Coastal and Great Lakes states vary in their level of compliance with EPA beach water quality standards. (Map courtesy of EPA)
Although you might just be starting to think about the swimming season… the people who monitor beach pollution have been especially busy trying to meet a federal deadline. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports… 21 of 30 coastal and Great Lakes states failed to adopt federal beach health standards by the April deadline:
Although you might just be starting to think about the swimming season, the
people who monitor beach pollution have been especially busy trying to meet
a federal deadline. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams
reports… 21 of 30 coastal and Great Lakes states failed to adopt federal
beach health standards by the April deadline:
The 2000 Beach Act requires beach states to put uniform monitoring standards
in place. Only nine states have fully adopted the federal standards,
including Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
The standards are used to show whether unsafe levels of bacteria or viruses
are in the water. Beaches are often closed after heavy rainstorms cause
sewers to overflow.
The Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to help states move more
quickly to adopt the standards. Doing so ensures continued federal funding.
Laurel O’ Sullivan is with the Lake Michigan Federation. She says the money
granted to beach states is earmarked for improving monitoring programs.
“It’s clear under the Beach Act that if they do not have these standards in
place, that the EPA does have the authority to withhold money, so these
states are jeopardizing their ability to receive much needed federal
O’Sullivan says paperwork backlogs have slowed some states down. But she
says in several cases, states that missed the deadline are likely to adopt
the standards later this year.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.
The Goshawk named Buffy is screeching in defense of her master. Goshawks are considered some of the most difficult birds to train for falconry. They're feisty and fast, but that also means they can hunt for more advanced game like duck and pheasant. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)
Dave Hogan trains and breeds his two Goshawks. He can't let the Goshawks breed in captivity because the female would likely kill the male in the confined space. Instead he has to be mate to both, and artificially inseminate the female. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)
This Red-tailed hawk paces in its cage behind Dave Hogan's home. It's recovering from a dislocated shoulder. Hogan has the Red-tail and a Merlin that he's rehabilitating right now. The Michigan DNR brings him a lot of hurt birds, but he has to refuse some for lack of space and time. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)
Falconry was once called the “sport of kings.” Royals trained hawks and falcons to hunt for smaller birds and animals. Birds of prey were revered by the ruling class, and the birds were protected from hunters. Some say it was the beginning of wildlife conservation. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Corbin Sullivan reports on some falconers who are keeping the sport and its conservation heritage alive:
Falconry was once called the “sport of kings.” Royals trained hawks and falcons to hunt for
smaller birds and animals. Birds of prey were revered by the ruling class, and the birds were
protected from hunters. Some say it was the beginning of wildlife conservation. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Corbin Sullivan reports on some falconers who are keeping the sport and its
conservation heritage alive:
That’s Buffy. She’s a full-grown Goshawk and she’s angry because I’m a little too close to her
Buffy’s named after a television character who slays vampires. She’s one of two Goshawks that
Dave Hogan uses for hunting near his Southeast Michigan home.
Buffy is tall — about 17 inches high — and thick, with feathers ruffled in the stiff winter wind.
The bells on her feet jingle when she stirs.
It’s too blustery for her to hunt today. But when she does hunt, she perches on Hogan’s fist,
waiting for a rabbit or pheasant to flush.
When game does appear, Buffy springs from Hogan’s leather glove. After she’s killed her prey,
she brings it back to him.
But Hogan’s quick to point out that he’s not the only one who gets something out of the hunt.
“It’s a partnership. They know that you’re out there helping them catch game. They rely on you.
You’re the dog for them and you’re the setup man for them. And they understand that.”
Dave Hogan has been practicing falconry since he was 15 years old. He’s 52 now. That’s 37
years. He uses birds of prey to hunt, he rehabilitates them and he breeds them. With all that
experience, he’s reached the highest level of falconry – a master falconer.
Hogan says some falconers keep the meat that the birds catch for themselves, but he has a lot of
mouths to feed.
The game that Buffy and her mate, Spike, catch helps to feed the birds that Hogan rehabilitates.
Right now he’s got an endangered Merlin and a Red-tailed Hawk. The Merlin broke its wing and
the hawk dislocated its shoulder.
He doesn’t want to get attached to the birds, so he hasn’t given them names. But Hogan will feed
and exercise the birds until they can return to nature.
Hogan says besides tending to injured birds, falconers also have a big role in conserving the birds
they train. Often a master falconer will capture a bird in its first year, train it and then let it go.
Hogan says it’s common to let the bird go only a year later. They’re left to their own devices.
But he says after a year, they’re fully grown and better able to fend for themselves.
Hogan says taking young birds lightens the burden on a crowded nest. And he says a lot of birds
can use that help.
“Eighty percent of all the hawks, eagles, falcons that are born die in the first year. It is that hard
for them to make a living. They get kicked out of the nest when they’re young. There’s
anywhere from, depending on the species, from one to four young in the nest. And the nest sits
way up high in a real tall tree, and very often one of them gets knocked out of the nest.”
So, by using the young birds, falconers say their sport is important in helping birds of prey
In central Wisconsin, another hunter, Kurt Reed, is about to apply for master falconer status. It
takes seven years to reach this level.
Reed is training his second Red-tailed hawk in a forest behind his home. He says he’s learned a
lot about falconry in the past seven years.
“In taking care of or training a Red-tailed Hawk. It’s all about weight control and
responsiveness. So for example, today my hawk is a little on the heavy side. He’s about 1340
grams and that’s about two ounces more than I would like him to be if I was going to go hunting
with him today.”
It’s beautiful outside, and sunny. Reed says days like this can be bad days to hunt, especially
when the bird is packing some extra ounces.
“If you take your hawk out when they’re way overweight, they’re going to go sit up in a tree and
sun themselves, and you’re going to wish you hadn’t done that.”
And that’s just what happened a few minutes later. He let his bird – Bucky – go for a test flight.
So he let the bird go about half an hour ago and it’s still up there – just looking around. It’s
changed trees quite a few times but it doesn’t seem to want to come down any time soon.
Bucky never did come down while I was there. Reed says Bucky does this all the time. He says
he’s learned that patience is the most important skill in falconry.
And Reed says the hard work gives falconers a deep appreciation for the birds they train.
That appreciation might be the reason many of these falconers go beyond daily hunting to help
birds of prey in need.
In fact, falconers have been credited for helping to bring the Peregrine Falcon back from the brink
Back in Michigan, one organization was instrumental in bringing Peregrines back to that state.
The Michigan Hawking Club helped save the endangered bird of prey in urban environments.
One of them is Zug Island in the Detroit River.
Zug’s Barren. It has no trees, just a giant steel mill. Still, Peregrines nest in the mill’s steel
girders just like they’re big tree branches.
Dave Hogan is the president of the Hawking Club. He says young birds would die if falconers
didn’t help them.
“Since 1991, out of the 70 young the wild Peregrines in Detroit have produced, we have had
hands on help on over 31 of them, where we’ve rescued them from certain things and put ’em
back in the nest or raised ’em and put ’em back in a family situation where the parents can take care of
Hogan says it’s not just about using the birds to hunt. He says the best part about falconry is
seeing the birds live to fly free, whether they come back or not.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Corbin Sullivan.
Researchers are looking at ethanol from corn as an environmentally-friendly way to power fuel cells. However, some studies show corn-based ethanol takes more energy to produce than the fuel provides. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Researchers are looking at ways to use corn-based ethanol as a way to power hydrogen fuel cells. It would appear to be an environmentally friendly way to get into the hydrogen fuel economy. However, ethanol might not be as environmentally friendly as its proponents claim. Backed by the farm lobby and ag industries such as Archer Daniels Midland, ethanol has plenty of political support. But some researchers say corn-based ethanol is a boondoggle. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Stucky reports:
Researchers are looking at ways to use corn-based ethanol as a way to power hydrogen fuel cells.
It would appear to be an environmentally friendly way to get into the hydrogen fuel economy.
However, ethanol might not be as environmentally friendly as its proponents claim. Back by the
farm lobby and ag industry such as Archer Daniels Midland, ethanol has plenty of political
support. But some researchers say corn-based ethanol is a boondoggle. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mary Stucky reports…
This reactor is in a laboratory at the University of Minnesota ticking as it converts ethanol into
hydrogen. Researchers here envision thousands of these inexpensive reactors in communities
across America using ethanol to create hydrogen, which would then be used in fuel cells to
Lanny Schmidt, a Professor of Chemical Engineering, directs the team that created the reactor.
“We’re not claiming our process is the cure-all for the energy crisis or anything like that. But it’s
a potential step along the way. It makes a suggestion of a possible way to go.”
Hydrogen is usually extracted from fossil fuels in dirtier and more costly refineries.
Schmidt says it’s much better to make hydrogen from ethanol.
“It right now looks like probably the most promising liquid non-toxic energy carrier we can think
of if you want renewable fuels.”
Not so fast, says David Pimentel, an agricultural scientist at Cornell University. For years,
Pimentel has warned about what he calls the cost and efficiency and boondoggle of ethanol.
Pimentel says ethanol is a losing proposition.
“It takes 30-percent more energy, including oil and natural gas, primary those two resources to
produce ethanol. That means importing both oil and natural gas because we do not have a
sufficient amount of either one.”
Pimentel says most research on ethanol fails to account for all the energy needed to make the fuel,
such as energy used to make the tractors and irrigate crops. Adding insult to injury, says
Pimentel, ethanol relies on huge government subsidies going to farmers and agri-business.
“If ethanol is such a great fuel source, why are we subsidizing it with 2-billion dollars annually?
There’s big money, as you well know, and there’s politics involved. And the big money is leaking
some of that 2-billion dollars in subsidies to the politicians and good science, sound science,
cannot compete with big money and politics.”
Pimentel also points to environmental damage of growing corn – soil erosion, water pollution
from nitrogen fertilizer and air pollution associated with facilities that make ethanol. But
Pimentel has his detractors.
David Morris runs the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis. Morris is not a scientist,
but he commissioned a study on ethanol. He says Pimentel relies on out-of-date figures and fails
to account for the fact that ethanol production is getting more efficient.
Morris’ findings – a gallon of ethanol contains more than twice the energy needed to produce it.
As for subsidies…
“There’s no doubt that if we did not provide a subsidy for ethanol it would not be competitive
with gasoline. But what we need to understand is that we also subsidize gasoline, and if you took
the percentage of the Pentagon budget, which is spent directly on maintaining access to Middle-
Eastern oil, and impose that at the pump, it would add 25- to 50-cents a gallon. At that point,
ethanol is competitive, under the assumption that you will not need a large military budget to
protect our access to Iowa corn.”
But more efficient than making ethanol from corn might be grass, or even weeds. David Morris
says that’s because you don’t have fertilize or irrigate those kinds of plants, the way you do corn.
“So if we’re talking about ethanol as a primary fuel to truly displace gasoline, we have to talk
about a more abundant feedstock. So instead of the corn kernel, it become the corn stock, or it
becomes fast-growing grasses, or it becomes trees, or sawdust or organic garbage. And then
you’re really talking about a carbohydrate economy.”
Pimentel scoffs at that idea.
“You’ve got the grind that material up, and then to release the sugars, you’ve got to use an acid,
and the yield is not as high. In fact, it would be 60-percent more energy using wood or grass
While scientists and policy people debate whether ethanol is efficient or not, Lanny Schmidt and
his team soldier on in the lab undeterred in their efforts to use ethanol for fuel. Schmidt
understands some of Pimentels’s concerns, but he thinks scientists will find an answer, so ethanol
can be used efficiency enough to help power the new hydrogen economy.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Stucky in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
It takes a lot of work to turn a cow or chicken into a hamburger or chicken nuggets. And the process creates a lot of waste. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to reduce the pollution that’s released into rivers, lakes and streams. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has more:
It takes a lot of work to turn a cow or chicken into a hamburger or chicken nuggets. And the
process creates a lot of waste. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to reduce
the pollution that’s released into rivers, lakes and streams. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Rebecca Williams has more:
The EPA estimates meat and poultry processors use 150 billion gallons of water every year.
Most of that water becomes wastewater. That wastewater can contain oil, blood, manure, and
If the wastewater isn’t treated, organic wastes and nutrients are released directly into waterways.
Excess nutrients can cause harmful algae blooms, and kill fish.
The new rule targets about 170 meat and poultry processors.
Mary Smith directs a division of the EPA’s Office of Water.
“The meats industry will have to meet tighter limits on the pollutants that it discharges to the
water. And then, of course, for poultry, this is the first time they will be regulated at all, they
didn’t have preexisting regulations, unlike the meats industry. And they will have to meet limits
for ammonia, total nitrogen, and what we call conventional pollutants.”
These regulations are a result of a lawsuit against the EPA, settled 13
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.
Large scale hog farmers typically store their animal manure in large open air ponds called waste lagoons. They mix the liquid and sludge in the lagoons to fertilize their farmland. The process often poses problems for pork producers. But some farmers are using trees as a solution. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Richie Duchon has more:
Large scale hog farmers typically store their animal manure in large open
air ponds called waste lagoons. They mix the liquid and sludge in the
lagoons to fertilize their farm land. The process often poses problems for
pork producers. But some farmers are using trees as a solution. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Richie Duchon has more:
As hog farmers spray liquid manure on their land, they risk saturating the
soil with nutrients.
Environmental officials fear that these nutrients might be running off into
nearby lakes and streams, which can cause harmful algae blooms.
This is forcing farmers to spray the waste on more and more land.
Researchers are exploring other options for the waste.
The plan involves drying the waste lagoons and planting poplar trees on
top of them.
The trees would absorb many of the nutrients from the sludge. And they
hope this would reduce the amount of land needed to get rid of the
Frank Humenik is a researcher at North Carolina State University. He
says the sludge from the dried lagoons would stay in place while the
“The poplar trees restrict its movement, because they take up so much
moisture, and they also take up some of these nutrients, and give us a
harvestable wood product.”
Researchers are still running tests on water near the sites. And they think
the poplar trees will make the land reusable in about ten years.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Richie Duchon.
The Bush Administration is seeking 45 million dollars from Congress to fund efforts to clean up parts of the Great Lakes. The money would go toward cleaning up four severely polluted sites. There are 26 such polluted sites located entirely within U.S. borders. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has more:
The Bush Administration is seeking 45 million dollars from Congress to fund
efforts to clean up parts of the Great Lakes. The money would go toward
cleaning up four severely polluted sites. There are 26 such polluted sites
located entirely within U.S. borders. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Jerome Vaughn has more:
The 45 million dollars the Bush Administration is asking for in its 2005
budget proposal…more than quadruples the amount provided this year to
clean up contaminated sediments under the Great Lakes Legacy Act.
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt traveled to Detroit to make the
announcement. He says the purpose of the increased funding is pretty
“Improving the quality of the water… and making certain the metals,
phosphates and any other pollutant that’s there now… can be taken out
before it becomes a bigger problem.”
The additional monies would be used to clean up four so-called “areas of
concern”… where pollution from PCBs and heavy metals are known to exist.
Some environmental groups… applaud the Bush Administration’s move… but say
more resources are still needed to address other issues… like invasive
species and vanishing wildlife habitats.
The Great Lakes Legacy Act was signed into law in 2002… but the program has
not previously been fully funded by Congress.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. I’m Jerome Vaughn in Detroit.
The Clean Air Act says gasoline must contain additives to help it burn more cleanly. But the common additive MTBE is a proven environmental threat. And a new study says the alternatives could be just as dangerous. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Corbin Sullivan reports:
The Clean Air Act says gasoline must contain additives to help it burn more cleanly. But the
common additive MTBE is a proven environmental threat. And a new study says the alternatives
could be just as dangerous. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Corbin Sullivan reports:
Underground storage tanks at gas stations can leak. Fuel
additives like MTBE leak faster than the gas and can
cause groundwater pollution.
For that reason, seventeen states, including New York,
Michigan and Illinois have restricted or will restrict the use
of MTBE in gasoline.
That means other fuel additives intended to reduce air
pollution will have to be used instead.
Mel Suffet co-authored a new study published in the
journal Environmental Science and Technology.
He says some of the alternatives to MTBE can cause the
They can be toxic and can make groundwater
undrinkable. Suffet says to solve the problem, leaks need
to be prevented.
“The first thing you have to do is develop a design of
underground fuel storage tanks to emphasize containment
leak detection and repair.”
Suffet says even modern tanks are prone to leaks. So he
says designers need to go back to the drawing board to
create a leak free tank.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Corbin
A new report finds outdated sewage systems are polluting waters throughout Ontario. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
A new report finds outdated sewage systems are polluting waters throughout Ontario. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
The report says aging treatment plants are dumping improperly treated sewage into Ontario
waterways, especially when rain or snow overload the system.
It’s a problem that’s found all over North America.
The latest report comes from the Ontario Environmental Commissioner. It says 38 percent of the
province’s sewage is released into Lake Ontario. Commissioner Gord Miller says that waste
threatens the ecosystem.
“You can actually get the risk of fish kills, of fish avoidance, loss of fish habitat, and then you can
get discharges of actual toxic materials, like ammonia.”
Miller says the sewage is not threatening people’s drinking water. But it’s harming fish and
wildlife, and leading to the closure of beaches.
He wants to see Ontario study and address the problem.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I”m Karen Kelly.
The U.S. EPA is launching studies to look at a new class of chemicals that is being found in water and fish. So far, very little is known about these so-called emerging contaminants – including whether they’re dangerous to human health. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
The U.S. EPA is launching studies to look at a new class of chemicals that is being found in water
and fish. So far, very little is known about these so-called emerging contaminants – including
whether they’re dangerous to human health. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Tracy Samilton reports:
The new chemicals include PBDE’s, used as flame retardants, and PFOS,
which are used in Teflon and other products. One study will look
at the levels of the chemicals in Great Lakes fish. Another will test
water in Lake Michigan for their presence. Canada is doing tests in the
other Great Lakes.
Melissa Hulting is an environmental scientist with the U.S. EPA. She says it’s a mystery how
PFOS in particular have spread so fast.
“People thought they were fairly inert and they would
stay put and what we’ve found is, they haven’t. They’re being found in
the Arctic and in remote areas.”
While the EPA studies the levels of the chemicals in fish and water,
Hulting says other researchers are trying to figure out if the chemicals
are harmful to human health – and if so, at what level they are dangerous.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.
The Bush administration is making it easier for coal-burning power plants to avoid upgrading to modern pollution prevention equipment. But in some cases the power companies are bowing to public pressure to reduce pollution anyway. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Alquist reports:
The Bush administration is making it easier for coal-burning power plants to avoid upgrading to
modern pollution prevention equipment. But in some cases the power companies are bowing to
public pressure to reduce pollution anyway. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Alquist
Elizabeth Dickinson didn’t get any kind of warning about air quality in her neighborhood. She
really didn’t need one. She says couldn’t avoid noticing the pollution in the air.
“A couple years ago, there was almost a week where the air quality in my neighborhood was so
bad that you literally couldn’t sleep. There was a burning back in my throat.”
Dickinson lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, not too far from one of the oldest coal burning plants
operated by Minnesota’s leading supplier of electricity, Xcel Energy.
She and many other people have been actively working to pressure the company to address the air
quality problems they believe are caused by Xcel’s older plants.
And in a rare move among power companies, Xcel Energy is doing something. In May 2002, the
company put forth a voluntary proposal to convert its two oldest coal burning plants to natural
gas. The oldest plant, Riverside, lies in northeast Minneapolis.
(sound of power plant)
Since it opened in 1911, the Riverside plant has changed very little when it comes to emitting
pollutants. It was grandfathered in under the Clean Air Act of 1970 – which means the plant isn’t
subject to federal environmental mandates.
It didn’t have to install modern pollution control devices unless it upgraded the plant. And now,
under the Bush administration’s new rules, even upgrading it might not trigger the threshold that
would require it to reduce emissions.
“For a little bit over two years, one of the first things I was charged with was to look at all the
emissions in and around southeast Minneapolis and Riverside plant came back as a sore thumb
because of the glaring emissions.”
Justin Eibenholtz is the environmental coordinator for a Minneapolis neighborhood improvement
group. He says that’s why Excel’s decision to convert Riverside to natural gas is such a big deal.
Once it’s converted, the old plant will cut air pollutants by 99 percent. Mercury emissions will be
Neighborhood groups such as Eibenhotz’s and big environmental groups alike are praising
Excel’s decision. The Great Lakes Program Coordinator for the Sierra Club, Emily Green, says
the reduction in emissions will mean a better quality of life for residents who live in the Great
Lakes region. That’s because the mercury and other pollutants that were emitted from the plant
often ended up in the Great Lakes through a process called air deposition. That meant pollutants
got into the food chain and contaminated fish.
“The Great Lakes are like a giant bathtub with a very, very slow drain, so that what we put into
the Great Lakes stays there.”
Green says the pollutants don’t go away. They just end up contaminating the air and the water.
“We swim in them, we drink them, you know, the fish swim around in them, and so it’s very,
very important that we recognize, despite their size, how fragile the Great Lakes are.”
Besides polluting the lakes, the air pollution drifted for hundreds of miles, causing health
problems. The effects are already apparent. An independent report commissioned from the
Environmental Protection Agency says pollution from the oldest and dirtiest power plants kills
more than thirty thousand Americans each year – almost twice the number of people killed by
drunk driving and homicide combined.
While the natural gas conversion won’t reduce the level of mercury in the Great Lakes
immediately, it will mean it won’t add to the problem. It also means a more efficient use of a
Ron Ellsner is the project manager for Xcel’s proposal.
“The new combined cycles that we’re going to install are on the order of 30 percent more
efficient than what our current coal cycle is. They do that much better a job converting that
energy into fuel into electricity.”
It comes at a cost, though. Xcel estimates converting its Minneapolis and Saint Paul plants will
amount to one billion dollars. By Xcel’s estimate, it’ll be the most expensive power plant
conversion in the history of the United States, and the cost of the conversion will be passed on to
That’s fine by Elizabeth Dickinson. She says she, and her neighbors, were paying for it in other
ways already, such as additional healthcare costs. Dickinson says the estimated extra 15 cents a
day for her power bill will be worth it.
“You know, these are the hidden costs of coal burning and they’re huge, and you know, they’re
usually left out of these equations and we’re saying they can’t be left out any longer, they just
can’t be, because it’s too high a cost for us as a society.”
Government regulators still have to approve the plan. Minnesota’s utilities commission is
holding a final round of public hearings before voting for or against Xcel’s proposal to convert to
If the conversion is approved, it will likely put pressure on other power companies in the Great
Lakes region to do the same.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ann Alquist.