Environment in the State of the State

  • Governor Rick Snyder gives his State of the State address. (Photo courtesy of gophouse.com)

In his first State of the State address last night, Governor Rick Snyder made it clear that jobs are his first priority.

But he also made several announcements on conservation and park projects and the Pure Michigan tourism campaign.
He announced that his budget recommendation will include annual funding of $25 million for the Pure Michigan tourism campaign.

“This program supports one of our strongest assets – our water resources and the treasures of the Great Lakes, and it’s an illustration of value for money. It’s positive for our image, and it’s positive return on our tax dollars.”

And he urged the legislature to quickly pass a bill that would implement the recommendations of the Natural Resources Trust Fund board. The board has recommended that $100 million be used to buy land for conservation and parks.

“These projects will positively impact every corner of our state. From Iron County in the Upper Peninsula to Traverse City, to Luna Pier in Monroe County. Also included is a significant expansion of the William T Milliken Park on the Detroit riverfront.”

In his address, Governor Snyder called the Great Lakes “economic engines.”


Ryan Werder is the political director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. He says he’s hopeful that the legislature will follow through on some of the governor’s requests.

“I was on the floor for his speech and on a number of these proposals, the vast majority of them, everybody was standing up. I think natural resources and our environment are a place where everybody in Michigan and everybody on that floor can work together.”

But there was one proposal Werder wasn’t so sure about.

Governor Snyder asked the legislature to strengthen the current program of voluntary environmental standards that’s in place for farmers.

“So that farmers who run environmentally sound operations are protected from unnecessary regulations and frivolous lawsuits. (applause)”

Ryan Werder says he’s not sure Snyder’s plan will be entirely positive.

“How it actually works in practice is a different story. It’s not enough to say to people we trust you to not pollute. We need to actually ensure that they are not.”

The Farm Bureau released a statement after the address. It said that the governor’s approval of voluntary standards would encourage more farmers to comply with the program.


This is the Environment Report.
Companies trying to generate renewable energy with wind are facing opposition up north.

There are no wind farms yet along the coast of Lake Michigan. But large energy companies are planning them near Ludington and Frankfort. Peter Payette reports:

To fit enough wind turbines in one area, developers are proposing to put some as close as a thousand feet to nearby homes.

Some neighbors say the peace and quiet of the countryside will be destroyed by large windmills swooshing around.
They want local governments to require more than a mile between homes and wind farms.

Developers say problems like noise are greatly exaggerated by people who want to ban large wind turbines altogether.

Allan O’Shea represented Duke Energy at a public forum recently.
He said rural areas and farmers who lease their land for turbines will gain a lot from wind energy.

“Our farmers bring us much of our open space and much of our beauty and they have a right to this new kind of architecture that is farming the wind.”

Some local governments in the region have put moratoriums on the construction of wind farms to study the issues.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

RW: Last week, Consumers Energy filed for a permit to build a wind farm south of Ludington. Consumers says it’s planning to build 56 turbines there.

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

More Stimulus Money for Michigan Neighborhoods

  • A house set up with a blower door test. Energy auditors use this device to find out where the leaks are in your home. (Photo by Brandon Stafford)

Making a few home upgrades that will lower your heating bill sounds like a good idea.

But many homeowners just can’t afford that upfront investment. And many programs meant to defray some of that cost haven’t gotten much traction with consumers.

But the federal government’s “BetterBuildings” program is trying to change that. It’s just now getting off the ground in Michigan with money from the 2009 stimulus package.

Sarah Cwiek reports:

More information about the BetterBuildings program

A related State of Michigan site


Chris Matus is a young homeowner with a beautiful house. It’s a three-bedroom, 1927 colonial in the hip Detroit suburb of Ferndale. On a recent afternoon, Matus’s house got an energy audit from Kent Trobaugh.
He’s an advisor with the energy efficiency company Well Home.

(nat sound running under)

Trobaugh says the first step to making a home more energy efficient is finding where the leaks are. Trobaugh says homes have a sort of blood pressure, and he’s taking it here with what he calls the “blower door.” It’s a piece of canvas stretched across the front doorframe with a fan that helps depressurize the house.

“When we turn this blower door on it’s kind of like having a 20 mph wind blowing on all sides of the house simultaneously. And it helps us to walk around the house and find where that air is coming from.”

As that happens, Trobaugh and Matus start to roam the house with an infrared camera. The screen shows a landscape of blurred colors: gold is heat, purple is cold. Matus says the whole exercise reminds him of a certain movie from the 1980s.

Chris: “It feels like we’re ghostbusting.” [laughter]
Kent: “Yeah, exactly. The neighbors ask what was going on today, say the ghostbusters were here.”

Overall, Matus is getting about a thousand dollars worth of work done on his house today. But it only costs him 50. That’s because he’s taking advantage of the U.S. Department of Energy’s stimulus-funded BetterBuildings program. Michigan got 30-million dollars—the second-biggest chunk of any state.

For 50 dollars, Matus is getting the energy audit and some basic weatherization: adding insulation, sealing cracks and stuff like that. Matus says he’d love to take advantage of some of the more advanced upgrades Well Home also offers. But in the short term, his goals are a lot more modest.

“It would be fun to be able to say I’m house on the block with a geo-thermal, new hip eco-energy system. But in the short term it’s cost. Anything I can find to help keep my utility bills down is good.”

Program organizers hope that promise of savings will hook more people like Matus into making at least some basic upgrades. The BetterBuildings program is targeting more than 11,000 homes in 27 Michigan communities over the next three years. This Ferndale neighborhood is the first pilot project; organizers hope to choose most of the rest through an application process.

Gillian Ream is an outreach specialist with the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office…one of the many state and local partners implementing the program in Michigan. She says the weatherization package alone will likely reduce a household energy bill by 15-to-20 percent a year.

“You save energy which helps the environment, it reduces the burden on our infrastructure. It saves money for homeowners, which we hope is gonna help them have more money to put into the local economy. And of course it creates jobs.”

Ream says at this point, the biggest obstacle is just getting word out to homeowners.

Ultimately, the Department of Energy hopes the program will get people excited about the idea…hopefully excited enough to grow the energy efficiency industry into a bigger, more sustainable one.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Cwiek.

The BetterBuildings team is going next to Detroit, with six more projects planned for Grand Rapids. Later projects will focus on neighborhoods around the state.

I’m Rebecca Williams.

Oil Spill’s Effect on Turtles and Toads

  • David Mifsud releasing a Midland painted turtle after rehabilitation. (Photo courtesy of Herpetological Resource and Management)

Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill.

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

Enbridge Energy Partners recently revised its estimate of how much oil spilled from its pipeline into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. They revised it upward to more than 840,000 gallons.

Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.

It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.

After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles… and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.

David Mifsud is a herpetologist. He was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with the initial wildlife recovery.

He says turtles made up the majority of wildlife rescued from the spill site.

“We had some, their mouths were so tacky with the oil they could barely open their mouths. We saw some pretty devastating things.”

A related news story

A related Environment Report story


He says most of the turtles brought to the rehab center survived and were released within the watershed. But more than 400 of them were too weak to be released before winter. So they’re still being held at the rehab center.

And Mifsud says it’s not clear how hard amphibians were hit by the spill. He says frogs and toads breathe through their skin, so oil… not so good for them.

“Amphibians, we only collected 50-60 animals. They would’ve just died very quickly. So we probably lost in these areas huge numbers of our amphibian populations.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to monitor the health of the wildlife and the levels of contamination that remain in the Kalamazoo River area.

It’ll probably take years to fully understand the impacts of the oil spill.


This is the Environment Report.

Sea lampreys are invasive parasites found in every one of the Great Lakes. It’s a fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like trout and salmon… and kills them by drinking their blood.

It costs fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada 20 million dollars a year to control the lamprey.

There’s one secret weapon in development that could eventually save them money… pheromones. Those are odors that male lampreys release to attract the female lampreys.

The lamprey research team in Michigan is starting its third and final year of testing these pheromones in the lab and in the field.

Nick Johnson is a lamprey researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey in Hammond Bay. So Nick, you’re a lamprey matchmaker of sorts?

NJ: (laughs) Of course, yes. I’ve dedicated the last six years to getting lampreys together, not on the spawning nests but into lamprey traps.

RW: Why would you use pheromones?

NJ: Well, pheromones are typically species specific, so they should have minimal impact to other species, they’re highly potent, effective at very low concentrations. So once they’re developed they could be applied relatively cheaply and with little environmental impact.

RW: How’s the testing going so far?

NJ: So far, after two years, traps with synthesized pheromone are capturing more lampreys – right now it’s about 30% more lampreys than the unbaited traps. So we’re encouraged by the results.

RW: Do you think that pheromones will be something of a silver bullet?

NJ: It’s likely that pheromones will not eliminate lampreys from the Great Lakes. What we hope is that the integration of pheromones and the current control techniques will help integrate the overall control program, making our control program more efficient and more effective.

RW: Nick Johnson is a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at Hammond Bay. Thank you so much!

NJ: Thank you, Rebecca.

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

Green Cars: The New Black

  • The Chevrolet Volt was named the 2011 Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show. (Photo courtesy of GM)

In past years, most of the so-called “green cars” at the North American International Auto Show were concept cars – not ready for prime time. This year is different, as Tracy Samilton reports:

The Toyota Prius has been America’s premier environmentally friendly car for ten years. Now, the car has some serious competition. Both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf have an EPA fuel economy rating the equivalent of more than 90 miles to the gallon.

Brad Berman is founder of plug in cars dot com.

“Suddenly it makes the Prius’s 50 mpg seem mild, Now it’s Toyota’s turn to say, hey, we’re still relevant.”

Toyota is turning the Prius into an entire brand. People going to the show will be able to see three new Prius vehicles, including a plug-in being unveiled in Detroit.

For the Environment Report, I’m Tracy Samilton.

AUDIO: “And the 2011 North American Car of the Year is… the Chevrolet Volt.”

(cheers and applause)

The Volt beat out the Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Leaf to take the big prize. The Volt’s a part-electric, part-hybrid car.

With every automaker investing heavily in electric and hybrid technology… it makes you wonder what we’ll be driving five, 10, 50 years from now. Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry for Michigan Radio. She joins me now to talk about this.

So Tracy – we’ve been hearing predictions about the death of the internal combustion engine for a decade – are those predictions coming true?

The North American International Auto Show

A related news story about the Car of the Year Award

How electric cars work


Samilton: No. Based on the way batteries are going now, they’re so expensive that it is still going to be much more economical for most of us to buy a car with a regular internal combustion engine, at least for the next 10, 20 years.

RW: So with all the buzz about the Chevy Volt, how many Volts does GM actually expect to sell this year?

Samilton: Yeah, it’s an interesting situation because they are probably going to sell fewer cars than any other vehicle that won this award. They are probably going to sell 10,000, they are going to build 10,000 cars this year. Next year, maybe 60,000, although GM wants to sell more and is trying to figure out how can we sell more of these vehicles.

RW: At the same time, Consumer Reports recently put out their latest car brand perception survey, and they found out that although most people do want better fuel efficiency, they’re not willing to pay more for it. So, how are automakers going to make these expensive electric and hybrid technologies affordable?

Samilton: That’s a really good question and they’re trying to figure out the answer to that right now. It’s a chicken and egg situation. You know, they have to bring down the cost of the battery, but in order to bring down the cost of the battery, they have to get more of us to buy the car so they can bring down the price through volume. And getting a consumer to say I’m willing to pay that extra money just for the good of say, climate change, is going to be a very difficult proposition.

RW: So what kind of cars do you think we’re going to be driving in the near future and longer term?

Samilton: The internal combustion engine is going to be king for decades, really. For the mid-term, let’s say in the next 20 to 30 to 40 years, we’re going to see more people driving hybrids and plug-in hybrids. And really the long term is way out there in terms of when will the average person perhaps be driving an electric vehicle, maybe by the year 2050 there will be more of these vehicles on the road. And then of course, there is a good chance that we’ll start to see fuel cell vehicles using hydrogen. Very clean vehicles, but also like electric vehicles, very expensive.

RW: Okay, thanks, Tracy.

Samilton: You’re welcome.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry for Michigan Radio. That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

New Great Lakes Leadership & Toxins in Art Supplies

  • Larry Stephens became a professional artist when he was laid off from his auto job two years ago. He's been doing well, even selling paintings to ABC for the TV show Detroit 187. (Photo by Suzy Vuljevic)

Governor Rick Snyder picked outgoing Republican state Senator Patty Birkholtz to lead the Office of the Great Lakes. As you might guess, the director of this office oversees all things Great Lakes. Birkholtz will advise the governor and make policy recommendations on everything from Asian carp to water use.

She says her top priority will be to keep new invasive species out of the Lakes.

Birkholtz says protecting the Great Lakes will lead to a stronger economy.

“When we have a healthy Great Lakes system we have more jobs here in this state as well as regionally, and if we don’t have a healthy Great Lakes system it’s a detriment to not only the jobs situation but also businesses locating here.”

Birkholtz says she’ll go to Washington next month to urge Congress to allocate more money for Great Lakes cleanup projects.


This is the Environment Report.

People talk about suffering for their art… but for visual artists, there may be more truth to that statement than they realize. As Tanya Ott reports, many art supplies contain lead and other potentially dangerous compounds:

(sound of rattling a spray can… then spraying)

Larry Stephens shakes a can of spray paint, then starts applying it to a canvas. First the dark, grassy green. Then a lighter shade.

(newspaper crumbling)

Stephens started painted professionally – under the name Sinister – when he was laid off from an automotive job two years ago. And he’s doing pretty well. He’s even sold some paintings to ABC television for its Detroit 187 series.

Most of the time Stephens paints outside. But in winter, he can’t. So he paints indoors, wearing a respirator or a dust mask. It’s not enough.

“You know within a couple of hours I’ll start getting dizzy. You’ll end up coughing up paint the next morning. You’ll go to blow your nose and it’ll be green and red and yellow and whatever colors you’re using that day.”

Tips from the state of California for safer use of art supplies

Art Safety Guide from Princeton University

Art & Creative Materials Institute


Stephens says for a year his arms and hands were paper white from using thinner to wash off paint. But he’s willing to sacrifice to make art.

“It’s in my blood and it’s what I gotta do.”

In his blood is right! Experts say there are no large scale health studies of people who use art supplies. But Dr. Steven Marcus – who is New Jersey’s poison control chief – says lead, arsenic and cadmium are found in some paint pigments. Stone carving can release asbestos into the air and cause lung disease. And some glues and cements contain chemicals that can cause neurological damage – including a condition called “wrist drop,” where sufferers actually lose strength in their hands.

“And for an artist, that’s their bread and butter. They lose strength in their hands and they can’t be an artist.”

Most art supplies come with warnings – like using proper ventilation – but Marcus says they don’t really define “proper.” And then consider that some artists live and work in the same building…

“You know you can’t wear the respirator 24-7.”

(sound of studio)

Back in his cramped home studio, Larry Stephens knows this too well. About a year ago he had gall bladder surgery. Doctors did a full body scan and found a spot on his lung.

“They said it could be cancer or it could be old scar tissue from pneumonia when I was a kid. And to be honest with you, I don’t even want to know.”

He hasn’t had any follow-up testing. He says can’t afford the 700-dollars a month for health insurance.

“Just not in the cards right now. I’m not going to go in debt for a spot on my lung that could be something or it might not be.”

In the meantime, the U.S. Senate is working on legislation to update the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act. That might help professional artists and hobbyists get a better picture of the true dangers they could face.

For the Environment Report, I’m Tanya Ott.

Court Ruling on Environmental Suits & Tree Recycling

  • Christmas tree drop-off sites are becoming more common. (Photo by mmhaffie, Flickr)

The Michigan Supreme Court says anyone can sue the state if they believe it’s acting in a way that harms the environment. Jennifer Guerra has more on the recent ruling:

Nick Schroeck is with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. He says if a company wants to do something like discharge treated wastewater into a creek or a river, for example, it needs a permit from the state to do so:

“The way our environmental law works, you have to have a permit to pollute, as it were. That means that the state regulates the amount of pollution that’s allowed into the waters of the state.”

Find a drop-off site near you

More uses for Christmas trees

New York City’s Mulchfest


A law called the Michigan Environmental Protection Act or MEPA makes it possible for someone to sue the state for issuing that permit if they think it harms the environment. But a state Supreme Court ruling in 2004 took a restrictive view of who had the right to sue under that law.

That is. until last week’s ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court which says anyone with standing can sue under MEPA:

“Concerned citizens or environmental groups could essentially sue the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment over permitting decisions or failures in their permitting decisions for the state failing to adequately protect the environment.”

That is, they can sue as long as they are sufficiently affected by the matter at hand.

Schroeck calls it…

“A good decision for the environment… for now.”

That’s because the justices voted 4–3 in favor of the more liberal reading of the law. But when conservatives take back the court this month, that decision could be overturned.

For the Environment Report, I’m Jennifer Guerra.


This is the Environment Report.

So you’ve put away all the ornaments and the lights and the tinsel… and you have that bare tree in your living room. It’s not illegal in Michigan to throw your Christmas tree away… but a lot of cities and counties do recycle them… and chip them up into mulch.

Here’s the tricky part: some cities will pick up your tree at the curb… but only on one specific day. Others give you a two week window – usually the first two weeks of January. The City of Ann Arbor cancelled its curbside tree pickup this year to save money… and instead, residents have to haul their tree to a drop-off station.

Marsha Gray is the executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. She says the first thing you should do if you want to recycle your tree is call the people who pick up your trash.

“You want to ask them if they do a separate collection for the trees. If they’re collecting them separately from your regular trash, that means they’re most likely recycling, probably chipping those trees into mulch. If they’re collecting at the same time and they’re going right into the bin that means they will go to the landfill.”

If your waste hauler won’t recycle your tree… Gray says you can call your city or county offices. … especially the parks and public works departments. She says many cities and towns now offer drop-off sites for tree recycling.

Gray says tree recycling has been on the rise in Michigan in the past few years. And they’re not not just being used for mulch.

“Some of the trees are actually sunk into ponds and streams for fish habitat. And they’re actually worked into the sand and soil to prevent beach erosion in the wintertime.”

And of course… you can get creative with the tree in your own backyard.

“A lot of people will put them out if they have bird feeders to let the birds perch in near the feeder while they’re waiting their turn, you can chip it yourself, some people like to have the mulch for their own gardening purposes. I’ve read some really weird and interesting ideas, including, taking the branches and using the actual branch to create a stabilizer for plants.”

Gray says it’s also possible to take a chainsaw to the tree and save the trunk to use as firewood. But there are a couple caveats. She says you shouldn’t burn the branches because they can spark. Also… you’ll have to let the cut-up trunk sit in your log pile and season for a year before you burn it.

You can learn more about reusing Christmas trees on our website, environment report dot org. I’m Rebecca Williams.

A House Made of Straw

  • Joe and Shelly Trumpey and their daughters, Autumn and Evelyn. The family built their strawbale and adobe home with straw, sand, clay, field stone, and timber - all sourced nearby. (Photo by Steve Charles, Wabash College)

Most of us live in buildings made out of wood, concrete, steel or bricks. But some people are making their homes with bales of straw.

One couple in Grass Lake, Michigan, has spent the past two and a half years building a very energy-efficient home with straw bales. And it’s not just some little novelty project. Joe and Shelly Trumpey live in it, with their two daughters.

If you’re thinking Big Bad Wolf… Joe’s heard that one just a few times.

“That’s the most common joke, three little pigs, exactly.”

The Last Straw, a site about building strawbale homes

A blog about the Trumpeys from Joe’s alma mater


But the fairy tale jokes stop the minute you turn the corner on the country road… and see the Trumpey home. It’s big… two stories, and more than 2,000 square feet. The outside is red adobe and it has a green steel roof. The whole thing is supported by a traditional timber frame and field stones.

Joe says they wanted to build with natural materials that they could get locally. They’re almost entirely solar-powered. And they wanted to live in a really energy-efficient house. Straw can do that.

“It’s cheap and the size of the bale gives you a lot of insulation.”

(door jingling as it’s opened)

Inside, it’s cozy even though it’s 20 degrees out with a biting wind. Joe says that’s because the walls are so thick. They have an insulation value two to three times greater than a conventional home.

And yes, they have electricity, running water, indoor plumbing. There’s even a flat screen TV hanging on the wall. Everything looks so conventional, you’d never know the walls are filled with straw.

“Here I’ll show ya. All straw bale buildings have a truth window – here’s a little doorway (sound of opening door) that we can open up that’s not plastered by the adobe so you can actually see the straw behind and show you the truth.”

And there they are: stacked bales of wheat straw tied with a red rope. The seed’s been removed so critters won’t eat it. But there are bigger worries.

“When you’re building the building all the open straw is a huge fire hazard at that point so we were really careful not to have any smokers around and no open fires. Once it’s coated with mud the fire proofing is really in place.”

Joe says you also have to let the straw breathe so it won’t trap moisture. Otherwise the walls could rot. He says the adobe plaster on the outside of the straw allows air to flow.

Before they could even start building, they had to win over their building inspector. Straw bale buildings are not in Michigan building code.

Tom Nolte ended up being Joe’s guy. He says inspecting a straw home was a first for him.

“Joe had his idea laid out for me and I simply left him with if you can get me the engineering details to chronicle how the roof would be supported and how it all ties together, I’d say let’s go for it! (chuckles)”

Nolte says Joe did that, and he’s satisfied the house is perfectly sound.

But building your house in an unusual way is not easy. Shelly’s a 3rd grade teacher, and Joe’s a professor. Before and after their day jobs… they worked on their house. They dug 50 tons of field stones out of their farm field. Joe milled every piece of wood himself. Shelly built the 35-foot high stone fireplace.

“My advice is don’t tell your wife how much work it’s gonna be before you get started because she’ll never go along with it! (laughs) The girls too. None of us had any idea how much work it was gonna be. (pause) To Joe: You did? Joe: It was more than I planned, but still, I knew (laughs).”

Joe and Shelly went through all this because they wanted to prove it’s possible to have a comfortable home with a small impact. One that uses natural materials from within miles of their home.

“I think it’s a great example for my students and for my children, in terms of being respectful to nature and living in this earth.”

You can see photos and a design plan of the Trumpey home at environment-report dot org.
I’m Rebecca Williams.

Oldest Net-Zero House in America

  • Matt and Kelly Grocoff have taken the last major step to turn their 110-year-old home into the nation's oldest net-zero house, and Michigan's first. (Photo courtesy of Matt Grocoff)

The Environment Report has been following an effort to make a Michigan house the oldest net-zero house in America. That means in a year the home will produce as much energy or more than it uses. Lester Graham reports… the owners are at the point where they can reach that goal.

Matt and Kelly Grocoff bought an old house in a historic neighborhood in Ann Arbor a few years ago. Matt wanted to show that making an older home an energy efficient showcase made more sense than building new. He wanted to use it as an example for others. Kelly was just a little skeptical.

“When we first bought the house and Matt was talking about what he wanted to do and what some goals might be, part of me was sort of like yeah, yeah, you know. Matt’s a dreamer. He likes to think big. And it’s really happening.”

Assess your own home’s energy efficiency

Related Environment Report stories featuring Matt Grocoff


Matt has worked with new technologies, new approaches, struggling with bureaucrats getting permits, working through red tape of the utility company. There were some mistakes along the way in trying to make the old house really efficient and now producing energy. But showing how it could be done was part of the idea.

(sound of solar panel installation)

On the day we were visiting this fall, the final major element was being installed… solar panels.

Matt says this is going to take the house from being super energy efficient—to actually producing more electricity than it uses.

“I actually read the other day, Newsweek had a quote, that solar panels will return 15-percent every year. Now, last time I checked savings accounts were zero-percent, CDs were 2.9-percent which is actually zero-percent after inflation, and the S & P 500 stock was under 3-percent. Investing in your own home is the best thing you can do right now especially in this economy.”

He says he’ll get his money back on this system in eight years.

But… that wouldn’t have been possible without some incentives. His utility company offers incentives and government tax credits covered 30-percent of the cost. While tax credits for things like insulation and other efficiencies end on December 31st, tax credits for solar enegy systems, geothermal heat pumps, residential wind turbines and fuel cells will be in place until the end of 2016. In the end… he’ll have out-of pocket expenses amounting to about 19-thousand dollars for a 56-thousand dollar solar installation.

“If it weren’t for those incentives, the payback would be much, much longer, but would still be beneficial. I also want to make the point that the systems are coming down in cost every year. I’m paying less than someone who installed solar two years ago. “

And experts predict the cost of solar panels will continue to go down.

“Four years from now, they’re saying that solar will be on par with coal as far as a per-kilowatt cost. That’s when these incentives may not be as necessary going forward.”

Now that those solar panels are installed, on average, Matt’s electricity bill will be zero dollars. And he’s being paid by his utility for producing renewable energy. Score!

All it took was some determination, some creative financing, and a view to the future.
Kelly Grocoff says it’s been an interesting learning experience.

“There are more resources than people might think. It’s just hard to find them. But, if we can do it, anybody can do it, almost anyone.”

Matt is quick to note… much of what they’ve learned is now online at his website, Greenovation-dot-TV, where you can see the house and a lot of information about how to do it yourself.

The Grocoff’s say they’ve preserved an old home, honoring the past in a way that stops energy waste and contributing to global warming, their way of honoring the future.

For The Environment Report… I’m Lester Graham.

Suing for Quiet Recreation in the Forest

  • A stand of red pine trees in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. (Photo courtesy of Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service)

A man who’s been dogging the U.S Forest Service to make some parts of the Huron Manistee Forest off limits to gun hunters and snowmobilers won his case in federal court this fall.

As Bob Allen reports, the Court says forest managers have to consider setting aside roughly 70,000 acres for quiet uses such as hiking, bird watching and cross country skiing:


Kurt Meister’s family has had a cottage near Cadillac since he was a kid. So he grew up exploring the woods and streams of the national forest.

(sound of Meister walking in the forest)

In recent years, he says, when he’d take his daughters for hikes in the fall and they’d hear gunshots, the girls would want to turn back and go home.

Meister says that’s why he raised questions about quiet recreation when the forest service updated its plan a couple of years ago.

MEISTER: “This case isn’t about hunting. It’s not about gun hunting. It’s not about stopping gun hunting. It’s simply saying it shouldn’t be everywhere. And if you make it everywhere, you’re affecting other people’s rights.”

Meister is trained as an attorney and he’s suing the forest service as one citizen.

It’s unusual to get as far as he has with his challenge.

That may be why managers didn’t seriously consider his suggestion to close parts of the forest to gun hunters and snowmobilers.

Jeff Pullen is a biologist in charge of writing the plan for the Huron Manistee.

PULLEN: “Really, if you look at the 2,000 or so comments we got on the plan, we had one person asking for this. And we felt, from an agency perspective, it didn’t seem reasonable to develop a separate alternative that looked at this issue that one person was raising.”

But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees with the Forest Service.

It says the agency was arbitrary in its decisions.

What Kurt Meister is asking the court to do is set aside areas designated as non-motorized for quiet recreation.

Those are places where, on paper, the forest plan says a person can expect to be isolated from the sights and sounds of other humans.

But on the ground, Meister says, what happens is that snowmobile trails and cross country ski trails run side by side.

MEISTER: “Do the snowmobilers care? Probably not. Unless the cross country skiers get in their way they’re going to be OK with that. Do the cross country skiers care? Yeah, they care a lot because if they have to smell the exhaust fumes, if they can’t see the animals, if they can’t just enjoy the sounds and the quiet of the forest it’s a very different experience for them.”

Forest Service officials say they don’t have control over all the roads and trails that are laced throughout the Huron Manistee.

But planner Jeff Pullen says you can still find quiet places even outside the non-motorized areas to ski or snowshoe.

Pullen: “Simply by virtue of the fact that there aren’t snowmobile trails in those areas and there aren’t a lot of people using them to a large extent.”

Pullen says the forest service approach is to allow as many different types of users as possible in all areas of the forest while minimizing conflicts among them.

But Kurt Meister says with nearly a million acres in the Huron Manistee managers ought to be able to carve out places for all the different users to do their thing without interfering with anyone else.

He isn’t under any illusion, though, that in the end he’s going to get 70,000 acres set aside for quiet uses.

For the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Host tag: The Forest Service is now re-working their plan for the Huron-Manistee. They either have to include Kurt Meister’s suggestions or prove to the Court why his ideas won’t work.

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

Lice Boutique Tackles Parasites

  • Olivia Shaw receiving treatment at Rapunzel's lice boutique. (Photo by Mark Brush)

A how-to-delouse guide from the EPA

More about Rapunzel’s Lice Boutique

Info about lice from the FDA


Finding live bugs and tiny eggs in your hair is a shocker. And treating head lice is usually not a lot of fun, either. Many head lice treatments involve pesticides. But one Michigan woman has created a business that gets rid of lice without pesticides. Kyle Norris has more:

A couple of years ago, Sarah Casello-Rees’ head starting really itching. When she looked at her hair she saw things moving. Then she looked at her son’s head.

“And he was terribly infested. He just had a zoo of lice crawling all over his head.”

Casello-Rees had no experience with head lice…so she didn’t know what to do. Plus, her hair is thick & curly—and she felt there was no one she could turn to, to help treat her hair. Casello-Rees says that’s when her personal hell began.

“I was desperate and it was horrible. So at that point I thought maybe I could start a business that would help other families with this dilemma.”

And that’s what she’s done. Her business is called Rapunzel’s Lice Boutique. It’s a hair salon in Ann Arbor that treats head lice. And all treatments are pesticide-free.

Today the Shaw family children are at Rapunzel’s for a follow-up treatment.

(sound of Rapunzel’s staff chatting with the kids)

When Debbie Shaw first spotted lice in her kids’ hair she ran out and bought an over-the-counter product. But she wasn’t happy with it, because she says she knew it contained pesticides. And she says it didn’t work. So she likes the fact that Rapunzel’s does not use pesticides.

“I try to be as natural as possible I’m not against medications but the minimum is better. I don’t like to put foreign stuff in my children’s body or on their body.”

If you get treated at Rapunzel’s you actually come for three visits.

And that’s because lice are a double whammy. You’ve got the insects—lice—that suck blood from the scalp. And then you have their eggs, known as nits. The nits attach to the hair with a strong glue…and that makes it tough to remove the nits.

At Rapunzel’s, they spray your hair with natural enzymes which loosen the glue. [ambi spray]. Then the staff picks out the lice and nits. And last, they squirt a non-toxic, silicone oil called dimethicone, onto the hair, to kill any remaining creatures.

And that’s how they treat lice at Rapunzel’s.

At the store the two most common pesticides in lice products are permethrin and pyrethrum.

Dr. Barbara Frankowski is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. She says those two chemicals found in lice treatments are safe.

“They have a really good track record they’ve been around for a long time. They’re relatively easy to use. You do have to follow the directions carefully.”

But Frankowski says lice are developing resistance to some of these products, so they’re not as effective.

Other scientists take a more cautious approach.

Sonya Lunder is a senior analyst at Environmental Working Group. She says these pesticides are potent chemicals typically used in agriculture. But in this case, they’re used on children’s heads.

“I would worry that with a child their body systems are much smaller, they’re developing rapidly, that these chemicals could be mis-applied. And this is a potent nervous system toxicant.”

Both experts say it’s crucial to follow the exact directions for any lice treatment product. And they say an additional technique—like removing lice by hand—is also key, because many products only kill the live lice, not the nits.

So there are a lot of options and it can be hard to know what to do.

Rapunzel’s Lice Boutique owner, Sarah Casello-Rees, says many of her clients come to her as a last resort.

And her clients seem to appreciate the help. Like 10-year old Olivia Shaw.

“When you think about you’re in a lice place it’s kind of weird. When I found out I had lice I started to cry I was like, no, I can’t have lice. But when you’re done you’re like, yes!”

In fact, plenty of young clients have covered the walls of Rapunzel’s with their thank you letters and drawings of lice. For the Environment Report, I’m Kyle Norris.