Stories indexed with the term ‘Environmental Protection Agency’

Ann Arbor Council Acts on Climate Plan

A climate action plan was adopted by a unanimous vote of the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

Also at the meeting, the council passed a separate resolution that urges the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. A 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case gave the EPA the authority to regulate emission of green house gases (GHGs) as pollutants – such as water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3).

Ann Arbor’s climate action plan calls for a reduction in GHG emissions of 8% by 2015, 25% by 2025, and 90% by 2050. Baseline for the reductions are 2000 levels. The action steps identified in … [Full Story]

EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project

Four entities – including the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the local Huron River Watershed Council – have filed letters of objection with the state of Michigan to a project that would add a recreational section of whitewater along the Huron River, next to the new Argo Cascades.

Huron River near Argo Dam

A view looking upstream at the Huron River from the Broadway Bridge, toward the section of the proposed whitewater feature. On the left is environmental remediation work on the DTE/MichCon property. (Photo by D. Askins.)

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation manager, informed the park advisory commissioners about the opposition at PAC’s Sept. 18, 2012 meeting, describing the news as “not especially positive.” Other letters filed against the project were from the state Dept. of Natural Resources fisheries division and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The project requires a permit from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) because it affects the Huron River, a state waterway. The project was originally approved by the Ann Arbor city council in 2010, as part of a larger effort that included building the Argo Dam bypass, which wrapped up earlier this year. Subsequent to that council approval, DTE Energy offered to pay for and oversee the whitewater aspect, to coordinate it with environmental remediation work that’s taking place on property it owns along that stretch of the river, just downstream of Argo Dam.

DTE is the applicant for the whitewater permit, although the company is working closely with the city on the project. The city is interested in acquiring the DTE property along the Huron after remediation is completed – and it’s hoped that the company might gift it to the city as a park.

Smith told PAC members that the EPA objection – because it comes from a federal environmental oversight agency – has triggered a process that might stop the project. The EPA filed its letter on Aug. 15. From that date, the MDEQ has 90 days [until Nov. 13] to resolve the EPA’s concerns with the applicant.

The EPA’s letter from Tinka Hyde, director of the agency’s water division, states that the project could significantly degrade the Huron River by inhibiting fish passage and increasing the water velocity, which in turn could affect sediment flow and degrade the stability of that section of the river. Another concern cited is that the project could constrain public use of the river. Because of these issues, the EPA believes the project does not comply with the federal Clean Water Act. [.pdf of EPA letter]

Similar concerns were cited in the other letters of objection. Additional issues raised include water quality concerns that could affect the health of those using the whitewater area, who might come in contact with E.coli in the river; and exacerbated flow problems during drought periods. [U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services letter] [DNR fisheries division letter and additional attachments] [HRWC letter]

The DNR fisheries letter – signed by Jeffery Braunscheidel, senior fisheries biologist – also alludes to the contentious “dam in/dam out” debate involving Argo Dam. Structures used to create the whitewater are in essence dams, he stated, and the division does not support new dam construction. “Planning should provide for a naturally functioning system below Argo Dam as history has made clear that, at some point in time, the Argo Dam will be modified or removed. Impediments should not be constructed in the river that the public will again be asked to address.”

But it’s the EPA’s objection that carries the most weight. If the EPA does not withdraw its objection and the MDEQ still decides to grant the permit, then DTE would also need to seek a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before the project can move forward. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Restarts Talk on Vehicle Idling

At a work session held on Jan. 17, 2012, the Ann Arbor city council picked up on a conversation it started back in 2004, when it asked the city’s staff and environmental commission to craft an ordinance regulating the unnecessary idling of vehicles. Last summer, the environmental commission forwarded a draft idling ordinance and a white paper to the council, which was attached to the council’s Aug. 15, 2011 meeting agenda.

exhaust-from-idling-brick anti-idling ordinance

"Please do not leave engines idling. Exhaust damages historic properties." A private property owner has placed this sign in a downtown Ann Arbor alley to discourage delivery drivers from leaving their trucks running. It's advisory only. If an ordinance were enacted by Ann Arbor's city council, the city would post signs alerting drivers to the local law. (Photos by the writer.)

The council got a more detailed briefing on Tuesday, when the city’s environmental coordinator, Matt Naud, and two members of the city’s environmental commission addressed the council. The draft ordinance covers all engines, from heavy-duty trucks to passenger vehicles to generators. It would limit idling to 5 minutes in any given one-hour period. The draft ordinance includes a number of exceptions – for public safety vehicles and for cold weather, for example.

The goal of the ordinance is not to improve overall air quality in Ann Arbor, but rather to improve conditions in very specific localized contexts – school drop-off zones, for example. And the idea is not to create legislation that would then be aggressively enforced. Naud drew an analogy to the city’s ordinance regulating phosphorus-based fertilizers – no citations have ever been issued for ordinance violations, yet the city has achieved a measurable reduction in phosphorus loading in the Huron River since enactment of that ordinance.

Reaction from councilmembers was mixed. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) seemed more interested in exploring the possibility of changing drivers’ behavior through educational outreach than through enacting an ordinance.

Responding to the presentation and summarizing council commentary, mayor John Hieftje ventured that the council was interested in hearing about an educational program. He described that approach as a wiser course than talking about enforcement. Margie Teall (Ward 4), who until recently served as one of two city council representatives to the environmental commission, was more supportive of at least enacting an ordinance, in order to give the educational effort some “backbone.”

Any councilmember could choose to place the ordinance on a future meeting agenda. The council would then need to vote to give it initial approval, and a public hearing would be held, before a final council vote enacting a new ordinance. [Full Story]