Researchers are putting together an online service
that will help determine nature’s contributions to the economy.
The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports the economic benefits
of the natural system aren’t always considered when developers
Researchers are putting together an online service that will help determine nature’s contributions to the economy. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports the economic benefits of the natural system aren’t always considered when developers start building:
We don’t get a bill from wetlands for purifying our water, but scientists say we might pay
more in our utility bills if wetlands weren’t there to clean up the water.
Bob Costanza directs the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. He and his colleagues are
building computer models that will be turned into an interactive website. He says the website
will put a price on the services things such as wetlands and forests provide:
“If you are gonna, you know, put a new housing development or shopping center, what are
you losing in terms of ecosystem services and where could you put those things that would
lose as little as possible?”
Kostanza says the website will be live in about a year and a half. It will be open
to the public so you’ll be able to get a better sense of what your local pond and forest
are doing for you.
Chuck and Pam Wingo in the kitchen of their solar-powered home. (Photo by Tamara Keith)
Solar panels blend in with the shingles on the roof of this Sacramento, California home. (Photo by Tamara Keith)
The electricity meter indicates how much power is being produced by the solar panels on the roof of Chuck and Pam Wingo's home. They've had the home for a year and still sometimes just watch the meter spin. They recently paid just $16 for power in the hottest month in Sacramento. (Photo by Tamara Keith)
Solar panel technology has been around for decades…but not many people have panels on their roofs. Solar energy is the ultimate clean power source, but it’s also expensive and that’s kept most people away. But regulators in one state are hoping to change that. The state’s Public Utilities Commission recently approved a 3-billion dollar fund to give homeowners and businesses hefty rebates if they install solar panels. It’s the first program of its kind and size in the nation. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith reports:
Solar panel technology has been around for decades…but not many
people have panels on their roofs. Solar energy is the ultimate clean
power source, but it’s also expensive and that’s kept most people away.
But regulators in one state are hoping to change that. The state’s Public
Utilities Commission recently approved a 3-billion dollar fund to give
homeowners and businesses hefty rebates if they install solar panels. It’s
the first program of its kind and size in the nation. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith reports:
A little over a year ago, Chuck Wingo and his wife Pam moved into a
new house in an innovative housing development. Their house, like all
the others in the neighborhood, is equipped with bank solar panels, built
right into the roof like shingles.
“These are the 2 meters that are on the house. It’s simple. One uses for
our usage, what we use, and the other one is from the solar panels, what we
Chuck says sometimes he walks to the side of his California house and
just watches the solar meter spin.
“We check it all the time, what’s even better is checking the bills. The
bills are great, we paid 16-dollars for our usage in August, the hottest
month in Sacramento. So, it’s kind of cool.”
The Wingo’s weren’t big environmentalists before moving into this
house, but Pam says when she heard about this development, something
“The idea just sounded, if you’re going to move, do it right at least. Do
something pro-active about where you’re going to be living and spending
your money. It’s really good for everybody, for the country. We all
should be living like this so we’re not wasting out energy.”
And many more Californians will be living that way, if the California
Solar Initiative lives up to its promise. State energy regulators approved
the initiative, which will add a small fee to utility bills in order to create a
3-billion dollar fund. That fund is designed to make solar panels more
It starts by offering rebates to consumers who buy them. Bernadette Del
Chiaro – a clean energy advocate with Environment California – says
once those panels get cheaper, the marketplace goes to work…
“The problem with solar power today is its cost. Most of us can’t afford
an extra 20-thousand dollars to equip our home with solar panels, and
what we’re doing in California is saying, we’re going to get the cost of
solar power down. By growing the market 30 fold in the next 10 years,
we’re going to be able to cut the cost of solar panels in half.”
Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to get the California
legislature to approve something similar. That plan got bogged down in
state politics … so he took it to the Public Utilities Commission. While
the commission can raise the money, there are some parts of this
revamped solar program that have to be legislated.
Democratic State Senator Kevin Murray has worked with the Republican
Governor on solar power issues. He says he plans to introduce a new bill
that would require solar panels be included as an option on all new
homes built in the state.
“Rather than some specialized left-wing alternative kind of thing, we want it to
be in the mainstream, so that when you go in to buy a new home, you
pick your tile and you pick your carpet and you pick your solar system.
So, that would have to be done legislatively and the other thing that would
have to be done legislatively is raise the net metering cap so that if you’re
selling energy back to the grid, you can get compensated for it.”
The new program would also target businesses, even farms. Public
Utilities Commissioner Dian Grueneich says she hopes this doesn’t stop
“I’m very, very excited. This is the largest program in the country
and I’m hoping that other states will look at this program as well, so that
it’s not just something in California but helping other states.”
And if the solar power initiative is a success in California, backers say
it’s good news for consumers all over the country. Much like the hybrid
car, made cool by Hollywood celebrities… California leaders hope they
can make solar trendy and more affordable for everyone.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it’s beginning the first clean-up project under the Great Lakes Legacy Act. The measure allots 270 million dollars in federal funding over five years to target contaminated sediment in the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has details:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it is beginning the first
clean up project under the Great Lakes Legacy Act. The measure alots 270 million dollars
in federal funding over five years to garget contaminated sediment in the region. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has details:
The EPA and the state of Michigan will spend 6.5 million dollars to clean up the Black
Lagoon on the Detroit River. The area was given its name when aerial pictures showed oil
and grease swirling in the lagoon. The project is the first that will take place under the
new Great Lakes Legacy Act. EPA administrator Mike Leavitt says plans to build a new housing
development nearby played a role in making the Black Lagoon project a priority.
“The most important thing is the where we can make the biggest difference and the fastest.
Because there is a good plan in place that will not just improve the environment, but also
boost the economy, that’s so much the better.”
The EPA says about 90 thousand cubic yards of sediment contaminated with oil, mercury, and
PCBs will be dredged from the Black Lagoon. The agency says the project should begin
in mid-October and be completed by mid-January.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jerome Vaughn in Detroit.
A new study on urban sprawl suggests the Midwest is doing better than some parts of the country, but there are still some trouble spots in the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
A new study on urban sprawl suggests the Midwest is doing better than some parts of the
country. But there are still some trouble spots in the region. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
A study released by Smart Growth America says California and the south are having the
worst problems with sprawl. But Detroit, Rochester and Syracuse, New York, and the
Gary-Hammond area of Indiana just missed being in the top ten. Researcher Rolf
Rendahl of Cornell University in New York says those are areas where sprawl partly
occurs because of economic distress.
“With very little demand for new development, land is cheaper and people can build
Rendahl also says the suburbs in those areas generally have relatively permissive land use
policies. The study says sprawl can trigger ozone pollution and various traffic problems.
The group recommends more rehabilitation of urban properties and transportation
planning that doesn’t promote sprawl. The National Association of Homebuilders
contends the Smart Growth report ignores housing affordability and consumer choice.
For the Great Lakes Radio consortium, this is Chuck Quirmbach.
Eleven million acres of prime farmland were lost to
urban sprawl in a 15 year period. Some small cities are embracing
the growth and helping developers circumvent so-called Smart Growth
restrictions on sprawl.
Researchers have found that small towns hungry for new tax dollars are making it possible for developers to get around Smart Growth plans. Often the result is urban sprawl that paves over farmland and natural areas. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has the story:
Researchers have found that small towns hungry for new tax dollars are making it possible for developers to get around Smart Growth Plans. Often the result is urban sprawl that paves over farmland and natural areas. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
Despite the best efforts of some politicians to slow down the pace of turning farmland into suburbia, the 2000 Census shows population growth is exploding at the edges of Metropolitan areas, and all those people need somewhere to live and shop. So, in the Midwest, often housing developments and shopping malls are built where corn or soybeans grew just the year before.
For example, Kane County, Illinois, as recently as the 1970’s was predominately farmland. Now with more and more people moving there, only about half the county is left for farming.
Randall Road cuts through the heart of the county, although housing developments and retail stores are starting to infringe on the country setting, on one side of the road you can still see rows of crops and pasture, and on the other side of Randall Road, it’s nearly solid shopping malls and subdivisions. But in the middle of all that development, there’s still one dairy farm. Mike Kenyon and his family still grow hay and corn, and milk cows here. But their fields are surrounded by three sprawling towns. Kenyon says Randall Road used to be the line where planners said urban sprawl would stop. They were so confident that they even said so in their planning document for the year 2020.
“And they drew a line in the county and they said ‘we want the growth to occur here and we want to maintain this as rural, as farms. Well, how did developers get around that? Well they go to a little village and they say ‘Well, we’ll put a big housing development over here. Please, annex us and this’ll be more revenue and they’ll even have a sewer system when we get done.’ So, that’s what happens; they kind of bribe the villages so they get around the 2020 plan.”
And that, Kenyon says, is what’s now happening on the other side of Randall Road where Kane County was supposed to remain rural. Kane County officials are trying to implement all kinds of programs to save the remaining farmland from urban sprawl, or at least keep urbanization to certain areas of the county. But at the town and village level, many local politicians see growth as nothing but good and are willing to expand their city limits to include developments. That’s because those developments help increase their tax revenue.
The story is not unique to the Chicago region. It’s being repeated throughout the Midwest and the Great Lakes, as well as across the United States.
So much so that millions, yes millions of acres of prime farmland in the U.S. have been lost in a little more than a decade. Rich Green is a geographer at Northern Illinois University. He’s been tracking the fringes of the ever-growing Chicago Metropolitan area. He’s been adding up just how much former cropland has been turned into suburban lawns and parking lots.
“What we found is this: the nation between 1982 and 1997, that’s a 15 year time period, lost about eleven million acres of prime farmland, cropland, to urban development.”
Green also found, perhaps coincidentally, that an identical amount of land, eleven million acres of rangeland was plowed up and put into crop production during the same period.
“What we’ve been looking at is losing the nation’s best farmland in places like Chicago and other metropolitan areas in the Midwest, and replacing it with marginal lands in the arid West which requires more inputs, particularly water, irrigation.”
Green says shifting farming to less productive and more environmentally damaging land might not be the intent of the small towns that want to grow, but that’s the apparent result.
Just off campus at Northern Illinois’ Social Sciences Research Institute, Director Harvey Smith says Midwest states such as Illinois should take the time to better learn and weigh the costs of continued urban sprawl.
“Economically, Illinois relies very, very heavily on its agriculture. And, it is also the case that a lot of the very rich farmland is in the northern tier of the state which is closest to the moving fringe of the suburbs.”
Many times government at a more regional level, such as at the county level, is struggling with balancing development and farmland preservation. Even though it’s something of a contradiction, Smith says the people who move to the suburbs’ fringes causing further urban sprawl, actually want to preserve some of the farmland.
“The fact is that many of the people who move into the suburbs, while they like the sort of scenic quality of a farm or two over the hill, aren’t in a position to stop the disappearance of the farms themselves. It requires cooperation between local and regional governmental agencies to make a real effort to protect these qualities that are likely to disappear if they don’t.”
For some towns, it’s too late to recover the rural character and small town charm they lost to development, but for those at the fringes of the sprawling large metro areas with adherence to Smart Growth planning, some planners believe there’s still the opportunity to preserve a little of the setting of the suburbs that drew so many people there in the first place.
The battle of the Humbug Marsh is being fought just south of Detroit.
Developers have said they want to build upscale homes near the last stretch
of undeveloped wetland on the U-S side of the Detroit River.
Environmentalists are lobbying to defeat the deal. But developers say race
is the real reason for opposition to the project. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has more: