Climate Bill Debate Starts in the Senate

  • Democratic leaders are expected to bring a draft bill to the Senate before the August recess. (Photo courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol)

The giant climate change bill
squeaked through the House of
Representatives. Now the battle’s
beginning in the Senate. Rebecca
Williams has more on the debate:

Transcript

The giant climate change bill
squeaked through the House of
Representatives. Now the battle’s
beginning in the Senate. Rebecca
Williams has more on the debate:

Republican Senator Kit Bond said the climate change bill will be destructive to Americans.

“Impose new energy taxes on them, kill their jobs, punish the Midwest and South, help China and India and construct a new bureaucratic nightmare.”

The Obama Administration says doing nothing will cost us more.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu pointed out a recent MIT study predicting, with global warming, temperatures could rise as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit.

“During the last Ice Age, when Canada and United States, down to Ohio and Pennsylvania, were covered year round in a glacier the world was only 11 degrees colder. A world 11 degrees warmer will be a very different place.”

Democratic leaders are expected to bring a draft bill to the Senate before the August recess.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Getting Quiet Cars to Make Some Noise

A lot of people who drive gas-electric hybrid cars love how quiet they are. But others say hybrids are so quiet they’re hazardous. People in the blind community say they can’t hear hybrid cars coming… and they’d like to have sound added back into the cars. Rebecca Williams has the story:

Transcript

A lot of people who drive gas-electric hybrid cars love how quiet they are. But others say hybrids are so quiet they’re hazardous. People in the blind community say they can’t hear hybrid cars coming… and they’d like to have sound added back into the cars. Rebecca Williams has the story:

(tap tap tap of white cane)

Fred Wurtzel has excellent hearing but he can’t see.

He can tell by the echo from his white cane when he’s gotten to the edge of a building or the corner of a city block. And he knows cars by their engines.

(sound of car rumbling past)

“That car has a tweety bird under its hood, a loose belt or whatever it was. Now, there was a car going the other direction. (sound of truck going past) That’s probably a UPS truck.”

But he can’t hear hybrid cars – at least not until they’re right at his feet. That’s because the electric motor is very quiet. And when a hybrid comes to a stop, the engine shuts off.

“If you don’t know there’s a hybrid car there waiting, it may start turning and you may step into its path and not even be aware that there’s a car coming around.”

Wurtzel is president of the Michigan chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. He says the blind community wants some sound added back into hybrid vehicles.

“’Course I grew up in the 60’s so a nice Mustang or something like that would be good (laughs)… just a sound that would let me know that the car’s accelerating or the car’s decelerating – whatever a normal vehicle would sound like.”

Well that’s one idea.

Patrick Nyeste has several ideas. He’s a researcher at North Carolina State University. He tried out 18 different sounds on his test subjects.

Everything from sirens (sound of siren)… to whistles (sound of whistle) … to engine sounds (sound of engine).

“I had a horn from a Beetle – so it’s, ‘meep meep,’ and I would just get giggles from that.”

But, he says to make a quiet car safer, the sound needs to be continuous – like a traditional car. That means some sounds can get annoying really fast.

(sound of continuous beeping)

Yeah that’s enough of that.

Nyeste says that engine noise we heard earlier was one of people’s favorites. They also liked white noise (sound of white noise), and the hum sound (sound of humming). He says that’s because we’re used to hearing those kinds of sounds when a car goes by.

He says a sound added to a hybrid also has to be loud enough to be heard above lawn mowers and garbage trucks.

“You want to make sure that the noise is heard, especially by the blind around corners, around objects, I mean some of these sounds can get masked and that’s important information to know where an object or a vehicle is.”

But some people are worried about adding sound to our cities and suburbs, they say they’re already so noisy.

Lotus Engineering says it has a solution for that. They added a four cylinder engine sound to a Toyota Prius. But the volume’s adjustable.

Colin Peachey is an engineer with Lotus.

“You could set the sound to be higher in certain circumstances or quieter in other circumstances. We could actually make the sound to be whatever level we fancied.”

And you don’t have to hear the sound inside the car.

There’s also a startup company in California – Enhanced Vehicle Acoustics. It’s designing a similar system for hybrids.

But it’s not clear how soon quiet cars might start making noise.

Spokespeople for Toyota and the Big Three say their companies are working on solutions. And some states and members of Congress have been talking about requiring hybrids to make some minimum level of sound.

Then, automakers will have to figure out exactly what a hybrid sounds like.

(montage of engine sounds)

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

(sounds continue)

Related Links

Driving Down Road Noise

  • Heavy traffic on a Houston freeway. (Photo by Ed Edahl, courtesy of FEMA)

Whizzing tires, whining engines and booming car
stereos are just about everywhere. Those sounds are a
form of pollution, and can affect the way we feel. Kyle
Norris has this story:

Transcript

Whizzing tires, whining engines and booming car
stereos are just about everywhere. Those sounds are a
form of pollution, and can affect the way we feel. Kyle
Norris has this story:

The engineers at Chrysler are hard-core about noise.

Right now they’re inside a high-tech studio.
And there’s a car on rollers.
The engineers are trying to pinpoint the noises that a driver would hear.

Inside the cabin it’s pretty quiet (quiet sound inside cabin).
But outside, well… Engineer Taner Onsay explains.

(yelling over whirr of tires) “This is how it sounds outside. See, I cannot
communicate with you, with this sound. Inside this would be totally unacceptable.”

Cars that are quiet are the inside are a huge selling point in the auto biz.
But what about the sounds that a vehicle puts into the world?

Like road noise.
What are people doing about that?

Not a whole lot.

Story goes, there used to be a federal office that dealt with noise.
It was the EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control.

But President Reagan shut that baby down in 1982.
Basically to save on cash.
The idea was that state and local governments could deal with noise.

The noise office did a lot of good things just to help protect our ears.
It had noise standards and regulations – on the books.
And the office was just a really good resource for state and local organizations, and also for people who were just having problems with road noise.

But since it’s been gone…

“Well a lot of the local noise-control programs at the city and county level just dried up
and blew away. It’s hurt the noise program tremendously throughout country.”

That’s Bill Bowlby.
He’s president of an engineering company that consults about road noise.
He’s also worked for state departments of transportation and for the Federal Highway
Administration.

He says that state departments of transportation are concerned about road noise.
And that they’re thinking about things like quieter tires and quieter pavements.
And about not building residential areas near highways.

But states are only required to do so much about road noise.

For example, when states are widening or building highways and using federal money –
which they almost always are – they’re required to study road noise and obey certain
standards.

But when it comes to road noise coming from an existing highway, it’s totally voluntary if
a state wants to deal with it.

So you get a range of how different states deal with it, which they call retrofitting.

Bill Bowlby that says although some states take the issue very seriously…

“…other states have had little interest in idea of retrofits usually because they’re looking
to spend their limited amount of money on highway related projects.”

And the kicker about road noise is that it can seriously, seriously affect people.
For people who live near noisy roads, it can make their lives miserable.
Plus it can make it hard to concentrate as a driver.
And to hear the vehicles around you, like motorcycles and other sounds, like sirens.

Dennis Weidemann is a guy who’s thought a lot about all this.
He wrote his thesis about road-noise.

He says that road noise isn’t dramatic or flashy.
So it doesn’t grab our attention.
And road noise does not have a villain, so we’re all responsible.

Weidemann says it can seem hopeless to people.

“They know they don’t like it but they don’t know how it effects them. And if you don’t
know that, you just get the impression, well, it just bothers me, I’m weird, I’ll let it go.”

Noise experts say we need to re-open the federal noise office.
Or something like it.
And we’ve got to figure-out how to make things quieter.

This is starting to become a hot topic in the pavement industry, where different
businesses are trying to one-up their competitors by making the quietest pavement.

But for car companies there’s really no incentive to make cars that are quieter on the outside.
And right now there are no regulations of how quiet a car needs to be when it comes off
the assembly line.

Although that’s not the case in Europe,
where vehicle noise regulations are much more strict.
And where the whole subject of road noise is taken a lot more seriously.

For The Environment Report, I’m Kyle Norris.

Related Links

Winter Birding: An Audio Postcard

  • The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). (Photo by Mike McDowell)

Despite the cold weather… there are some dedicated wildlife
watchers taking notes, taking photos and enjoying the outdoors. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Janus recently joined
four people in the snowy woods and fields to watch them as they watched
birds. He brings us this audio postcard:

Transcript

Despite the cold weather… there are some dedicated wildlife watchers taking notes,
taking photos and enjoying the outdoors. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Janus
recently joined four people in the snowy woods and fields to watch them as they watched
birds. He brings us this audio postcard:


Noel Cutright: “There’s something happening 365 days a year. Whether it’s in June, in
the height of breeding season here in Wisconsin or in the depths of the winter, you
can
find birds just about anywhere.”


(bird song)


“I think people when they think about going birding in the tropics, they’re always
looking
for the new birds that we don’t have here in Wisconsin. And I was kind of surprised
at
how moved I was when I started seeing some of our birds down there.”


(sound of Bald Eagle)


Mike McDowell: “One way to get people who aren’t really interested in looking at birds
is watching something as lovely as a Bald Eagle. A good place to see them would be
Sauk City, along the Wisconsin River. One time I had a bald eagle there fly right
up into
a tree right next to me. Just a gorgeous view of it in the sun. You can watch them
fly
down from the trees and fly over the water and scoop down and grab a fish and bring it
up to a tree and eat it.”


NC: “Well, we’re starting up a bike trail here in downtown Port Washington. Very
protected. Very close to the lakeshore. I hear a chickadee calling here as we get
started.”


(sound of chickadees)


Delia Unsom: “We used to go out for walks a lot, and one day we were out and saw this
red-tailed hawk circling. And so, you know we were watching that but it was so far
away, so I went out and bought this little, tiny pair of binoculars…”


Chuck Heikkinen: “For twenty bucks.”


DU: “For twenty bucks. And then you start seeing birds up close and then before I
knew
it, Chuck had his own pair of twenty dollar pair of binoculars.”


CH: “Once you get really close to a bird with binoculars, you start to see things
you’d
never imagine.”


DU: “Like birds that we would just totally ignore before – for example sparrows.
Sparrows look so plain, but once you really get into birding, there are certain
sparrows
that are just beautiful.”


(sound of goldfinch)


NC: “Goldfinch flying over. They say ‘potato chip’ when they fly. ‘Potato chip,
potato
chip.'”


“Sometimes if you’re quiet and go out and sit in the woods or along the shore and
birds –
and you’re quiet and don’t make a lot of movement, you can get close to birds. Just
sit
down some place and let the birds come to you. It’s a good way to see them up close…”


(sound of Cooper’s Hawk under)


NC: “There goes a Cooper’s Hawk.”


DU: “Seeing birds is one thing, but hearing birds is another thing.”


CH: “After learning the songs of the birds, it’s almost like being in a symphony.
It’s just
incredibly beautiful sound. Almost like hearing the heart beat of the planet.”


(sound of cardinal under)


NC: “Single note call of a Cardinal. Northern Cardinal – just flew across the path
there.”


CH: “What it does, what it’s done for us I think has pulled the whole state into our
life.
Just all corners of the state we’re pretty well acquainted with because of birds.”


NC: “There’s a White-breasted Nut Hatch I just heard. Yank, yank, yank. Yank, yank,
yank.”


(sound of Nut Hatch under)


DU: “It’s easy to get obsessed with birds, you know? It really is easy. But think
about it:
it’s a great thing to be obsessed about. You know, if you’re going to have an
obsession,
why not something beautiful that gets you outdoors, it brings you out into nature, you
know that makes you happier. There’re just some gorgeous, fantastic days. You know,
in the past we wouldn’t have been outdoors. Now we’re always outdoors.”


MM: “Really all they need is a pair of binoculars and a little bit of time and it’s
great
exercise and why not?”


(bird song fades out)


HOST TAG: “Noel Cutright, Mike McDowell, and the husband and wife team
of Chuck Heikkinen and Delia Unsom watch birds in their home state of Wisconsin. Ed
Janus produced that audio postcard for the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.”

Related Links

Proposed Water Diversion Plan Sparks Debate

  • Who gets water and who doesn’t?

Midwest states and Canadian provinces are conducting public forums this fall on a plan to control large-scale water withdrawals from the Great Lakes Basin. The plan is known as Annex 2001. And as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports… it’s already proving to be controversial:

Transcript

Midwest states and Canadian provinces are conducting public forums this
fall on a plan to control large-scale water withdrawals from the Great
Lakes Basin. The plan is known as Annex 2001. And as the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports… it’s already proving to
be controversial:


The Great Lakes governors and Canadian provincial leaders have drafted
a plan setting standards for new water withdrawal requests. Thirsty
companies and communities outside the basin are expected to look at the
five lakes with increasing frequency. Environmental groups largely
like the proposal… though some want it made stronger.


But George Kuper of the Council of Great Lakes Industries says the plan
is too restrictive. At a regional hearing in Chicago, Kuper said
states and provinces that are competing to attract businesses could
block a diversion request.


“Regional review as now proposed would erode the ability of individual
governors and premiers to attract new jobs to their respective
jurisdictions. That’s a problem.”


In addition to the state meetings taking place, another regional
hearing is scheduled for September 20th in Toronto.


Many governments need to approve the Annex 2001 plan and the process is
expected to take a few years.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Rare Warbler Makes Comeback

  • The Kirtland's Warbler is listed as an endangered species. Its numbers are up these days in Michigan, due to a devastating fire that had positive consequences for warbler habitat. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

New census figures show the population of one of the rarest songbirds in North America is at a record high. Biologists say the tiny Kirtland’s Warbler is one of the lesser-known success stories of the Endangered Species Act. But the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports that success has not come without a price:

Transcript

New census figures show the population of one of the rarest songbirds in North America is at a
record high. Biologists say the tiny Kirtland’s Warbler is one of the lesser-known success
stories of the Endangered Species Act. But the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally
Eisele reports that success has not come without a price:


To find the bird at this time of year, there’s only one place to go—the pine forests of
northern Michigan.


“Hear anything out there yet? No, we may need to take a walk.”


Forest Service biologist Joe Gomola hikes off in search of a Kirtland’s Warbler. He’s
armed with binoculars and a bird watching scope that looks like a bazooka. But he’s
really using his ears.


(forest sounds)


He doesn’t need to go far.


Quietly, he sets up his scope and focuses on a small pine about twenty feet away. There,
a bluish-gray bird—head thrown back, yellow breast puffed out—warbles the loudest
song in the forest.


(Kirtland’s Warbler singing)


“He has to know we’re here… and he just sits unperturbed. Just gorgeous.”


This is the only part of the world where Kirtland’s Warbler are known to nest, drawn to
the scrubby young jack pine that reseed in forest fires.


Logging and fire prevention efforts brought the bird close to extinction. In 1987,
researchers counted only 167 singing males. Ironically, a tragic accident marked a
turning point for the warbler. In 1980, what had begun as a small controlled burn to
create nesting ground for the bird turned into a massive wildfire, killing a Forest Service
worker and engulfing the small village of Mack Lake. But Rex Ennis, head of the
Warbler Recovery Team, says the disaster eventually created 25,000 acres of ideal
warbler habitat. Unexpectedly the bird began to thrive.


“There was loss of life, loss of property which were all tragedies when you looked at
that… but the end result of that was it created an ecological condition we saw the warbler
respond to. Those things we learned from that wildfire made our current management
strategy very successful.”


That strategy involves state and federal agencies working together under the Endangered
Species Act to control predators and create warbler habitat by clear-cutting and
reforestation. The goal is to replicate conditions once created naturally by wildfire.


After the Mack Lake disaster, researchers realized much larger managed habitat areas
were needed. Today, 150,000 acres of state and federal land have been identified as
potential habitat. It’s a massive, multi-million dollar effort and not everybody likes it.


(store ambience)


Linda Gordert and her husband own Northern Sporting Goods in Mio, the heart of
warbler country. She says folks resent the warbler program because it restricts access to
the state and national forests.


“More complaints from hunters and just everybody… when they come in and say you
can’t go into this area because it’s Kirtland Warbler management area. They’re taking up
thousands and thousands of more acres of this because of the Kirtland management area
and that’s the complaints we hear.”


The bird supporters counter the warbler benefits the region. The forestry program
generates jobs and revenue and a yearly Kirtland’s Warbler Festival attracts thousands for
a glimpse of the rare, pretty songbird. But there will always be competition for the land.
And the recovery team says it needs more acreage, not less, to replace habitat as it
matures and becomes unsuitable for the bird.


(Warbler sings)


His scope still on the warbler, Joe Gomola says some worry about the danger of a fire
like the Mack Lake burn, happening again in the flammable jack pine they now plant.


“But it’s part of the ecosystem that was here before us…same with the Kirtland’s and
we’re charged with managing habitat for this endangered species. And that’s what we’re
doing. (SE: “Is that the same bird?”) Same bird. We’re probably close to the center of
his territory, he’s made almost a full circle around us.”


This year’s census found 1,340 singing males—a record that has started talk of eventually
changing the warbler’s endangered status. But the recovery program has become the
bird’s life support system. 90 percent of the birds were counted in man-made plantations,
indicating habitat management must also continue indefinitely if the bird is to survive.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sally Eisele.

Related Links

Woman Fights Uphill Battle Against Water Diversion

  • Upstream on the Glen Tay River in the Fall of 1999. Residents fought against a Swiss company (OMYA) who wanted to draw water from the river to make slurry for products like toothpaste and paper. (Photo courtesy of Carol Dillon)

In many communities, there are increasing demands for the limited supply of water. But people often feel there’s little they can do to protect that water from outside interests. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on one woman who fought to stop millions of gallons of water from being drained from her local river:

Transcript

In many communities, there are increasing demands for the limited
supply of water. But people often feel there’s little they can do to protect that
water from outside interests. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on one
woman who fought to stop millions of gallons of water from being
drained from her local river:


(sound of crunching leaves)


It’s been a wet spring. But the leaves along the shore of the Tay River in Perth, Ontario
crunch beneath your feet.


Carol Dillon walks a path that was once submerged in water. She stops at a maple tree, and
points to a ring of greenish bark around its trunk.


“This is where the water comes to normally in the spring…
This was sort of the natural shore line, but the water has not
been this high, this would be the fourth year now.”


(sound of wind, crunching of leaves)


Carol Dillon and her husband, Mel, bought this piece of land in
1999. They came here to retire. Then, in the fall of that year, the Tay River dried up.


Four months later, they were shocked when a manufacturer applied
to take 1.2 million gallons of water out of the river every day.


“We simply looked out the window at this very dry river and
said, well how are they going to do that?”


Dillon soon found out they weren’t the only people asking that
question. Six thousand residents depend on the river for drinking water.
Another six thousand draw from wells in the river’s watershed. People worried there wouldn’t be
enough clean water during the dry season. And that wildlife would suffer.


(sound of truck)


An 18-wheeler pulls out of the OMYA plant in Perth, carrying a
load of calcium carbonate sludge. The Swiss company needs water to make the sludge, which
goes into products like paper and toothpaste.


They already draw about 400 thousand gallons out of the area’s
groundwater each day. But OMYA wanted to triple its water consumption so it could step
up production, with a promise of new jobs.


The public had 15 days to comment on the company’s plan.


As a consultant with the federal government, Dillon knew a bit
about bureaucracy. So she started helping out neighbors, who weren’t sure what they
could do.


“At one of the public meetings, a farmer stood up and said,
‘I’ve been a farmer on the Tay River for 40 years, but I don’t know
what to write in a letter to the minister.’ He said, ‘well, we have
to be careful with the water.’ And I said, ‘that’s your letter.'”


Dillon says she wanted to convince people that their voices do
matter. So she dropped off envelopes for them, faxed their letters, and
answered lots of questions. Before she knew it, she had kick-started a grassroots
movement.


“I was not a tree hugger in my life and I never was a
political person, either, but always believed in responsibility…
This is a democracy and when people have an opinion on something,
your government should hear it.”


People were inspired by Dillon. Jackie Seaton is one of the many who got involved.


“She simply spoke to the issue of water. If you’ve ever read
any of her memos or heard her speak at a council meeting, I mean
everybody can understand what’s she saying because it’s in the
plainest and simplest terms. And I must say that was very, very impressive.”


Typically, the ministry of environment receives fewer than 10
letters. But 283 townspeople wrote in to oppose the water taking.


Despite that, the ministry granted OMYA its permit.


The residents could appeal the decision to a quasi-judicial panel. But without money or a lawyer,
they decided it would be impossible.


Dillon, however, disagreed. She forged ahead on her own, and won the right to a hearing. She
relied on scientists who had retired in the community to help her prepare. It would be her word
against lawyers representing the company and the government.


(ambient sound)


Dillon pulls a thick plastic binder off a bookshelf that’s packed
with evidence used in the hearing.


She insists she wasn’t against the water taking per se. She just wanted the government to make a
decision based on good science. The company was granted the initial permit based in part on 75-
year-old data. Dillon argued more research needed to be done.


Over the past eight years, 46 community groups have challenged
decisions by the Ministry of the Environment.


No one had ever won – until now.


The panel granted the company just one third of the amount of
water it requested, with a potential for more in the future. And it directed the province to conduct
more research on the river.


“First, we were…it was unbelievable and then we were
ecstatic that it was all worth it.”


But the citizens’ celebrations were short-lived.


In April of this year, Ontario’s environment minister, Chris
Stockwell, reversed the tribunal decision and reinstated the full
permit. He cited new information that predicted the river would drop only
a few inches when the water was removed. The minister won’t comment on the outcome, other
than to say he stands by his decision.


But OMYA’s plant administrator, Larry Sparks, says the decision
was based on science. And while he recognizes that citizens have a right to question the
government, he says it shouldn’t come at the expense of business.


“And it’s very difficult to make
business decisions when you apply for a permit and have to wait three
years for approval and conclusion of the process. Our concern was not with the people, but rather
with the fact that the process was allowed to go on for three years.”


For Carol Dillon, the minister’s decision was a disappointing end to a
long struggle.


“You can have this two and a half year-long process and the
minister can just overturn it, politically, then what’s the point
of it all? So I’m back to where I started.”


(sounds by the river)


But Dillon hasn’t given up. Now she’s lobbying Ontario to adopt new standards for water use.
She doesn’t care if she has to write letters, battle lawyers or
lobby politicians – she just wants her community, and everyone in
Ontario, to have a say in the future of their water.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.