New Debate Over Detroit’s Incinerator

  • The Detroit incinerator. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user tEdGuY49)

Detroit is home to one of the world’s largest incinerators. That facility burns around 800,000 tons of trash every year.

The issue has sparked passionate conflict in Detroit for more than 20 years.
And a recent public hearing—on whether to give the incinerator’s new owners tax credits—showed that conflict is just as intense as ever. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Public hearings aren’t usually very emotional events. But this one, held earlier this month at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies, was an exception.

(Sound of Brad Van Guilder:
“You burn what can be recycled.”

Steve White: “That’s our business model.”

Woman: “You need to change your model.”)

To really understand what these folks are talking about, we have to talk about some history first.

The Detroit incinerator has been controversial since it opened in 1989. It’s a massive, hulking presence just north of downtown Detroit. For years, pro- and anti-incinerator sides have argued about virtually everything: whether the facility is a cost-effective alternative to landfills, whether it’s responsible for the asthma cluster around it, even about how bad it does or doesn’t smell.

Map of Wayne County asthma hospitalization rates

Detroit Renewable Energy, the incinerator’s owner

More about brownfield redevelopment tax credits


For a brief time last year, anti-incinerator forces got a boost when the facility’s former owners, Covanta Energy, got out. They hoped the city would stop sending its trash there, and move to a more recycling-intensive municipal waste system. But another, newly-formed company quickly bought the facility. Detroit Renewable Energy is now seeking about four million dollars in brownfield redevelopment tax credits. Those are state incentives that encourage businesses to redevelop contaminated property.

“It’s a matter of being able to implement things faster. To the extent that we have more resources, we’ll be able to do more things.”

That’s Steve White, Chairman of Detroit Renewable Energy. He says the tax credits will help the company upgrade the facility and make it cleaner. White says they’ve already made big improvements, and a slew of plant workers at the hearing backed up his claims.

But White says the incinerator does more than just burn trash—it creates energy. And that’s true. The trash burned there creates an underground “steam loop” that powers many homes and businesses around it. White says the facility can continue providing relatively cheap, reliable power to business in one of Detroit’s few growing areas.

“This is more than just disposal of waste. This is really about economic development.”

But those who have fought the incinerator for years think White’s arguments are hogwash. Brad van Guilder is an organizer with the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center. He says the incinerator itself simply isn’t viable without continued public subsidies. And van Guilder says the company’s proposal for the tax credits is frustratingly vague.

“There is no information about what they are specifically proposing to do to qualifies them for this tax credit. So how can anyone make an informed response when you don’t anything about what they’re intending to do?”

While the hearing itself was officially about the tax credits, they became just one issue in the larger, ongoing debate over the incinerator. Lee Gaddies, a Detroit resident and community activist, appealed to the plant’s workers. He says recycling more of Detroit’s waste isn’t just greener—it will actually create more jobs.

“You’re actually gonna need more people to handle the solid waste. If you burn it, there’s nothing to recycle. It’s ash.”

Gaddies and the Ecology Center’s Brad van Guilder say it doesn’t matter if tax credits DO help the incinerator become a little greener. They say the state still shouldn’t use public money to perpetuate Detroit’s historically dirty municipal waste system.

And if Detroit Renewable Energy DOES get the tax credits, they’ll probably be one of the last to do so. Governor Rick Snyder has proposed cutting the brownfield redevelopment program out of the state budget to save money.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Cwiek.

State and local officials will need to sign off on the tax credits too. The Detroit City Council is expected to voice the greatest opposition.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Mayors’ Letter on Tar Sands Oil & Bottle Bill Lawsuit

  • State officials in Michigan want to crack down on people who smuggle cans and bottles across the state line for the deposit money. (Photo by Sarah Alvarez)

Mayors of nearly two dozen U.S. cities are urging the State Department to thoroughly study a proposed new oil pipeline. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil from northern Canada south to Texas. Lindsey Smith reports Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell signed the letter to the federal government:

In the letter, the mayors say they’re worried about the environmental impact of the pipeline. It would be built west of the Mississippi River – nowhere near Grand Rapids. But Mayor Heartwell says the location doesn’t matter so much to him.

“You know, the truth of the matter is we should all be concerned about any environmental damage anywhere in the world.”

The oil that would flow through the proposed pipeline would come from the same tar sands region of Alberta as the oil that spilled into the Kalamazoo River last year originated from.

FAQs about the bottle bill from the Department of Treasury

American Beverage Association

The Department of Environmental Quality’s Remediation Division


(music sting)

This is the Environment Report.

(cans and bottles clinking)

We’re all used to hauling our bottles and cans back to the store to get our 10 cent deposits back. But not all bottles get returned. If they’re lost or recycled or thrown away… the money from the unclaimed deposits goes into a state fund used to clean up pollution. And now, a lawsuit might threaten this fund. Sarah Alvarez has more:

All the unclaimed deposits from Michigan cans and bottles really add up. The state gets about 12 million dollars a year out of it.

A small amount of this money goes back to the retailers who sell the containers. But most of it is used for cleaning up old industrial land or toxic waste. The state also uses the money to finish the clean-up of federal Superfund sites.

With budget cuts, money for pollution cleanup is harder to come by. Anastasia Lundy is with the Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department used to rely on Michigan’s general fund.

“Well, the programs that are funding environmental cleanup no longer receive any general fund whatsoever, so this has increased our reliance on these bottle bill funds to try to keep the programs meeting the most critical needs.”

The state wants as much money in the clean-up fund as possible…They’re worried they are losing money to people they call smugglers. These are people bringing cans into Michigan from other states for deposit money.

You might remember that Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Neuman drive cans and bottles into Michigan.

(Seinfeld clip)

The state is getting serious about cutting down on bottle deposit fraud. So, they want bottle manufacturers to put a special mark on containers sold in Michigan. Bottle return machines would then only take containers with the mark. The state changed the bottle bill to require manufacturers to add the mark… and the manufacturers are now suing the state over the changes to the bill.

The American Beverage Association is bringing the suit. Now, they didn’t return calls for comment on this story. But, they’ve told other media outlets that making special cans and bottles for Michigan will be expensive and they don’t want to do it.

Retailers are siding with the state in the suit. Mike Lashbrook is the President of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesaler Association.

“Well, you know, this issue, the fact that there is this smuggling that’s been going on, it’s not a joke like the Seinfeld episode. It is a major problem.”

He says retailers are also worried about losing money to bottle smugglers.

The state has already put a little over a million dollars into upgrading the bottle machines to read the special mark. If the Beverage Association wins their case the state will lose this money.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Alvarez.

Rebecca: The case is now moving forward in federal court. State officials say they’ll continue to upgrade bottle return machines in counties along the Ohio and Indiana borders.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Rebranding the Great Lakes Seaway

  • The Dutch-flagged, Dane-piloted Avonborg was carrying 75 wind turbine blades to Burns Harbor, Indiana, on Lake Michigan, on the opening day of the St. Lawrence Seaway. (Photo by David Sommerstein)

When you think of all the goods carried in and out of the Great Lakes region, you mostly think of trucks and trains.
But millions of tons of cargo travel by boat – freighters from the Atlantic Ocean that enter the Lakes by way of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The first freighter of the 53rd Seaway season eased through the locks in Montreal this week. David Sommerstein reports on the Seaway’s delicate balance between the economy and the environment.

[sound up at lock: cameras clicking]

“That’s it. Squeeze in tighter. Yeah, good.”

Cameras click at St. Lambert lock on the St. Lawrence River. Photographers jostle as four men in suits pose. Behind them, the Dutch-flagged “Avonborg” rumbles in and ties up.

One of the men, Terry Johnson, turns and notices it’s carrying dozens of giant wind turbine blades. He’s psyched – it could have been road salt.

“Wind turbines have been increasingly coming in and it’s nice to be able to see something that is visual. This is good.”

Johnson is the U.S. chief of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The windmill parts bound for Indiana aren’t just a good photo opp. They’re the perfect image the Seaway wants to project these days – that it’s the greenest, cheapest way to transport goods. Shipping is far more fuel efficient than trucking.

Ross Fletcher of BBC Chartering contracted this ship.

“Those 75 blades represent 75 truckloads that aren’t going to travel between Montreal and the U.S. Midwest, so we’re taking 75 truckloads off the highways.”

The Seaway’s been trying to reinvent itself since it was built in the 1950s.

International trade leapfrogged the Seaway’s channel size to even bigger and deeper draft ships, and to using containers that fit on trucks and trains for fast delivery.

The Seaway was left to move bulk cargo. U.S. grain and iron ore to Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Steel and other raw materials into the Midwest.

“Rolled steel, coiled steel, and other types of steel products used by manufacturers in the Great Lakes basin.”

Steven Olinek directs the Detroit-Wayne County Port Authority. Citing a recent Michigan Sea Grant study on the economic impact of the Great Lakes, Olinek say the Seaway and the industries it supports are still irreplaceable.

“I don’t think this economy could withstand losing a million and a half jobs or 62 billion dollars in wages and the benefits those provide.”

But environmentalists say those numbers don’t reflect the damage shipping has done to the Great Lakes.

Jennifer Caddick directs the regional green group, Save the River. She says the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway flooded wetlands, polluted drinking water, and introduced most of the Great Lakes’ 186 invasive species – stowaways in the foreign freighters’ ballast. Critters like the zebra mussel and the round goby have cost the Great Lakes’ economy billions.

“So when you add up the benefits and subtract those costs, we find out that shipping really isn’t as big of a driver as the industry would like us to believe.”

Manufacturing has endured a long, steady decline in the Great Lakes, and that’s unlikely to change.

Jennifer Read co-authored the Michigan Sea Grant study. She says that means tourism, recreation, and quality of life will be increasingly important.

“And for quality of life, you need quality of environment.”

The St. Lawrence Seaway is making the case it is still relevant… and that it is green. It has implemented new rules to keep out invasive species. Its shippers are investing in new, cleaner fleets. So for the Seaway, those wind turbines on that first freighter of the season were right on message.

For The Environment Report, I’m David Sommerstein in Montreal.

Greener Buildings & Palm Oil Problems

  • Orangutans are endangered because of poaching and because the rainforests where they live are being destroyed, increasingly for production of palm oil. (Photo by Flickr user sebr).

The Environmental Protection Agency just put out its list of the 25 most energy-efficient cities. These are cities that had the most Energy Star certified buildings last year. To earn the EPA’s Energy Star rating, buildings have to perform in the top 25 percent of buildings nationwide.

Detroit came in 9th on the EPA’s all-star list.

“Detroit did a lot of things right. They actually moved up six spots from 2009 so they should be congratulated on their improvements in energy efficiency.”

That’s Maura Beard. She’s with the EPA’s Energy Star program. She says this is the first time Detroit made the top ten list… with 151 Energy Star rated buildings.


“There are quite a few K-12 schools, there’s also the Theodore Levin Courthouse, the Coleman Young Municipal Center, you have a number of Kmarts, Verizon Wireless and Staples and a Sears store so you have some retailers that are really stepping up and seeing the value as well.”

The EPA’s report says an Energy Star certified building typically uses 35 percent less energy and releases 35 percent less planet-warming carbon dioxide than an average building.

Beard says owners of commercial buildings can save a lot of energy by making some changes that don’t cost much. Things like switching to more efficient lighting… and making sure office equipment is shut down at the end of the day.

(music sting)

This is the Environment Report.

Two Ann Arbor teens are trying to save orangutans on the other side of the globe from becoming extinct. Orangutans have become an endangered species because of poaching and because the rainforests they live in are being destroyed. Lindsey Smith reports:

15-year olds Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva became friends four years ago through Girl Scouts. They decided to work together to earn a bronze award.

“It was sort of selfish. I did want to wear, you know, that nice shiny pin on my Girl Scout vest.”

Tomtishen says they were inspired by researcher Jane Goodall. Instead of researching gorillas, they chose the endangered orangutan.

Orangutans’ habitat is in the rainforest in Asia. Ecologist Doug Boucher says the primates have fewer and fewer places to live as the forest is cut down.

“We traditionally think of deforestation as being done by peasant farmers, you know, cutting down a couple of acres of forest to plant their crops but in fact that’s not the case anymore.”

Boucher says big commercial farmers are using the land more and more to raise cattle and grow soybeans and oil palm trees.

Oil palm trees have a high yield compared to olive trees, corn, or other vegetable oil. You can find palm oil in bath and beauty products as well as thousands of processed foods including girl cookies.

Again, Rhiannon Tomtishen.

“So I felt motivated to continue this project and I think we also felt that because we were Girl Scouts and because this was an issue in Girl Scout cookies, we thought we were going to be able to make a change.”

So far, the teens have not been able to persuade Girls Scout of America to get the palm oil out of their cookies.

But they have been successful with Battle Creek-based cereal maker Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s owns one of the two companies that makes Girl Scout cookies. Kellogg’s announced they’d begin purchasing green palm certificates. The certificates give farmers who don’t cut down rainforests extra money.

At this point you can’t buy sustainable palm oil because it all gets mixed together before getting to buyers.

So these two Girl Scouts have stopped eating Girl Scout cookies and refuse to sell them.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.

Western Wind Farms & Urban Farming in Detroit

  • Wind turbine near Pigeon, Michigan (Flickr photo by user ~jettagirl~).

There’s been a lot of talk in West Michigan lately about how wind power could boost the region’s economy. As Lindsey Smith reports, the area could be home to several potential wind projects:


There’s been a lot of talk in West Michigan lately about how wind power could boost the region’s economy. As Lindsey Smith reports, the area could be home to several potential wind projects.

About 60 people gather at an auditorium in Saugatuck – a tourist town on the Lake Michigan shore. Farmers, business owners, and residents want to learn more about the wind farms that could begin to pop up in the region both on and offshore. These are large scale wind farms with industrial turbines that would tower 300 to 400 feet tall.

Mike Obrien has worked for companies looking to build offshore in the Great Lakes. For years he’s been trying to convince governments, businesses and residents that Michigan’s manufacturing base is perfect for the wind power industry:

“We ought to own this. We ought to own it in the Great Lakes because we can ship this stuff by water much more effectively than we can by trucks and rails. So we ought to own that. And we ought to put people back to work. It’s not the only reason we should do wind, but it’s a hell of an important one.”

But there are still a lot of people like Michael Johnson who don’t feel that way. Johnson lives and owns businesses in Saugatuck:

“I don’t think anybody would argue with you that we need this renewable energy. The only problem is I don’t want it in my backyard.”

Ann Erhardt is with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. She admits getting people to think regionally about energy has been a struggle:

“There’s those governmental borders and entities not wanting to work together. You know, ‘this is my pond and that’s your pond, keep your fish over there.’”

Erhardt says people and governments have to be more open to work together to bring wind farms to the region. Otherwise, she warns the jobs and economic investments won’t come.

Right now, the city of Holland is testing wind conditions at a potential site in Allegan County. Muskegon County has already tested land it owns and is now taking proposals for a wind farm there.

As for any offshore wind farms… those are likely a long way off because Michigan lawmakers still have to approve regulations for them.

For nearly two years, entrepreneur John Hantz has been working to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls “the world’s largest urban farm.”

But as Sarah Cwiek reports…the project’s been slow to get off the ground, which shows Detroit’s mixed feelings about the project…and the whole idea of city farming:

City officials have just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots—about five acres—adjacent to their headquarters.

The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards. There are some pretty big catches, though. For starters, they can’t sell anything they grow there.

Also, large-scale farming would require re-zoning for agriculture. That brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play.

That law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. But some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.

Then there’s Mayor Dave Bing’s effort to create a master land use plan for Detroit. Until that’s finalized…the city is being tight-fisted about its vacant land.

And then, there’s fairly widespread skepticism about the idea of large-scale urban farming. Councilman Kwame Kenayatta is one of the skeptics.

“I understand that we got a lot of land. And some of that land can be used as greenspace, that’s true. But this whole idea of turning vacant Detroit into an urban farm is not necessarily one that I have bought into.”

Hantz Farms hails the land acquisition as “a milestone.” They also say it’s “just the beginning.”

Sand and Gravel Mining in Waterloo?

  • Part of the 72 acres the state would lease for sand and gravel mining includes land on either side of this road, that has earned the Natural Beauty Road designation. The trees would be removed for mining. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment wants to allow sand and gravel mining in Waterloo Recreation Area. It’s the largest park in the lower peninsula… with more than 20-thousand wooded acres.

The DNRE is considering allowing mining on 72 acres of the park. It would be the first time mining would be allowed in the Waterloo Recreation Area.

The company that wants to mine sand and gravel is called Aggregate Industries. It’s based in Maryland and it’s a subsidiary of a Swiss-owned company.

Ron Olson is the Chief of Recreation for the DNRE. He says for many years, Aggregate Industries has been mining right on Waterloo’s western boundary. He says the DNRE would lease the 72 acres of parkland to Aggregate Industries for mining… and in exchange, the state would get a 324 acre parcel that the mining company no longer has a use for.

“So the idea would be if they were able to gravel mine, that they would gift us 324 acres of land, plus they would also pay a royalty fee and then we would also get that revenue as well.”

More about the proposal from the DNRE

More about Recreation Demonstration Areas from the National Park Service

Aggregate Industries


Those 324 acres would become part of the Waterloo Recreation Area. Olson expects the state to gain seven or eight million dollars from royalty money.

The company would have to restore the former 324-acre gravel pit for recreational use… and years later, they’d also have to restore the 72 acres they want to mine.

“Basically, the slopes would be smoothed out to make the abruptness of gravel mining more blended into the landscape, making an area where native vegetation can grow.”

This proposal worries a lot of people who live in the Waterloo area.

Rachelle Mann is standing on a hill at the edge of the current mining operation.

“I see very ugly flatland. There is no one who lives in this area who thinks it’s an equal exchange.”

Mann says she comes to this part of Waterloo almost every day, to run or walk her dogs.

“Beautiful, wooded, hilled, gorgeous recreation property that horsemen ride on, that hunters hunt through. This entire area is well used.”

A number of people who own homes in the Waterloo Recreation Area have written letters to the DNRE. The letters express concerns about their property values… impacts on water quality… and the loss of 72 acres of trees.

Rachelle Mann says there’s something else that bothers her. About half of the land the DNRE wants to lease for mining is covered by a restricted deed. The federal government gave the land to the state in 1943.

“It was signed by Franklin Roosevelt and the great Harold L. Ickes himself and I want to read a little bit of this language: it says provided always this deed is made under the express condition that the state of Michigan shall use the said property exclusively for public park, recreational and conservation purposes.”

This means the state cannot move forward with the mining lease unless the National Park Service gives them permission. And there’s more: the land is under additional restrictions because the state has accepted federal funds for the Waterloo Recreation Area.

Bob Anderson is with the National Park Service.

“We don’t own the land. Our focus is to protect the federal investment. This is measured in the land, to make sure if we allow them to convert the acres that they get something equivalent.”

He says the state has to prove they can replace the land that’ll be mined with land that has equal fair market value.

Aggregate Industries did not provide an interview after saying they would.

The DNRE is accepting public comments on this proposal until March 15th.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Renewal for Davis-Besse & Drive-By Energy Audits

  • Matt Grocoff says icicles are pretty, but they're also a bad sign that your roof could be suffering water damage, drip by drip. (Photo by Matt Grocoff)

A 34-year-old nuclear power plant wants to live longer…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

A coalition of environmental groups wants to stop a nuclear power plant in Ohio from renewing its license. Jennifer Guerra has the details:

The operating license for the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio runs out in 2017. By that point, the plant will be 40 years old. And now First Energy – the company that owns the plant – wants to renew the license for another twenty years.

That’s the last thing Michael Keegan wants. He’s with the environmental group, Don’t Waste Michigan. Keegan and others went before a panel to challenge the license renewal:

“We have solar, wind and in combination, we have replacement power available now and which can be put in place prior to 2017.”

The panel now has to decide whether the environmental groups can move forward with their petition to intervene.

To date, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to deny a license renewal, though several applications are still pending.

In Michigan, the license for the Fermi II Nuclear Plant is good through 2025.

For the Environment Report, I’m Jennifer Guerra.


This is the Environment Report.

In the winter… there’s a quick and easy way to find out where your house is leaking energy… just by looking at your roof a day or two after a good snow.’s Matt Grocoff invited me along on what he calls a drive-by energy audit:

More about ice dams from

Tips for making your home more energy efficient from Michigan Saves

More about drive-by energy audits


(car starting up)

MG: “Hello Rebecca!”

RW: “So what are we doing today?”

MG: “I’m going to drive you around, and you can see from the top of your roof after a snow like this, when you’re getting the snow melt, you can see how much people’s houses are insulated in the neighborhood. It’s about 15 degrees outside, we just had a snowfall, and yet so many of these roofs have almost no snow on some of the roofs. And the only reason that is, is because they’re being heated up from underneath. Which means the house is losing heat. So you know what I should do? I should go and show you my house first, because we’ve got all of the snow on the roof and we’ll show you.”

(Driving sound)

RW: “Are we getting out?”

MG: “Yup.”

MG: “On our roof over here, 100% of the roof is covered with snow. That’s because it’s really well insulated underneath, so the roof surface is cold and keeping the snow frozen. The warm part should be inside keeping us warm and not the roof.

RW: “So let’s go find some bad examples.”

MG: “Yeah, there’s a ton of bad examples.”

(car starting up again)

MG: “And I know icicles are really, really romantic, but that is the one thing you should look for. If you’ve got icicles hanging off the roof, that is a bad thing. Like here, this house right here, they’ve got like three inches of ice sitting in the gutters and icicles coming off. And what’s going to happen eventually is ice is going to get up underneath those roof shingles and start melting and causing water damage underneath very, very slowly. So over time, that is going to cause some severe damage to the roof if they don’t take care of that problem.”

MG: “Look, one after another, there’s icicles, icicles, icicles.”

MG: “Now this guy owns an insulation company, so he better have good snow on his roof.”

RW: “You know an awful lot about your neighbors!” (laughs)

MG: “Yes, he does have good insulation on his roof.”

RW: “So I should probably admit that my house looks a lot like some of these houses we’re seeing that are the bad examples. So, what should I do to fix it?”

MG: “You can go to and you can find a qualified contractor that can come in and do an energy analysis of your house. They’re going to come in with all the fancy equipment, let you know exactly what you need and where you can get the biggest bang for the buck.”

RW: “All right, thank you, Matt!”

MG: “And thank you, Rebecca.”

“That’s Matt Grocoff with and I’m Rebecca Williams with The Environment Report.”

Decline in Americans’ Belief in Global Warming

  • A polar bear on melting ice. (Photo courtesy of Joel Garlich-Miller, USFWS)

For the past decade, researchers have been studying what Americans believe about climate change. For several years, more and more of the public has agreed that climate change is taking place. But recently, the number of people who believe climate change is happening… is falling.

Barry Rabe is a professor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He’s the author of a new report that draws on the latest public opinion surveys, and he joins me to talk about this.

Professor Rabe, your report found fewer people believe the Earth is warming. What’s happening?

Read the report

The New York Times Global Warming page


BR: We found in the United States as well as in Michigan that there appears to be an upward trajectory of this in the past decade. Do you think global temperatures are warming, independent of the question of human causation, and other questions about perceptions of global warming consistently increasing, probably peaking in late 2008. Since that time in the United States, we’ve seen a drop of about 18-20 percentage points on some of the very basic, standard survey questions that have been used for some time in the U.S. and really around the world. In our latest survey which comes from November 2010, we actually see a little bit of bouncing back up again, not back to those November 2008 levels but for our purposes what this suggests is public understanding and perception of climate change is really a pretty volatile area of public opinion. The numbers move around quite a bit from year to year, much more than we would have ever anticipated.

RW: What’s going on there?

BR: We think to some extent, all climate interpretation is local. When we ask people where they get information about climate and how they begin to think about these issues, overwhelmingly the way they respond is to talk about their own experience with weather. How has the last year been, has it been a cooler year, a warmer year, have they seen evidence? If you ask this question in different parts of the country, you might get very different answers. In California, perception of climate change is all related to drought. Go to Mississippi or Louisiana, it’s all about hurricanes. It’s part of the challenge of climate change, it means different things in different parts of the world, including here in Michigan. But invariably that’s influenced by where people get their information, from meteorologists, what television they watch, who they listen to in terms of expert authorities, all these kinds of issues. And of course over this period in which there has been this shift or downward movement in concern about climate change, there have been a number of controversies over certain aspects of science, the so-called “Climate Gate” controversy. We actually noticed a substantial drop in that very period where there were some leaked emails and questions about the rigor of some of the climate science that was very influential in the UN process. That seemed to contribute at least in some way.

RW: So, because you’re seeing this drop in belief that the Earth is warming, are you also seeing less support for policies that would take action on climate change?

BR: Speaking very generally, Michiganders and Americans tend to believe, majorities in each areas, that federal and state and local governments should be devoting some attention to this issue. One particular policy, so-called cap and trade, which of course was the center point of discussions in the last Congress, in 2009 and 2010, for possible federal legislation, we have seen some shift and movement on that, less support than we saw a few years ago, but many of the other policy interventions have not shifted all that significantly.

RW: All right, well, thank you so much for your time!

BR: My pleasure, thank you.

RW: Barry Rabe is a professor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.