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Opponents say energy bills would benefit utility companies



LANSING – A pair of Senate bills would shift the state’s focus away from renewable energy to the benefit of large utility companies – and Michigan’s budding renewable market could be left out in the cold, according to opponents like the Sierra Club.

“Essentially, these bills would destroy our current system of supporting renewables, efficiency and all the things that make our energy portfolio cleaner and more sustainable,” said Mike Berkowitz, the staff political director of the Michigan Sierra Club’s Political Committee. “The bills would eliminate Michigan’s renewable energy standard, sunset our energy efficiency standard and gut our net metering program, which would essentially destroy the solar industry in Michigan.”

But the chair of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee, Sen. Mike Nofs, R–Battle Creek, said the plan would instead make Michigan’s energy market more competitive and fair, without the state giving certain types of generation preferential treatment. He and the committee’s vice chair, Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the bills.

“We don’t want to pick what fuels are going to work, which fuels are most cost-effective and all that,” Nofs said. “When you have mandates, you’re tied to that energy source no matter what it costs, and as we’ve seen with wind, and with solar, they’ve had some downfalls. But we did what the 2008 legislation wanted to do – get that economy of renewables going.”

The plan would alter a 2008 law that introduced a mandate requiring utilities to generate at least 10 percent of their electric load from renewable sources by the end of this year, and remain at a minimum 10 percent in years that follow. It includes another mandate for efficiency.

Introduced in July, the bill is undergoing hearings in the committee.

Meanwhile, the House Energy Policy Committee has approved different legislation that would provide incentives for utilities that hit annual waste reduction benchmarks and introduce a goal of 30 percent renewable energy production by 2025. That measure now goes to the full House for a vote.

The Senate proposal would eliminate renewable and efficiency mandates. Incentives to utilities exceeding renewable and emission requirements would also be significantly reduced.

Nofs said, “Now, let everybody compete.”



New tax, regulations proposed for medical marijuana



LANSING – Medical marijuana patients might have a bit harder time paying for their pot if tax legislation that recently passed the House becomes law.

Current medical marijuana regulations don’t include any tax on the drug, but that could change under a three-bill package that passed the House in a landslide vote.

One sponsor, Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, also a chiropractor, said the legislation is an important move for Michigan as the possibility of legalization looms.

“We need to address this before it addresses us,” Callton said. “What happens in some places that legalize is you have no laws, no regulatory structure. It was really hard for them to get Pandora back in the box.

“It’s really not if, but when.”

The proposal would make medical marijuana the only taxed “prescription” medication in Michigan, said Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor.

“I just don’t think that medicine should be taxed,” he said.

Technically, patients don’t get prescriptions, but they need a doctor’s recommendation to qualify for Michigan’s program, Callton said.

“I know you hear this beef – other prescription drugs aren’t taxed,” he said. “But it’s not really a prescription drug.”

Co-sponsors of his bill include Reps. John Kivela, D-Marquette; Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle; Scott Dianda, D-Calumet; Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo; Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac; and Sam Singh, D-East Lansing.

Callton said the tax would go toward the cost of enforcing the new regulations, including health department and police inspections.

Marijuana is most often recommended as a palliative, or pain reliever, for ailments like glaucoma, nerve pain, Crohn’s disease and cancer. It’s undergoing testing trials for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases like HIV/AIDS, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.



Campus food banks expand to feed hungry students



LANSING – Food banks are a growing sight on Michigan campuses as many students struggle with higher tuition, costly rent – and sometimes, hunger.

“I think institutions are beginning to realize that there has been a food insecure population on campuses all along, and we need to serve it,” said Nathaniel Smith-Tyge, director of the Michigan State University Food Bank.

Prior to the Great Recession, Michigan institutions had only four on-campus food pantries, according to the MSU Food Bank. Today, Thirteen institutes have programs supported by the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

Eastern Michigan is the latest school to follow this trend, opening a campus food pantry this fall. Others include the University of Michigan and Saginaw Valley State, Western Michigan, Finlandia, Grand Valley State and Michigan State universities. Among the others are Kirktand and Bay de Noc community colleges, and Lake Michigan College.

Most campus-based food banks in the state rely on donations from students, alumni and the surrounding community.

Karen Lamons, the Western Michigan University residential life supervisor who worked to open the university’s food pantry last fall, said the support the program has received over the last year has been staggering.

“It’s beyond our expectation – not just that people are coming, but that people want to support it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s our administration, our faculty, our staff, our student organizations, they all want to support it.”

She said that a lot of donations come from food drives held by local businesses and organizations, as well as students themselves, who work as volunteers and drop off donations at the campus’ 30 collection sites.

During its first year, there were more than 400 visits to the pantry. Lamons said that the program doesn’t require individuals to prove their need – to visit the pantry, they just have to be enrolled WMU students.

Nationally, one in 10 adults in need of emergency food assistance is a student, according to Feeding America, a Chicago-based national network of food banks. It is hard to calculate how those numbers stack up for Michigan – the Department of Health and Human Services does not compile student-specific data.

Smith-Tyge said Michigan State’s program helps around 4,000 students and their families each year.

“At an institution like MSU with an enrollment of 50,000, when we’re talking about even a small percentage, we’re still talking about a good number of people,” he said. “It goes beyond that general perception of students, having to buy ramen and those kinds of things – these really are people who do not know where their next meal’s going to come from.”


Shrinking number of teachers signals end of a dream career



LANSING — Many children aspiring to be teachers when they grow up could end up having a change of heart.

In the face of increased pressures due to standardized testing, new college entry tests, and a lack of societal respect for the profession, fewer students are pursuing teaching careers, education advocates say.

“Nationally and in Michigan, there are fewer students going into education,” said Corey Drake, director of teacher preparation at Michigan State University.

Enrollment in university education programs fell 10 percent nationally from 2004 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The number of initial certificates issued by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has also been declining annually, according to Leah Breen, interim director of the department’s Office of Professional Preparation Services.

Drake said some smaller Michigan universities have seen enrollment in teaching programs dropping as much as 30 to 50 percent.

Standardized tests and national Common Core standards have garnered a much larger focus in the state in past years. Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook said these testing goals have altered how teaching is conducted and lowered the amount of input teachers have.

“Not one of them got involved because they thought they were going to be rich,” Cook said. “They want to teach. And they get there and find out, I’m not doing that much teaching, I’m a professional test proctor.”


State officials unconcerned about failing water grade

By Brooke Kansier


LANSING — In a state surrounded by 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, overuse and sustainability might not be the first thing on the minds of Michiganders.

And according to a study that graded states on their water policies and conservation, these concerns may not be very common in state government, either.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency’s most recent scorecard gave Michigan a mere 3 points out of the possible 40 for water efficiency and policy. Compare that to places such as fellow Great Lakes state Wisconsin with 15.5, Rhode Island’s 20, or California’s 29.

With a D grade and the lowest score among Great Lakes states, Michigan failed in categories such as state policies regarding toilet and shower head efficiency, water-efficient building or plumbing codes, or even guidelines for conservation among water utility companies — and was given a passing grade in only one category. In fact, Michigan has no guidelines that exceed federal standards when it comes to appliances, plumbing or water utility efficiency.


‘A farmers market no more’

LEPFA president shares plan for historic Lansing City Market

By Brooke Kansier

LANSING CITY PULSE — June 17, 2015

It may still be called the City Market, but farmers will no longer be driving its identity under a new plan being shaped by city officials.

“People still identify it as a farmers market, but really, the elements inside have changed,” said Scott Keith, president and CEO of the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, which runs the market.

“It’s not a farmers market anymore,” Keith said. “We have elements of that, but that’s not its core.”

Keith called what’s coming an “urban market,” with more emphasis on eateries, prepared foods, specialty food stands and possibly a brewpub to complement the already successful Waterfront Bar & Grill. Some, like the ever popular Hills Home-Cured Cheese and the new Iorio’s Gelateria will stay. It will also feature more eateries along the lines of already established Red’s Smokehouse and For Crepe Sake.

The concept is a work in progress now, but Keith said market patrons should see a full transformation within the next two or three years. He cited similar, successful markets in cities like Grand Rapids as models for the transformation.

“We have to be something different,” said Gus Pine, LEPFA vice president of sales and marketing. “What we want to create is a destination that, first, our locals are interested in, because once your locals are interested in things, your tourists become interested. It becomes an authentic piece of coming and visiting the city.”



High-rise uproar

By Brooke Kansier

LANSING CITY PULSE — Aug. 19, 2015


That’s how many residents of East Lansing’s Flower Pot neighborhood feel as Michigan State University begins development of the former State Police headquarters that sits in their backyards.

That’s because the university won’t budge when it comes to three four-story apartment buildings that will soon loom over their homes — just 53 feet from the property line. A parking lot next to the complex will sit even closer, 22 feet from the currently peaceful neighborhood yards and gardens.

“They don’t seem to have any empathy,” said 22-year resident Cynthia Craig, a retired MSU professor. “We all but lose the use of our own backyards.”

The 40-acre, $156 million, development, which will be completed by 2017, will house over 900 students, joining 300 already living at the property’s University Village. It will include commercial buildings, like a spirit store and coffee shop. The development will replace the university’s current family housing, the ailing Spartan Village.

And because MSU is autonomous from the city with its own zoning laws, East Lansing and Flower Pot residents have few avenues to appeal the project outside of appealing to the university’s good nature and asking it to be more considerate of nearby homeowners.


Documentary searches for hope in nuclear waste

By Brooke Kansier


Hope isn’t a word most people associate with high-level radioactive nuclear waste.

But an upcoming documentary on its storage in Ontario takes an optimistic perspective on a depressing subject. It’s called Nuclear Hope.

 “Hope can have a very positive meaning – we hope for a better future, we hope for a better life, all of those things,” said the independent film’s co-director, Colin Scheyen. “Hope can also be misguided. Without the right knowledge behind it, hope can be very shortsighted.

“Hope is a perfect word to use toward nuclear energy.”


Pothole prevention: Smart roads signal repair needs

By Brooke Kansier


If Michigan ever gears up to fix its crumbling roads, engineers might be well-served to consider a new ingredient in the road-making mix.

It’s a sensor developed by Michigan State University, and it could have a big impact on road budgets and repairs nationwide.

The sensor records traffic data and measures impacts and damage to roads. It communicates that information to engineers who could use the data to fix roads before they become seriously damaged — making maintenance significantly easier and cheaper.


Logjam report by Indiana journalism, science students yields river cleanup

By Brooke Kansier


Galoshes and pH paper aren’t exactly typical school supplies.

And landing $100,000 environmental grants and presenting at science conventions aren’t exactly the typical results of university schoolwork.

But they are a part of a course at Ball State University that combines students in journalism and telecommunications with those majoring in geology, natural resources and environmental management to research and report on water quality.

“We’re trying to create solutions to that complex problem, and then articulate that to the public – what it is, why it matters, why it’s important and then, what can be done about it,” said Adam Kuban, an assistant journalism professor who co-teaches the course.