A group of electric utilities hopes the EPA appeals a recent ruling in a major air pollution case. Coal-burning power plants, refineries and older factories are watching the case closely. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
A group of electric utilities hopes the EPA appeals a recent ruling in a major air
pollution case. Coal-burning power plants, refineries and older factories
are watching the case closely. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
A court in Washington D.C. recently ruled against the EPA’s plan to
make changes in the new source review portion of the federal Clean Air
Act. The Bush Administration had wanted to make it easier for utilities to
make major upgrades at power plants without having to install expensive
pollution controls. But fourteen states worried the plants would just get
bigger and pollute more…so they had sued the EPA.
The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council represents some power
companies across the U.S. Council Director Scott Segal says the federal
agency ought to appeal the new source ruling.
“Because they would not want this court case to stand as a principled
statement of environmental law.”
Environmentalists have cheered the recent court decision on new source
review, but said they expected it would be a while before utilities and the
EPA would accept the decision.
The Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush is punishing fewer polluters than under previous administrations. That’s according to analysis done by the Knight Ridder news service. More from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush:
The Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush is punishing fewer
polluters than under previous administrations. That’s according to analysis
done by the Knight Ridder news service. More from the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mark Brush:
Investigators looked at environmental enforcement records dating back to
1989. They found that under the current Bush administration – enforcement
has dropped significantly when compared to the Clinton and the first Bush
administration. The EPA averaged close to 200 citations a month under Bush
Senior. And now, that average has dropped to 77 citations a month under
George W. Bush.
Joel Mintz is the author of a book on the history of EPA enforcement. He
says enforcement is crucial to the agency.
“I think it’s critical really. It’s at the heart of what any regulatory
agency does. Without enforcement, environmental laws would have no teeth.
They just would not be taken seriously.”
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt says the numbers are lower because they’re
practicing what he calls “smart enforcement.” He says they’re working with
businesses – developing incentives for companies not to pollute – instead of
focusing on punishment.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
Environmentalists are protesting a new air pollution rule from the Bush Administration. They say it will make it easier for the industry to continue to pollute or even pollute more. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Environmentalists are protesting a new air pollution rule from The Bush administration. They
say it will make it easier for the industry to continue to pollute or even pollute more. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Despite the 1970 Clean Air Act, some factory owners have kept polluting at the same rate for
more than 30 years. That’s because plants only were required to add pollution controls when
making significant updates. Environmentalists say a new rule put in place by the Bush
administration makes that loophole even bigger.
Eric Schaeffer is a former EPA official who quit, protesting the weakening of environmental
“What this rule says is if you’re sitting on an old plant that’s pretty dirty, that’s uncontrolled, that
isn’t meeting the Clean Air Act standards, you can go in and piece by piece, you can continue to
rebuild these plants and keep them alive and keep them going without putting on pollution
The new rule comes in the wake of a General Accounting Office report that found the Bush
White House made the decision based almost entirely upon anecdotes from factory owners rather
than from hard data collected by the EPA.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The U.S. military is mapping out a strategy to avoid compliance with environmental laws. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The U.S. military is mapping out a strategy to avoid compliance with environmental laws. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The U.S. military cannot be fined for violating environmental laws, but right now all branches of
the service are required to obey them. Some in the Pentagon want to change that. Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is asking top brass to find examples of how environmental
laws hurt military preparedness. It would give President Bush ammunition to invoke exemptions
to many environmental laws. Jeff Ruch (rook) is with the environmental group Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility.
“This Wolfowitz memo is part of a broader campaign by the Pentagon to free itself from most
Last year, a report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found
that complying with environmental laws did not hurt military preparedness.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Genetically modified crops are planted throughout the Midwest, but some scientists are concerned genes from these crops could escape and work their way into weedy plants. With these genes, weeds could become more vigorous and harder to kill. New research shows this can happen between closely related crops and weeds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cristina Rumbaitis-del Rio prepared this report:
Genetically modified crops are planted throughout the Midwest, but some scientists are
concerned genes from these crops could escape and work their way into weedy plants. With
these genes, weeds could become more vigorous and harder to kill. New research shows this can
happen between closely related crops and weeds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cristina
Rumbaitis-del Rio prepared this report:
Genetically modified crops have been around for quite a while. In the U.S. last year more than 88
million acres were planted with genetically modified soybean, corn, cotton and other crops. Some
of these plants are engineered to be more resistant to herbicides, making it easier for farmers to
get rid of weeds without damaging their crop. Others are engineered to resist plant-eating insects.
But some scientists worry about the ecological effects of these crops. Allison Snow is a professor
of ecology at Ohio State University. She studies genetically modified sunflowers. Snow says she
got involved in this research when genetically modified crops were first being introduced because
she was afraid no one else was looking at the environmental effects of these crops.
“It was kind out of a fear factor for me of wanting to make sure that someone was watching to see
what the environmental effects might be.”
The sunflowers Snow studies have a gene added to them, which produces an organic insecticide
that kills insects feeding on the plants.
According to Snow, the problem with these pesticide-producing sunflowers is the insect-killing
gene can be transferred from crop sunflowers to their weedy cousins, which are often growing on
the edges of fields. Bees, flies and other insects can transfer the gene to the weeds by cross-
pollinating the plants, which are close relatives. Snow’s research shows once the gene gets into
the weed population, the weeds become insect-resistant as well.
“The new gene worked really, really well in the weeds. It protected them from the insects. And
because they were protected, they had more energy to devote to making seeds.”
Snow says the most startling result was the number of seeds these weeds were making.
“In one of our study sites, they made 55% percent more seeds per plant – just because of one
gene. Which is kind of unheard of. We’ve never seen a result like that – where one gene would
cause the whole population to suddenly start making 55% more seeds.”
The gene might make weeding a more difficult task, but Snow says she wouldn’t quite call them
“super weeds,” a term some environmentalists have used.
“We might see that the weedy sunflowers become worse weeds, I wouldn’t call them super
weeds, because to me that would imply that they have many different features instead of just one
that causes them to make more seeds. But I could imagine in the future there might be enough
traits out there that could turn a regular weed into something much more difficult to control – like
really would be a super weed.”
Snow says she will have to do more research to see if the extra seeds made by the weeds will turn
into more weeds and hardier weeds in farmer’s fields.
But, she might not be able to finish her research on sunflowers because the companies that make
the crop have decided not to renew her funding and won’t give her access to the sunflowers or the
“It was all about stewardship and responsibility.”
Doyle Karr is a spokesperson for pioneer hi bred, one of the companies which makes the
sunflowers. He says the company realized a few years ago there wasn’t enough demand for the
product to justify commercially producing it. As a result, he says, the company couldn’t continue
funding sunflower research, and doesn’t want to be held responsible for keeping the gene safe
while the research is being conducted.
It’s an issue of a biotech trait that we are not pursuing and not bringing to the market, and if we’re
not bringing it to the market, we can’t justify taking the responsibility of having that trait out
being worked with, with a third party.”
While some academic researchers argue the universities take on legal liability when they work
with genetically modified plants, Karr says the university’s liability is often limited by state law.
He says the company is ultimately held responsible if only by the court of public opinion.
“Should something happen with this gene that was not expected or a mistake happened – that
would ultimately come back to those who initially made the gene available.”
While this issue remains unresolved, Snow is continuing her research. Genetically modified
sunflowers are not the only crop to study. Snow is now working in Vietnam where weedy species
of rice grow naturally, and where genetically modified rice might be introduced in coming years.
She’s concerned the traits of the genetically altered rice might be transferred to the wild species
of rice, just as happened with the sunflowers.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Cristina Rumbaitis-del Rio.
An EPA study says that less than one percent of lakes in the Upper Midwest suffer from the effects of acid rain – down from three percent 20 years ago. Air pollution officials disagree on what to do next about the harmful precipitation. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
An EPA study says that less than one percent of lakes in the Upper Midwest suffer from the
effects of acid rain – down from three percent 20 years ago. Air pollution officials disagree on
what to do next about the harmful precipitation. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck
The EPA credits the improvement in the health of lakes to a 1990 law that reduced sulphur
dioxide emissions, mainly from coal-burning power plants. Cutting SO2 pollution means several
things, including less disruption to the Lakes’ food chain. Now the EPA agrees with President
Bush’s call for Congress to pass his so-called Clear Skies Initiative. That plan aims for more
reductions in sulphur dioxide, as well as cuts in emissions of nitrogen oxides and mercury. But
several state air pollution regulators say the plan doesn’t go far enough. Lloyd Eagan is with the
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“Basically my feeling is that the levels in the Clear Skies Initiative really offer too little reduction
and it comes too late.”
But the EPA calls the Clear Skies Initiative a market-based, workable approach to pollution
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chuck Quirmbach reporting.
Canada now has a national law to protect endangered species. It comes after nine years of study and debate. The new law takes effect early next year. It’s designed to protect more than four hundred species and their critical habitat. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
Canada now has a national law to protect endangered species. It comes after nine years of study
and debate. The new law takes effect early next year (2003). It’s designed to protect more than
four hundred species and their critical habitat. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan
Among the species to be protected are the grizzly bear, sage grouse, swift fox, whooping crane,
the humpback whale and the American pine marten, just to name a few.
Canada’s environment minister says the country’s first ever national endangered species law
fulfils the international commitments Canada made under the Biodiversity Convention.
The law provides for assessing which species are at risk and calls for an action plan to save those
species which are found to be most at risk.
Some environmental groups have welcomed the law as a positive first step, and a signal that
Ottawa has finally accepted some of the responsibility for protecting species and their habitats.
But others are critical. Peter Tabuns is with Greenpeace Canada:
“It’s in the end just a public relations gesture. It will not have any substantial effect on species at
risk in Canada. It won’t fulfill Canada’s obligations under the convention on biodiversity. It is
really a lost opportunity.”
Tabuns says he’s also upset that it will be the federal cabinet ministers, not scientists, that decide
whether an animal will be placed on a protected list.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Karpenchuk
Keeping track of polluters in a country as large as Canada poses a serious challenge. Truckloads of hazardous waste cross the border with the U.S. every day, logging companies work near protected wildlife, and smoke from factories fills the air; but the Canadian government has a new weapon in the fight against polluters. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on Canada’s growing team of environmental spies:
Keeping track of polluters in a country as large as Canada poses a serious challenge. Truckloads
of hazardous waste cross the border with the U.S. every day. Logging companies work near
protected wildlife. And smoke from factories fills the air. But the Canadian government has a
new weapon in the fight against polluters. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly
reports on Canada’s growing team of environmental spies:
“We’re just coming up to this facility on the right-hand side here now.”
Brad May slows down and scans the area surrounding a squat concrete building. It’s owned by a
company that was once under suspicion for illegal dumping. We’ve come here so that May can give
a sense of what happens when he places a company under
“As you can see, its a fairly old factory in a fairly industrial area in the north of Toronto
involved in the recycling and reconditioning of containers used for paints and coatings and
lubricants and that sort of thing.”
May pulls into a nearby driveway obscured by weeds. As he sips a cup of coffee, he looks like a
typical investigator – right down to the khaki uniform. The guy in the back seat, however,
probably wouldn’t get a second look. He’s wearing jeans and
a plaid shirt. And he lets May do most of the talking. His name is Mark Pomeroy. And, not
surprisingly, he’s the spy. Out on surveillance, he doesn’t have much to say. But he does point
out an 18-wheeler that’s
parked a shipping container in front of the building.
“You’ll notice here you have a container and the container has various bunch of
numbers on it. That’s very good information. What shipping line did it arrive from, who’s hauling
it as far as the carrier is concerned and you can find out if the items they’re receiving would
indeed be something we’d be interested in looking at as far as a potential violation is
Pomeroy searches for trends in industries where there’s an incentive to pollute.
For instance, if the price of pork drops, he’ll watch for hog farmers looking for a cheap way to
dump their manure, or mechanics might be offering great deals on freon, a highly regulated
chemical that’s used in
old air conditioners. That could prompt a visit to some local garages in search of illegal
imports. A lot of times, Pomeroy teams up with customs officers, the police and
Environment Canada investigators.
He says his job is different than that of a typical officer. He tries to anticipate the next
wave of environmental crime.
“Whereas they might focus on one specific case, intelligence would look at that and say, you’re
dealing with this type of a problem, is that prevalent with these types of companies…which in turn would say, okay inspections, don’t just
focus on this particular company. Look at A,B,C,D companies also.”
Here in his office, Pomeroy locks the door before he settles into a comfortable chair.
There’s a bit of a James Bond feeling here.
Secrecy is highly valued.
There’s even white noise piped throughout the building, to reduce the chance of being overheard.
As he talks about whistleblowers and anonymous tips, it’s clear that Pomeroy loves his job.
“I like law enforcement. I find it kind of a stimulating challenge to see somebody who thinks
they’re so smart that they’re doing this and they’re getting away with it, and it’s very gratifying to
actually go after that type of a person, exposing them and if it’s a violation, prosecuting
Pomeroy is one of six environmental spies in Canada and part of the only environmental
intelligence unit in the world.
The unit was created in 1998 to improve enforcement of the new laws enacted under the
Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
It’s a big job, but for Pomeroy, the best part is when he’s working in the field.
He cultivates informants – looking for internal whistle blowers and unhappy competitors. And
he’ll trail suspicious cars and conduct drive-bys on companies to gather information. Pomeroy
says his main goal is to find the big fish operating in the shadows of an industry.
“The big thing for an intelligence officer is to look at the unknown community. Are there people out there
who have never come forward and gone through the process of registering with us or gone
through the licensing or noticing permits? It’s up to me to see if they are actually out there
are they circumventing our regulations.”
But Pomeroy has been hampered by the fact that he’s the only environmental spy in the province
That’s soon to change. He’ll be joined by a second spy as Environment Canada doubles the size
of its intelligence unit.
That’s welcome news for environmentalists like Jerry DeMarco. He’s the managing lawyer with
the Sierra Legal Defense Fund. And his group argues that the Canadian government is not
enforcing its own environmental laws.
The group filed a complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement. And an internal
government report backed up their claims.
DeMarco says the new officers are arriving at a crucial time.
“They need more resources for two distinct reasons. One is they haven’t had enough to enforce
the laws that do exist and also there’s been the passage of several new laws and regulations in
past few years that also require enforcement staff.”
For instance, Canada is adding new chemicals to its list of toxic substances. That’ll mean more
work for the investigators who track them.
Mark Pomeroy acknowledges it’s still a fledgling operation. And he’s spending much of his time
building trust – with industry sources, law enforcement, and even environmental groups,
but he’s confident that trust will translate into valuable information – which will make it
for companies that continue to break the law.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
Government, industry, and activists work to inform people about individual threats of non-native invasive species. However, there is no comprehensive approach to reducing biological contamination of the Great Lakes region.
One of the biggest environmental problems facing the Great Lakes is the introduction of foreign plants and animals. Invasive species such as the zebra mussel are causing havoc to the lakes. Local, state, and federal governments know about the problems. But there’s not been much public pressure on the governments to do much about them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
One of the biggest environmental problems facing the Great Lakes is the introduction of
foreign plants and animals. Invasive species such as the zebra mussel are causing havoc
to the lakes. Local, state, and federal governments know about the problems. But there’s
not been much public pressure on the governments to do much about them. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Here’s a factoid for you. In the United States alone in the 1980’s and ’90’s, it’s estimated
that it cost more than two-billion dollars to keep zebra mussels from clogging up water
intake pipes. Two-billion! Guess who paid for that? You did – in higher bills.
Zebra mussels are an invasive species. That is, they are native to a foreign place and they
were transported here – like many invasives – by a ship. Zebra mussels were sucked up in
ballast water in a foreign port and then pumped out in a Great Lakes port. The zebra
mussels have spread all over the Great Lakes, in huge numbers. They attach to
everything, including intake pipes. They’ve crowded out native mussels. And zebra
mussels eat the microscopic plant life at the bottom of the food chain, making fish more
scarce and causing fish prices to go up.
And that’s just the beginning. There’s been something like 160 invasive species such as
foreign fish, aquatic nuisances, plants, and insects brought into the Great Lakes region
one way or another and each one has caused problems. Dutch elm disease kills trees. A
fish called round goby eats the eggs of native sport fish. Invasive mites are killing off
“People aren’t outraged about it. And they’re not outraged about it because, I think, we in
the public interest community and the government side haven’t done what it takes to
clearly communicate why this is a problem to people.”
Cameron Davis is with the Lake Michigan Federation, an environmental group that
works to get policies changed in the Great Lakes basin. Davis says most of the time
people just don’t understand that because the government is not doing enough to stop
invasive species from entering the country, it ends up costing them and takes a toll on the
“When zebra mussels, for example, get into drinking water intakes, municipalities have to
pay to keep those things out of there. That means higher rates for you and me. For other
people, fishing is impacted. Invasive species getting into the lakes can mean competition
for those native species like yellow perch because of round gobies, because of zebra
mussels and other invasive species getting into the Great Lakes.”
The government agencies which work on these kinds of problems know about them and
some things have been done to try to prevent new invasive species from being introduced
or control them once they’re here.
Tom Skinner is a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and also heads up the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office. Skinner says there
are several obstacles to stopping the invasions.
“One is identifying all the possibilities out there. Two is identifying how they get into the
lakes. Three is coming up with a technical solution to deal with the invasive nature of the
species. And four is getting the resources to make sure that you put the technical
solutions into place.”
And there’s another problem – government agencies, much like people, tend to deal with
one problem at a time. For example, sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes after a canal
was opened. They decimated lake trout populations. Government agencies attacked that
problem. Asian carp are threatening to spread from the Mississippi River system into the
Great Lakes through a canal. Government agencies are putting up barriers. One problem
equals one fix.
Tom Skinner’s counterpart in Canada, John Mills with Environment Canada, says
governments are beginning to realize that stopping the spread of invasive species cannot
just be fixed one problem at a time.
“It isn’t a simple problem of just focusing in on ballast water. It’s a much broader
problem. You can get organisms coming in on wood or other commodities that will take
up residence in the basin and create havoc.”
So, there are lots of ways for invasive species to enter the Great Lakes region. But the
Lake Michigan Federation’s Cameron Davis says no one seems to be looking at the
“We’ve got a number of different gateways to get into the Great Lakes, but we have all
kinds of different departments looking at A) individual gateways, or B) looking at
individual species. Nobody’s really there to pull it all together. We have a big
institutional problem that way.”
And there’s no one movement among environmental groups or consumer groups to
pressure the governments to step back and look at the policies that allow shipping and
trade to continue to easily transport invasive species into the Great Lakes region.
The EPA’s Tom Skinner says government agencies are working on it.
“We’re going to continue to work with the Coast Guard, with the Corps of Engineers,
with our friends to the north in Canada and try and come up with a comprehensive
solution to these various invasive problems. But, it’s easy to say; it takes a great deal of
work and effort to do that.”
And government agencies are not getting any real kind of public pressure to do it because
the public doesn’t realize the price it’s paying for invasive species.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Companies who fear that their greenhouse gas emissions may soon be regulated are being offered a new alternative. A Virginia-based firm has created an emissions trading system that will capitalize on telecommuting. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
Companies who fear that their greenhouse gas emissions may soon be regulated are being
offered a new alternative. A Virginia-based firm has created an emissions trading system
that will capitalize on telecommuting. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly
The company is called “Teletrips.” And it’s created a system in which industries that
need to reduce their emissions can buy credits from businesses with large numbers of
Teletrips president Mary Beatty says the trading system would force polluters to buy
credits to offset the amount they pollute. They’d buy the credits from companies who
keep their employees off the road.
“We felt like if you could find an incentive that would motivate companies to set up
(programs) trip reduction programs and (be able to quantify that) and give them some real
financial benefit back for creating those programs, that was much better than mandating
The company’s software converts the number of trips saved by working at home into the
amount of emissions averted.
It’s currently being pilot tested in five U.S. cities.
For the Great Lakes Radio consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.