash their hands before lunch. The other windows test positive, too.
Luckily, the homeowner qualifies for a free program to replace the windows, but
programs like that don’t reach everybody. That’s why the EPA wants home contractors to
get training before they repair older homes.
Coleman supports the idea. He says, if just opening a window creates a threat, think of
what sanding one can do.
One time, he was called to a building that had just been totally rehabbed.
“It was ready for show. Anybody that would walk through the place would say this place
is beautiful, but he had so much dust still there, that there was fine, fine film in that
place, and the kid got sick because there was still lead dust, all over everything.”
He says the contractor had a great reputation, but just didn’t know any better. Coleman
says that’s pretty common, but some rehab industry reps say the rules aren’t needed.
Vince Butler’s with the National Association of Home Builders. The group also
represents home rehabbers. Butler worries contractors will have trouble paying for
mandatory training. He says those training costs will be passed on to consumers, and
that’ll mean higher prices.
“The concern is that you get frustrated and decide, heck, I’ll just do it myself and do the
best I can. Or, you hire somebody that comes in there and, god forbid, starts sanding
things and burning things to get rid of that paint, and makes the problem much worse
than had a professional had come in and employed what we know to be safe work
Butler says unprofessional repairs could leave even more lead dust around.
The EPA doubts that. It says homeowners will still hire professionals because repair
prices won’t rise much.
Meanwhile, advocates support the rules. Anita Weinberg heads a group called Lead-Safe
Illinois. She says children’s health shouldn’t be left to the rehab industry’s voluntary
training. When Weinberg tries making that point to politicians, she often gets frustrated.
Just like everyone else, politicians feel the problem’s ancient history.
“When we go and talk to legislators they often wind up saying, I thought the problem was
solved, and in fact, the problem is that lead doesn’t disappear.”
And Weinberg says even the EPA’s been slow to fight the problem. Congress asked for
these new rules for rehab contractors thirteen years ago.
The EPA will hear comments on the home repair rules over the next few months. In the
meantime, Weinberg and other advocates will push to keep the strongest provisions.
They’ll also ask the EPA to improve follow-up testing.
That way, homeowners can be sure no lead dust was left behind after a rehab.
Weinberg’s not sure whether to be heartened by the EPA’s proposal.
“It’s not depressing in that we really know what we should be doing about it and can
make those efforts. It is depressing that we’re not yet doing it sufficiently.”
That’s even after decades worth of research showing lead poisons children.
Mild winter weather is shutting down logging operations across the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Mild winter weather is shutting down logging operations across the
region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Rain and mild temperatures have caused the ground to thaw, making
logging impossible in some places.
Al Steege is with the Keweenaw Land Association in Ironwood in
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He says logging in the UP is down about
75 percent for this time of year.
“I’ve been here ten years, I don’t remember a winter quite like this.
We’ve had winters where there’s been a lot of snow and that has caused
some issues with us logging, but as far the temperature-wise, I don’t
remember the ground situations being quite like they are this year.”
Steege says the UP needs single-digit temperatures for several nights in a
row to get logging production back up. The winter logging season runs
through mid-March. Some areas in the UP, Minnesota and Wisconsin
can only be logged in the winter because they stay too wet in the
Cleaning up the Great Lakes has become part of the environment platform for at least one party in Canada’s national election campaign. Canadian Prime minister Paul Martin’s liberals are promising to spend one billion dollars toward cleaning up the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
Cleaning up the Great Lakes has become part of the environment
platform for at least one party in Canada’s national election campaign.
Canadian Prime minister Paul Martin’s liberals are promising to spend
one billion dollars toward cleaning up the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence
Seaway. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
Paul Martin says the pledge is another aspect of the Liberal party’s green
plan. Martin says the one billion dollars would be spent over ten years in
an effort to clean up toxic hot spots along the world’s largest freshwater
“By taking action we will better protect our water and our wildlife, we’ll
make our waterfronts more vibrant and healthy, and we will ensure that
the revitalization of these ecosystems stands out as our collective
Martin says half the money, about five hundred million dollars, would be
earmarked for sites that have been used for decades as a dump for
industrial and household waste. Some of the money would also go to
assessing ecological threats posed by pharmaceuticals and other
pollutants, and researching the effects of human action on these
A tree-killing beetle continues to spread through the region. The beetle has left millions of ash trees in its wake. Now it’s spread into northeast Indiana and will cost one city there much of its natural beauty. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jeff Bossert reports:
A tree-killing beetle continues to spread through the region. The beetle has left millions of ash trees in its wake. Now
it’s spread into northeast Indiana and will cost one city there much of its
natural beauty. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jeff Bossert
A survey of ash trees in Decatur by the state’s Department of Natural
Resources shows the emerald ash borer has been wreaking havoc there
for some time on some trees, as long as 4 or 5 years. So, the city recently
announced it would spend 1-million dollars to cut down about 15-
thousand of them.
The ash borer slowly kills trees by making tunnels under the bark and
cutting off the food supply.
City Forester Dwight Pierce says the trees are almost entirely
infested. He hopes this move will end any concerns of the ash borer
showing up elsewhere in the state.
“We don’t want to let it spread out of our city and get into adjoining
cities, and spread farther south in the state. We’re still hoping we can
control it here before it gets down to south of Indianapolis and it turns
into a whole forest again. We obviously don’t want to let it get into
Pierce says the beetle likely came from firewood brought in from
infected areas in Michigan or Ohio… and he hopes residents of Decatur
heed warnings about moving firewood across state lines.
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to change the way it calculates fuel economy estimates on the window stickers of new cars and trucks. Consumer and environmental groups have been arguing that the estimates don’t match up to real world driving. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to change the way it
calculates fuel economy estimates on the window stickers of new cars
and trucks. Consumer and environmental groups have been arguing that
the estimates don’t match up to real world driving. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports:
The current EPA tests assume cars and driving conditions are the way
they were in 1985. The tests don’t factor in air conditioning, driving in
cold weather or driving any faster than 60 miles an hour.
The EPA says the new methods will lower the miles per gallon estimates
on most vehicles. The city estimates for conventional cars and trucks
could drop 10 to 20 percent. For hybrids, the city estimates could drop
up to 30 percent. A hybrid’s fuel economy is more sensitive to cold
weather and air conditioning.
Consumer groups say the new tests will give buyers a more accurate
picture of the car they take home.
Susan Pikrillidas is with AAA.
“We do honestly and truly believe that accurate labels will cause people
to buy more fuel efficient vehicles particularly in light of the high
Under the proposal, the new test methods will begin with 2008 models…
so you could see the new stickers on cars as soon as fall 2007.
A new study by an environmental group says there are high
concentrations of toxic chemicals called PBDE’s and phthalates inside many cars. The Ecology Center is calling for the chemicals to be phased out. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy
A new study by an environmental group says there are high
concentrations of toxic chemicals called PBDEs and phthalates inside
many cars. The Ecology Center is calling for the chemicals to be phased
out. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
PBDEs are used as flame retardants in auto parts, and phthalates make
plastic parts more flexible. The study found that the heat that builds up
inside a car in the sun causes the chemicals to be released, which
increases exposure to humans.
Jeff Gearhart of the Ecology Center says there are plenty of safer
alternatives and the auto industry should use them. He says there are not
many studies on the effect of the chemicals on humans, but animal
studies show that they hurt reproduction and brain development.
“We should take a precautionary approach and we think that’s the
type of approach that many people take in their own lives.”
A spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says
flame retardant PBDEs make cars safer for people in the event of a fire,
and that PBDEs and phthalates are both safe.
Eurasian Watermilfoil is one of the non-native species that has
invaded inland lakes. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)
An up-close look at Eurasian Watermilfoil. (Photo courtesy of the
Washington State Department of Ecology)
Invasive plants, fish and other creatures are threatening many inland lakes. Environmentalists and property owners are trying to stop the spread…before the invaders dramatically alter the smaller bodies of water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann-Elise Henzl reports:
Invasive plants, fish and other creatures are threatening many inland
lakes. Evironmentalists and property owners are trying to stop the
spread…before the invaders dramatically alter the smaller bodies of
water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann-Elise Henzl reports:
It’s strange to think that plants and animals from Europe, Asia and Africa
are living in small lakes in the Midwest. Boaters have taken invaders
there…after picking them up in the Great Lakes.
The big lakes are home to more than 160 aquatic invasive species,
including Eurasian Watermilfoil. The stringy plant grows in thick
clusters that get up to 12 feet tall.
“I have seen lakes where if you fell out of the boat in these massive
weeds and you weren’t wearing a life jacket, I don’t care how good a
swimmer you are, you would sink. You can not struggle your way
through these thick entanglements of weeds.”
Ted Ritter leads an effort to reduce aquatic invasive species…in
Wisconsin’s Vilas County.
(Sound of pontoon motor)
On one afternoon he takes his pontoon boat on a lake that had an
infestation of Eurasian Watermilfoil.
“It is a very aggressive plant and it has no natural predators to control its
growth, it grows up to two inches a day.”
When Eurasian Watermilfoil finds conditions it likes, it takes over
quickly. A piece as small as two inches can break off, and float away to
create a new plant.
Eurasian Watermilfoil is widespread in northern Michigan… northern
Wisconsin and other places. It’s one of dozens of aquatic invasive
species on the move in the region.
One of the worst invaders is zebra mussels. They can ravage a lake’s
(Sound of motor boat)
So far, they’ve made it to just one lake in northern Wisconsin. Mike
Preul with the Lake Superior Chippewa scuba dives there, to count the
mussels. Three years ago, he found 7 adults per square meter. This year,
he counted more than 14-hundred:
“They’re still increasing. What they’ve seen in other systems is that just
like with any other exotic species they’ll come in, the population will
explode, they’ll kind of eat themselves out of house and home, and then
they’ll come down to a level and reach a steady state.”
No method has been discovered to get rid of zebra mussels, but there are
ways to control some invaders.
Herbicides can be used to kill Eurasian Watermilfoil, and some property
owners chip in to buy aquatic insects to kill the plants.
Les Schramm did that on his local lake:
“As the larvae hatches it burrows into the stem of the Eurasian
Watermilfoil and sort of eats out the center vascular part, and it falls over
People fighting aquatic invasive species say it’s like fighting weeds in a
garden — the work never stops and it can be expensive.
Ted Ritter of Vilas County says it costs thousands of dollars to treat a
lake once. So, often people do nothing.
Ritter says that can hurt the environment. He says it can also threaten the
economy, in areas like northern Wisconsin that rely on tourism.
Ritter says the invaders can reduce the appeal of a lake. He mentions a
plant called “curly leaf pondweed.” When it dies in the middle of
summer, it creates algae blooms that look like slimy green pillows:
“When people arrive at resorts and they look out and they see that very
unappealing lake they say ‘I’m not staying here,’ and they go somewhere
else. When realtors bring prospective buyers out to look at a property,
people get out of their car and they go right to the lake and they say ‘oh
my, I’m not even interested in looking at the house. This lake is
Because it’s so difficult to control invasive species, Ritter and others
fighting the invaders focus on prevention.
Local volunteers and workers from the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources spend hours at boat landings. They urge people to clean their
boats, trailers, and fishing gear thoroughly when going from lake to lake,
that can keep unwanted plants and creatures from traveling along.