The Environmental Protection Agency says the phase-out of a widely used pesticide is working. They say the amount of methyl bromide companies have in stock has been dropping since 2003. Christina Shockley has more:
The Environmental Protection Agency says the phase-out of a widely used pesticide is
working. They say the amount of methyl bromide companies have in stock has been
dropping since 2003. Christina Shockley has more:
Methyl bromide is a colorless, odorless gas used by crop growers to kill unwanted bugs.
Scientists say when the chemical gets into the atmosphere, it depletes the ozone layer.
Drusilla Hufford is with the Environmental Protection Agency. She says methyl bromide
is the fourth most widely-used pesticide in the United States:
“It’s used in soils where people are growing crops, it’s used to make sure that houses and
structures are free of pests, and it’s used to make sure that commodities that are shipped
abroad or brought into the United States are also free of pests.”
Methyl bromide was phased out of production in the US in 2005, except for limited
cases. So, for the most part, what’s used now was produced before then.
Hufford says many growers, especially in California, are increasing their use of safer
alternatives to methyl bromide.
For the Environment Report, I’m Christina Shockley.
A shed in Valmeyer, Ill. shows how high the water got during the 1993 Flood. The flood waters caused such damage that most of the town moved a few miles east, high up on a bluff. A few residents and many farmers, though, stayed in the flood plain. (Photo by Tom Weber)
A view of the flood plain at Valmeyer, Ill., where the Corps studied the possibility of building a new levee for the purpose of creating a "storage district." (Photo by Tom Weber)
Ron Kuergeleis (left) chats with Doug Sondag at Doug's farm in Valmeyer, Ill. The two men sit on the local levee district, which is the government body responsible for the levee's upkeep. (Photo by Tom Weber)
It’s been 13 years since the Great Flood of ’93 caused widespread destruction along the upper Mississippi River. After the flood, there was talk of needing to expand the natural floodplain by eliminating levees that protect farmland. That didn’t happen. In fact, not much of anything has happened, but that doesn’t stop farmers from wondering if the government will buy their farms and turn them into natural areas designed to take the waters of the next big flood. Tom Weber reports:
It’s been 13 years since the Great Flood of ’93 caused widespread destruction along the
upper Mississippi Rivers. After the flood, there was talk of needing to expand the natural
flood plain by eliminating levees that protect farmland. That didn’t happen. In fact, not
much of anything has happened, but that doesn’t stop farmers from wondering if the
government will buy their farms and turn them into natural areas designed to take the
waters of the next big flood. Tom Weber reports:
For all the river talk in these parts, it’s actually kind of hard to see the water. Doug
Sondag’s farm is about about two miles from the river and his view to the west
is of the bluffs, on which Missouri towns, like Herculanium, sit.
“That’s Missouri bluffs. That’s Missouri bluffs, and to the north the bluffs that you see is Missouri.
We’re on a big bend here.”
Doug’s friend Ron Kuergeleis is visiting the farm today. Kuergeleis lost his home in the
’93 flood, but he still farms on the flood plain near Valmeyer, Illinois. The two also are
commissioners with the local levee district, which means they’re in charge of keeping the
local levee up-to-date so the river is kept away.
Today, though, they’re talking about the possibility of a new federal levee and something
called “Plan G.”
(Ron): “You’re talking quite a few farmers that would absolutely put them out of
business. You’re one of them, I’m one of them, and there’s – (Doug): “There are quite a few
more.” (Ron): “There are quite a few more.”
No one is going out of business any time soon, though. Plan G is something the Army
Corps of Engineers studied and decided wasn’t worth the money. It would have the
Corps spend billions building up bigger levees along the upper Mississippi to 500-year
levees: the highest levees the Corps builds.
Plan G also would create a huge storage district nearby. A storage district is a kind of
relief area where flood waters go to take strain off other levees. Corps engineer Richard
Astrack says design elements like these can help control flooding in other places:
“Now we have the capability that we didn’t have before to look at whole system to ensure
that actions taken at one location can impact another location.”
The Valmeyer storage district would require a new levee in the flood plain, which would
leave 10,000 acres of currently protected farmland unprotected and on the wrong side of
This all started a few years ago, when Congress told the Corps to study the entire Upper
Mississippi River, from Illinois’s southern tip to Minnesota, find out if the current levees
are good enough to reduce flood damage. If not, should there be some comprehensive plan to guide just which levees get built up and when? Such a study actually had never been done.
The Corps’ Richard Astrack says they looked at a lot of options, including that Plan G,
to see if any of them were worth the time and money. And it turns out, none of them is:
“None of the plans passed that test. Our draft report does not
recommend any systemic plan.”
And the Corps’s final report will probably recommend essentially doing nothing because
the current system does a good enough job of preventing flood damage. The Corps will
recommend updating, but not raising, current aging levees, and also creating some mini-
levees to protect roads that approach bridges.
But even with all the assurances that Valmeyer, Illinois is safe for now, farmers in the
bottomlands are worried that the federal government might one day force their children
or their grandchildren off their farms.
Ron Kuergeleis is a fourth generation farmer:
“We’re pretty much assured in our lifetime it ain’t gonna happen. But some of us got another
generation coming up and you don’t know. He claims, you know where you going to
come up with money, but if they want to come up with it, they’ll find it.”
The worries stem from the fact that Corps cannot, in all fairness, guarantee that such a
levee would never be built. Because setting aside some of the bottom lands for natural
flooding could protect big cities such as St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee,
there’s concern that Congress might one day instruct the Corps of Engineers to buy out
So, while Valmeyer is not getting a new levee right now, the people here say they’ll keep
working to stay one step ahead to make sure it never happens.
One of the biggest cities in the U.S. has released a plan to protect nearly 5,000 acres of natural habitat within city limits. Rebecca Williams has more:
One of the biggest cities in the US has released a plan to protect nearly
5,000 acres of natural habitat within city limits. Rebecca Williams
Cities are some of the last places you’d expect to find good wildlife
habitat. But Chicago officials have mapped out 100 habitat sites within the
city. These are remnants of prairie, savanna, dunes and wetlands that
either escaped development or have potential to be restored.
Kathy Dickhut is with Chicago’s planning department. She says the city
needed the habitat plan to maintain green spaces for migratory birds and
“Unless you know that you have all these things you’re kind of hit or
miss-managing things and you can’t really manage to improve the system.”
Dickhut says when the city recently revamped its zoning codes, these habitat
areas were zoned as natural areas. That means they’ll be set aside strictly
as wildlife habitat: no buildings or ball fields can be put on the same
Natural areas aren't the first thing that come to mind when you think of the city of Chicago, but the city has recently released a plan to protect the ones they have. (Photo by Lester Graham)
One of the biggest cities in the U.S. is trying out a new approach to protect its natural areas. Rebecca Williams reports the city’s mapping out the hidden little places that get overlooked:
One of the biggest cities in the U.S. is trying out a new approach to protect
its natural areas. Rebecca Williams reports it’s mapping out the hidden
little places that get overlooked:
(Sound of birds and buzzing bugs)
You might forget you’re in Chicago as you walk up the path to the Magic
Hedge. It’s a big honeysuckle hedge planted as screening for a missile base
on this land that juts out into Lake Michigan like a crooked finger. When
the Army left in the 70’s, the hedge grew wilder. Migrating birds have been
going nuts over this little area ever since.
“It’s kind of like a bird motel, where on their trips they can stop and rest
and re-energize before they take off again. So it’s just a wonderful
natural oasis within this very dense urban city.”
Jerry Adelmann’s been a fan of green space in the city for decades. He’s
the chair of Mayor Richard Daley’s Nature and Wildlife Committee. Two years
back, Adelmann suggested making a comprehensive inventory of Chicago’s last
remaining scraps of habitat.
“We have some of the rarest ecosystems on the globe – tall grass prairie
remnants, oak savanna, some of our wetland communities are extraordinarily
rare, rarer than the tropical rainforest, and yet they’re here in our forest
preserves and our parks, and in some cases, unprotected.”
The city recently unveiled a new plan to protect these little places in the
city. The Nature and Wildlife Plan highlights one hundred sites, adding up
to almost 5,000 acres. Most of the sites are already part of city
parks or forest lands, but until recently, they didn’t have special
Kathy Dickhut is with Chicago’s planning department. She says before
Chicago’s recent zoning reform, these sites the city wanted to protect were
zoned as residential or commercial areas. Now they’re zoned as natural
“Buildings aren’t allowed, parking lots aren’t allowed. This area is not
going to be zoned for any other active use whereas other parts of the parks
we have field houses, zoos, ball fields, but in these areas we’re not going
to have structures.”
Dickhut says even though land’s at a premium in the city, the planning
department hasn’t run into a lot of opposition with the new habitat plan.
She says she just got a lot of blank looks. Local officials were surprised
the city wanted these small pockets of land.
And that actually worked in the city’s favor.
The city’s been able to acquire new lands for habitat that no one else wanted.
“As a rule we don’t like to take the throwaways for parks and habitat. But
in some cases, habitat lands work well where other things won’t work well.
If you’ve got a road and a river and a very skinny piece of land that won’t fit
anything else, that’s good for habitat, because anywhere where land meets water is
good for habitat.”
The city’s also turning an old parking lot back into sand dunes and
elevated train embankments into strips of green space. And though some of this land
isn’t exactly prime real estate, the city does get donations with a little
In Chicago’s industrial southeast side, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
discovered bald eagles nesting in the area for the first time in a century.
The birds were nesting on a 16 acre plot owned by Mittal Steel USA. The
city got the company to donate the land.
Lou Schorsch is a CEO of the steel company:
“Of course, you always would like to keep the option, it’s close to the
facility, if the facility expands, you could put a warehouse there, but we
had no immediate plans for it and I think when the city approached us, given
this unique circumstance of eagles returning to nest there, frankly it was a
relatively easy decision for us.”
(Sound of crickets)
Surplus land and a symbolic bird helped the city’s cause in this case. But
the city’s Nature and Wildlife Chair Jerry Adelmann hopes this can be the
beginning of a national trend.
Adelmann says preserving remnants of habitat on industrial lands fits into
Mayor Daley’s larger green vision for the city. It’s a vision Jerry Adelmann thinks doesn’t have to
be at odds with the city’s industrial past.
“I’ve had friends come visit and they think of Chicago as this industrial
center, City of Big Shoulders, gangsters and whatever and then they suddenly
see this physical city that’s so beautiful. Our architecture is world-famous but also our public spaces, our natural areas, our parks I think are
becoming world-famous as well.”
But Adelmann admits it’s early yet. It’s too soon to know how well these
remnants of land will function as habitat and what the city might need to
do to make them better. He says while it’s important to provide green
spaces for birds and bugs, these places are even more important for the people
who live in Chicago. Especially people whose only contact with wildlife
might be in the city.
The US government is testing wild migratory birds for a deadly strain of avian flu. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports, so far, no wild birds have tested positive:
The US government is testing wild migratory birds for a deadly strain of
avian flu. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports, so far, no wild birds have
Researchers have tested 13,000 wild birds in Alaska. They’re worried
that wild birds could carry the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu as they
migrate from Asia to North America and infect other birds in Alaska. The
virus has killed more than 140 people in Asia, Europe and Africa.
Gale Kern is with the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services
“We still don’t know how effective wild birds are at carrying the virus long
distances. I think we need to remain diligent and really keep up our
surveillance efforts because we just really don’t know a lot about this
particular strain yet.”
Kern says biologists will now focus on testing birds in the lower 48 states
as fall migration south begins.
Agencies also consider poultry imports and smuggled pet birds ways the virus
could get into the States.
For years, the Air Force has used the Great Lakes as a target range for ammunition. Now, the US Coast Guard wants to do the same. The GLRC’s Noah Ovshinsky has more:
For years, the Air Force has used the Great Lakes as a target range for ammunition.
Now, the US Coast Guard wants to do the same. The GLRC’s Noah Ovshinsky has
The Coast Guard says it’s giving the public additional time to comment on a proposal
to turn the 34 areas in the Great Lakes into permanent firearm training zones. The Air Force already uses the
lakes for live-fire exercises. The zones, locating on the water near Coast Guard stations, will be used to test machine guns, rifles and other weapons.
Jim Fenner sits on the board of the Michigan Charter Boat Association. He says the plan
raises a lot of concerns:
“We want to know how we’re gonna be informed and when these exercises would be
held and how long they would last and what happens if we’re in the area – could they compel
us to leave the area if that happens to be where the fishing is good right then.”
Fenner says about 20 percent of his favorite fishing spots lie within the proposed target zones.
Several retail stores have had to pull millions of aerosol string-in-a-can products. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports:
Several retail stores have had to pull millions of aerosol string-in-a-can
products. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports:
Stores such as Target, Dollar General, American Greetings, Limited Too, and Dollar Tree
were ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pull cans of Zany String,
Crazy String and Party Streamer from their shelves. The products contain banned
hydrochloroflourocarbons. The novelty items were all imported from China or Taiwan.
Adam Kusher is Director of EPA’s Air Enforcement Division:
“All the illegal product has been pulled from the shelves and is being destroyed.”
Hydrochloroflourocarbons or HCFCs deplete the earth’s protective ozone layer. Kushner
says the stores are responsible for making sure the products they import are not banned in
“So, the retailer should, through its contract, insist on verification of the contents of the
All of the stores face civil penalties for selling the illegal products.
The Bush Administration is proposing a Renewable Fuels Standard Program. It aims to double the use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports:
The Bush Administration is proposing a Renewable Fuels Standard Program. It aims to
double the use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The GLRC’s Lester
This new regulation would require more renewable fuels at the pumps. The Bush
Administration predicts we’ll cut petroleum use by nearly four billion gallons a year.
Most of those fuels are expected to come from crops such as corn for ethanol and soy
beans for soy-diesel. But some scientists say using food crops for renewable fuels is a
That’s because it takes a lot of energy to produce ethanol from corn. At best, the net
energy gain in growing, harvesting, and processing corn into ethanol is: one energy unit
input producing a one-and-a-quarter energy unit output. And, ethanol production has been
heavily dependent on government subsidies.
The Environmental Protection Agency notes that new technologies might be able to
produce ethanol from agricultural and industrial waste, such as scrap wood chips,
at a cost that’s competitive with today’s gasoline prices.
The European Union is threatening to impose new emissions rules on auto companies. They want the automakers to work harder to reduce green house gas emissions. The GLRC’s Dustin Dwyer has the story:
The European Union is threatening to impose new emissions rules on auto companies.
They want the automakers to work harder to reduce green house gas emissions. The
GLRC’s Dustin Dwyer has the story:
The EU says automakers in Europe already cut carbon dioxide emissions about 12
percent between 1995 and 2004, but the union’s Commissioner for Enterprise and
Industry, Gunter Verheugen, says 12 percent is not enough.
The goal is to reach 25 percent reduction no later than 2009. That’s part of the European
Union’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.
So far, emissions reductions have been voluntary, but Verheugen says the cuts could
become mandatory if progress doesn’t speed up. That means carmakers will have to make
3 percent cut in CO2 emissions each year between now and 2009. In recent years, the
reductions were only about 1 percent per year.
If the increased reductions become mandatory, it would also have an impact on vehicles
that are built in the U.S., but sold in Europe.
With skyrocketing crude oil prices much of the nation’s attention has turned toward alternative fuels. While many people are focused on ethanol production, one small town is looking at turning waste from humans and hogs into electricity. In a few months, the town will break ground on a 10-million dollar processing plant. It hopes to become the first town in the nation to run completely off renewable resources. The GLRC’s LaToya Dennis reports:
With skyrocketing crude oil prices much of the nation’s attention has turned toward
alternative fuels. While many people are focused on ethanol production, one small town
is looking at turning waste from humans and hogs into electricity. In a few months, the
town will break ground on a 10 million dollar processing plant. It hopes to become the
first town in the nation to run completely off renewable resources. The GLRC’s LaToya
To get where we’re going, you have to pass through small town after small town and
acres and acres of cornfields. Reynolds, Indiana is a farm town of about 500 people. It’s
hard to find on most maps. And it’s pretty easy to overlook. After all, there’s only one gas
station and three restaurants. But what Reynolds is doing is hard to overlook. Charlie
Van Voorst has lived there for a long time and is now the town president. He says the town is
going to provide its own electricity and it’s not going to burn fossil fuels like coal or
“Town board meetings went from talking about the neighbor’s dog in your yard to now
talking about million dollar decisions about what we’re building.”
What the town of Reynolds is building is a new power plant powered by the by-products
of the surrounding farms, chiefly, pig poop. The plant will use technology to pull
methane and other gases from animal and human waste. The gases will then power
engines and steam turbines. Coming out on the other end is electricity, and leftover solids,
which can be used for fertilizer.
(Sound of pigs)
Within just a few miles there are around 150 thousand pigs. That makes for a lot of
“Well, this is the bacon.”
Bill Schroeder is a local pig farmer. He’s standing in the middle of a thousand hogs.
They’re about knee high and weigh around 300 pounds each. They’re constantly eating
“It don’t smell to me, does it smell to you. When you walked in here, did you smell?”
Actually, it did smell, but Schroeder thinks it smells like money. He says he’s willing to
give the waste his pigs produce to the town to turn into electricity. After the waste is
processed, farmers will get a higher quality fertilizer back for their fields. But Schroeder
says some farmers still might hesitate because they’re not being paid for their pig waste.
“There should be return. Anytime you invest money, you expect a return. I mean if
you’ve got a CD in the bank you expect a return on that CD. It’s no different from
investment in machinery, hog buildings or anything else.”
Obviously, some of the financial incentives still have to be worked out, but Reynolds
town officials say there are good reasons besides money to take the town off the existing
power grid. Right now, Reynolds gets its energy from coal. That puts a lot of carbon into
the air. Methane processing produces less carbon dioxide than coal.
Jody Snodgrass is managing director for Rose Energy. That’s the company building the
processing plant. He says the project has another environmental benefit. It reduces the
amount methane from pig manure that’s released into the atmosphere because it’s
captured and used to make electricity.
“The increase of methane causes increased cloud formation. Also causes decreased ozone
layer and basically contributes to global warming as does carbon dioxide and several
other compounds. And if you can reduce those or eliminate those, that obviously is a plus
for the environment.”
That’s the reason the town of Reynolds is getting the support of the state in its effort to
become energy independent. Although everyone’s not on board yet, town president Charlie Van
Voorst is excited about what’s to come. He says small town farming communities haven’t
seen a development this big in more than 100 years:
“Oh, my goodness. Since I’ve grown up, golly. I suppose you could talk about the –
something to this magnitude would be when electricity came into our community.”
Town officials hope Reynolds is powered by pig poop and other alternative fuels by
2008. They say if things go well, their town could become the model for other small farm
towns across the country.
For the GLRC, I’m LaToya Dennis.
HOST TAG: This piece was originally produced for NPR’s Next Generation