Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

CNS budget for Oct. 30

CNS Budget for Oct. 30


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Autism services inadequate, advocates say

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Capital News Service

LANSING—Rachel Slawkowski of Jenison just celebrated her 18th birthday, but she isn’t celebrating the social services she’ll lose when she finishes high school next May.

She is one of the many individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ADS) in Michigan with little to count on after graduation.

“Once you get to that transition after high school it is kind of like, OK have a nice life. K-12 programming that’s nice, but at 18 you have 60 more years to live and what are we supposed to do now?” her mother Lana Slawkowski said.

The number of individuals with ASD, are increasing making the issue more relevant. A recent federal study says one in 91 children are being diagnosed with ASD, compared with a previous estimate of one in 150.

The study was released by the American Academy of Pediatrics based on a survey by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I don’t know if it has really hit home yet with the general population. This is becoming a real epidemic,” said Bob Steinkamp, a board member with The Autism Society of Michigan who helps prepare high school graduates with ASD for the workforce.

Under Michigan law, individuals with autism can receive education services until age 26. Federal law requires services only until 21 Steinkamp said.

However, “once a person accepts their diploma, their rights to education services ends,” he said.

Many individuals in the autism spectrum are academically gifted, so they graduate but don’t have the social skills to get a job, he added.

“These kids are sitting home and doing nothing. They don’t want to sit around and do nothing,” said Lana Slawkowski.

When asked what she plans for next year her daughter tells people she is going to college, but she can’t, especially without support. She enjoys art and music, but she can’t pursue a future in this because of restrictions in programs, said her mother.

“All of a sudden they are 18 and it breaks your heart. These are young people with all this life ahead of them and there really isn’t a next stop.”

ASD is a spectrum disorder so individuals have different needs based on degrees of ability. The only program available to her daughter is an isolated program geared toward more low-functioning individuals on the spectrum, her mother said.

“The only way to be a part of the community as adults is to be a part of the community as children,” said Amy Matthews, director of the Statewide Autism Resources and Training Project at Grand Valley State University.

“A lot of programs teach independent living but they do so in a very artificial situation so students don’t know how to handle situations beyond that.”

Kathy Johnson, president of the Autism Society of Michigan, said there are many early intervention autism programs in the state to address the problem, but young adults and adults lack adequate resources.

“There is going to be a wave of kids with autism graduating from high school and we are not prepared,” said Matthews.

Such things as managing money, daily living skills and social components of work are more difficult for people with ASD, said Steincamp. He offers these “social instruction” skills in his training.

“Dating can be like rocket science to them. They don’t do it, they don’t want to make a mistake,” Steinkamp said.

State agencies like Michigan Rehabilitation Services provide job placement services, said rehabilitation consultant Cynthia Wright.

She said they help individuals with autism make connections with businesses that will best accommodate them. The agency helps individuals with interviews and works with employers to ensure a good fit, she added.

Her agency has served about 1300 clients with autism over the past three years. Many of whom still receive support and services, she said.

Lana Slawkowski said the agency’s intentions are good but it is hard because they can only give each individual so much time.

It is the same for most of the state services provided, Slawkowski added. They do their best, but “parents are better off educating themselves on services and then digging their heels in and making it work for their child, she said”

Slawkowski said she says she understands that the state has budget problems, but the money it does have could be used more effectively.

Not all individuals with ASD have the strong family support Rachel has, however. When these children graduate and enter the workforce, state services may really be tested.

Matthews said universities, community colleges and businesses need to be educated on how to be accommodating and how valuable employees with autism can be.

“The key thing,” said Lana Slawkowski, “is if you keep yourself educated and advocate for your kid, it works. I have no doubt that we can find something to keep Rachel busy, having fun and leading as normal of a life as possible.

I don’t know the details but I do know there are plenty of people who want to see her successful that will make this happen.”


© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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License plate plan would let fans show spirit

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Sports fans may have a new way to pledge their allegiance by having specialty license plates of the Detroit Red Wings, Pistons, Lions and Tigers.

The four professional teams would have to submit a design to the Secretary of State. All the money raised from the plates would be donated to the team’s chosen charities.

“Generating money for the state and resources for students involved in sports will benefit from this project,” said Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit.

A lot of youth programs can use help with funding including Pop-Warner football, junior basketball, hockey and baseball, he said.

The legislation is a great opportunity to raise money for the state without creating new taxes, Johnson said.
There would be a $15,000 start-up fee for each specialty plate to cover for the cost of creating, producing, and it.

The Secretary of State already offers specialty plates for the 15 public universities and other special causes, such as agricultural heritage, Children’s Trust Fund, lighthouse preservation, veterans’ memorial, water quality and wildlife habitat.

Residents who have been called to active duty during the Afghanistan conflict and their spouses are eligible for an Afghanistan veteran plate, as are military veterans of other conflicts.

Earlier this year, Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, introduced a bill that would establish a fundraising plate recognizing the bicentennial of the War of 1812. On July 17 of that year, the war began with the capture of Mackinac Island by British forces.

“In 2012 we will be observing the bicentennial of this important conflict. Michigan, being one of the battlegrounds of the war, will feature prominently in its remembrance and the cultural tourism that will result,” said George, who chairs the Senate Appropriations History, Arts and Libraries Subcommittee.  He is past president and current board member of the Historical Society of Michigan.

“A special license plate is a good way to draw attention to Michigan’s role in this conflict, while at the same time raising funds to support our historic sites,” said George.

Specialty plates, especially the college plates, are popular, said communication officer Ken Silfven of the Secretary of State’s office.

The agency doesn’t take a position on individual causes but it will support an organization that is willing to meet the requirements.

Silfven said in the first year of a specialty plate, there needs to be a minimum of  2,000 sold and 500 each following year. If not, the plate will be discontinued.

There is a $35 fundraising fee along with other registration fees, he said.

Johnson said he thinks a lot of fans will line up to buy the sports team plates and hopes the proposal will be passed by the end of the year.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Time sought to work out deal for new rail trail

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Capital News Service

LANSING – The Friends of the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail will have more time to raise funds for a new 3-mile portion through Greenville – if the group gets its wish.

The organization asked the Surface Transportation Board for more time to negotiate with Mid Michigan Railroad Inc., the owner of the track bed, on a purchase and trail use agreement. This period would’ve expired Oct. 25.
Franz Mogdis, chair of the Edmore-based organization, noted that the board had granted extensions before.
Melanie Yasbin, Mid Michigan Railroad’s attorney, said the company supported the extension in a letter to the board.

The organization would have until March 31, 2010, to find the $1.3 million to purchase the rail corridor if the extension is approved.

Carolyn Kane, a volunteer project coordinator for the Ionia-Greenville Rail Trail Corridor, said that the next step is securing a Department of Transportation grant.

The segment through Greenville can be bought only if the remainder of the line from Greenville to Lowell is purchased as well, she said.

Kane said funding for the trail would also come from foundations, including the Meijer Foundation, started by retail store founder Fred Meijer. She also said the Frey Foundation of Grand Rapids has donated to the project.
Kane said that she doesn’t believe a lawsuit by landowners of property adjacent to the corridor would delay the project unless federal funds are used to build the trail. The landowners are seeking federal compensation, she said, and the litigation might delay the funding.

“This has been a truly exciting project,” she said.

The trail would provide “health opportunities, economic development and recreational opportunities,” she said.
Kane said she’s already heard people talking about visiting the area to use it.

Kane, the former chair of the West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition in Comstock Park, has been working on the project for more than two years.

Once finished, she said, the trail is “really going to be a jewel for mid-Michigan.”
The segment would add to the existing trail between Alma and Greenville.

According to Rails to Trails Conservancy, a national organization that advocates the conversion of abandoned rail lines into pathways, Michigan has 129 rail trails stretching 1,518 miles.

Mid Michigan Railroad is owned by RailAmerica of Jacksonville, Fla. In June 2008, the company discontinued service between Greenville and Lowell. Traffic on the line had declined after Greenville’s Electrolux factory closed. The line was previously owned by CSX Transportation Inc.

The company also owns tracks that are still used between Alma and Paines.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Experts see glimmer of hope for auto industry

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Capital News Service

LANSING- It’s tough to keep an old champ down.

Even though the auto industry has seen better days, some analysts believe it’s too early to count out the region’s once-formidable economic backbone.

Meanwhile, new data suggests there are still signs of life.

According to the Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index, auto sector production in the Midwest increased 5.5 percent in September and 1.8 percent in August. The index defines auto sector production as “plastics and rubber products” and “transportation equipment.”

Nationwide, auto-related production rose 3.4 percent.

The index tracked data from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Dennis Virag, president of Ann Arbor’s Automotive Consulting Group Inc., said the results are likely due to auto companies replenishing their inventories after the federal Cash for Clunkers program boosted demand.

Virag said the domestic three — General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC — can survive the recession if they monitor inventory and avoid overproduction.
Fuel-efficient technology also will be key and the company that innovates will come out on top when the industry rebounds, Virag said.

The group projects that in 2015, automobile sales in the U.S. could flirt with the 20 million mark, a significant jump compared to 2008’s 13.2 million.

Virag compares the current economic lull to the recession of the early 1980s, when car companies battled to stay afloat and eventually “came back stronger than ever.

“The auto industry will remain the anchor of the Midwest,” Virag said. “The industry has tremendous amounts of promise. Those people with the best technology will be the winners.”

Gone are the days where the Big Three controlled nearly 90 percent of the auto market, but the recent surge shows that profitability isn’t out of reach, said Bruce Brorby, senior associate dean of the University of Detroit-Mercy’s College of Business Administration.

Brorby said analysts are taking a wait-and-see approach, but he thinks the recovery has already begun.
If yearly U.S. sales can consistently reach 11 to 12 million, companies should see annual profits because they’ve already undergone the necessary restructuring, Brorby said.

“In terms of stimulating sales, it also triggered a response after the program ended. It got people thinking about cars again,” Brorby said. “The publicity started stimulating car sales. GM is expecting that they may have had their first year-over-year sales increase in almost two years and Ford may show a profit in the third quarter.”

Mike Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said that manufacturing will always be part of Michigan’s economic identity, whether it’s making auto parts or wind turbines.

Light-vehicle demand is projected to increase dramatically over the next three years, Johnston said.

While 10 million light-vehicles are projected to be sold in 2009, that number will rise to 11.6 million in 2010 and 15.1 million by 2012, Johnston said.

“I think as the economy evolves, you’ll see more hybrid and electrical vehicles,” Johnston said. “We’ve heard reports that the recession is over, and I think we’ve seen the bottom. We’re optimistic about the future of Michigan and manufacturing.”

Thomas Marx, director of the Center for Global Leadership at Lawrence Technological University, said he’s upbeat about the future of the industry and expects the “overall volume of sales to be very impressive over the next couple of years.”

Although companies may not see overwhelming success in 2010, Marx said he expects the Detroit Three to hit their strides by 2011 or 2012.

Marx said GM’s fall into bankruptcy forced the company to adjust burdensome “legacy costs” such as health care and high salaries.

At one point, GM spent $5 billion a year on health care alone.

Foreign companies like Toyota set the bar extremely high in terms of quality, so competition will continue to be stiff, Marx said.

“Demand doesn’t disappear, it’s postponed. As soon as the economy stabilizes and financing becomes more readily available, these people will be trading in their cars,” said Marx, who worked for GM for 28 years, holding positions in economics, government relations and corporate strategic planning.

People may put off car purchases momentarily, “but those sales come back with a vengeance when the economy starts to pick up,” Marx said. “There is huge pent-up demand.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Budget cuts hit preschool programs for at-risk children

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Recent budget cuts in state funding for public education have focused on elementary and secondary schools, but preschool programs have taken the biggest hit.

The Great Start Readiness Program, which uses state aid to educate4-year-olds who may be at risk, saw two-thirds of participating preschools losing state funding. About $15 million was appropriated for the program last year but the Department of Education announced that the $7.6 million provided for this year will be split among 11 facilities, meaning 21 would lose their expected share.

Many of the children in such facilities come from single parent homes and low-income families.

“Many of the programs that were cut were ‘highly recommended’ for funding by our expert review team,” said Lindy Buch, director of the department’s Office of Early Childhood Education and Family Services.

“We are afraid these programs will close and the staff will be dispersed for jobs in other fields. We are concerned that we will lose these programs and it will take many years to recover,” she said.

Critics of the cuts, such as Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization with an office in Lansing, argue that if Michigan cuts funding for preschools now, it will pay for it later in other expenditures, such as imprisonment, health care and welfare.

According to a study by the organization, early learning investment could potentially save $500 million a year on Michigan corrections. Prisons cost nearly $2 billion a year or about $32,000 a prisoner. Preschoolers cost about $3,400 a year to educate.

Three West Michigan programs will lose all funding under the new state budget.  They are the East Main location of the Kalamazoo County’s Learning Village, Branch County Intermediate School District and the Gateway Preschool in Holland, operated by the Boys and Girls Club of Holland.

“It was a devastating blow to these families in the Holland community,” said Lisa Kelly, director of Gateway. “It’s hard to believe that state lawmakers would cut a program that provides kids the foundation for these kids to succeed in school.”

The children can be taught academically at home but they’ll miss out on the basics like playing, following rules, conflict resolution and sharing with other kids, Kelly said. Socially interacting with other children is the big thing, she added.

And Kelly cited a correlation between youngsters not receiving early education and dropping out of high school.
“We might like lower taxes now, but we are going to pay for it later when these kids drop out of school and the state will have to pay,” she said.

An immediate effect of the lost funding is that 15 people from her staff will be unemployed with no jobs available in the early childhood field, she added.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Most retrained workers find new jobs, state says

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Capital News Service

Michigan Works!LANSING – Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind (NWLB) program was intended to revitalize the job market and get people working again, and recent statistics point to some success.
NWLB was Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s initiative to train people for new careers. The program focuses on unemployed and underemployed people who enroll in a training curriculum which results in a degree or certificate.
Of those who found jobs, 86 percent obtained one related to their core training. Of those still enrolled in NWLB, 77 percent are in long-term training, which is more than three times the national percentage.
Participants study or receive training for degrees or certificates from community colleges and other institutions.
“From our perspective, the program has been a great success,” said Matt Miller, executive director of college advancement at Mid Michigan Community College, which has campuses in Harrison and Mount Pleasant. “It has provided resources for people to go back to school and subsequently find employment.”
A report by the Department of Labor, Energy & Economic Growth (DELEG) said that 62,206 people enrolled in the program from its start in August 2007 through February 2009. Of the 34,000-plus who completed the program, 72 percent either obtained or retained jobs. While about 10,000 participants didn’t complete training, about 10,000 others who did finish were still looking for employment.
“Historically, most worker programs were tepid and poorly funded,” said Skip Pruss, director of DELEG. Pruss said most programs were generic and did not have the sustainability of NWLB, let alone the resources or money to get people employed again.
Pruss said, “We were two decades late in terms of our economy,” referring to the lack of targeting “strategic diversification” in the job market. “We were eight times more dependent on the auto industry than anything else.”
More than 100,000 have enrolled since the program’s inception.
“One hundred thousand people through three years was our initial goal, and we just accomplished that,” said Pruss. “It was an experimental paradigm but now will be the permanent work program that will exist for years to come.
“We’re doing everything possible to create jobs,” he said.
DELEG Deputy Director Susan Corbin cited a federal program as a precedent to the state’s own program. As more flexible employment opportunities were being urged at the federal level, states began to create their own job programs to put more people back to work.
And although the program has helped some to return to employment, not everyone has benefited.
Twenty-eight percent of enrollees have yet to find jobs, the report said. That’s due to a lack of openings. As of September, Michigan had a 14.8 percent unemployment rate, more than five points above the national average of 9.5 percent.
Michigan still has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, and “450,000 people are still collecting unemployment, much which is due to the hemorrhaging of the auto industry,” said Pruss.
Pruss said Granholm is convinced that a green economy is the way to diversify. Renewable energy could be a major focus of the state for decades to come, he added.
“Green” jobs are a major priority for NWLB training, he said.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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State touts success of worker retraining program

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Capital News Service

LANSING – When Ford Motor Co. closed its daycare centers in June of last year, Lori Wingert was out of a job after four years as a preschool teacher.

“I didn’t know how to feel. I thought, who is going to hire me? Where am I going to go?” she said.

After attending a Michigan Works! seminar and meeting with a case worker, the Clinton Township resident enrolled in the No Worker Left Behind (NWLB) program and took business and accounting classes at Macomb Community College. After receiving an associate’s degree in accounting in December, she applied for a job at the college, and a month later began as a business coordinator for the Macomb Center for Performing Arts.

Michigan Works!“I got good insight and felt I had a better chance at finding employment,” she said. “When I lost my job, I was 49. The thought of going back to school was daunting but the people and the seminars were very helpful.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm is touting such stories as a sign the program is successful.

A study by the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth shows that almost three quarters of the nearly 35,000 NWLB participants who completed training either obtained or kept jobs.

The program offers up to $10,000 for workers to take courses and train for new jobs.

Wingert said that she couldn’t have gone back to school without that financial help.

“My books and my classes were taken care of. It was a blessing,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it.”
Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said training is crucial to finding employment.

“It’s no secret that jobs are hard to find, but with the training our community colleges provide and our association with Michigan Works! these people are better equipped to find jobs,” he said.

“We have record enrollments at all of our community colleges, and overall I’d say it’s been a success and we’ve been very supportive of it,” he said.

One problem community colleges face, however, is waiting lists for high-demand programs. Hansen said capacity is a challenge and institutions are trying new methods to move more students through training faster.

“If you’re unemployed and you’ve got a car payment, kids, a waiting list just won’t cut it,” he said. “We’re trying more online courses and trying to accelerate programs in order to get students through the training quicker.”

Lon Huffman, public relations and marketing director for Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, said some students have to wait to take the college’s new nursing aide program.

The program qualifies students for work in entry-level nursing jobs.

“We began offering the training, and the classes filled up,” he said.

“We can’t offer the classes fast enough. I think everyone would like to see us offer more sections.”
Huffman said that most students, however, are able to take the class without having to wait.

“Some may have to wait a few weeks after going through Michigan Works! and filling out their paper work, but most are able to take the class immediately,” he said.

Some experts, however, are critical of NWLB.

For example, Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, said the department’s study doesn’t prove workers who retrain through such programs have a better chance at finding jobs.
“We can’t say if the program has led to increased employment because we don’t know if people who go through the training have better chances of getting employment than those who don’t. We having nothing to compare it to,” he said.

The Mackinac Center is a free-market-oriented think tank.

Kersey said the state is focusing on retraining workers instead of attracting new businesses, even though many employers offer their own training.

“While I’m glad community colleges feel they’re benefiting, this is about what’s best for workers in the state. Employers often provide their own training or subsidize college tuition for workers,” he said.

“We’re still not creating a business climate. You can train the employees of the future all day, but if you don’t have the employers of tomorrow, then that training won’t be very useful.”

Wingert said her job training at Macomb Community College wasn’t the only important thing she received. The advice she got on landing a job also proved valuable.

“When I did the interview, I felt I was prepared because of the tips my professors gave me on my resume and on interviewing. I really feel that’s how I got the job,” she said.

She said she plans on eventually going back to school for a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

“I wanted to take some time to learn the field and start working, but I definitely plan on going back,” she said.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Ethanol fuels hopes and debate

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Could ethanol be the key to Michigan’s renewable energy future?

Ethanol has become more popular as a renewable energy source. It’s promoted as an eco-friendly tool to reduce air pollution because it can be made from common crops such as sugar cane, potato and corn.

In Michigan, ethanol production has increased significantly. The number of gas stations selling E-85 – fuel mixture that typically contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline – has also risen from two in 2003 to 117 in 2008.

Currently, there are five ethanol plants in Michigan – in Caro, Woodbury, Albion, Marysville and Riga. They’re able to produce nearly 50 million gallons per year.

However, plans have been abandoned to build more ethanol plants – in Corunna, McBain, Alma, Watervliet and Niles – except for one in Ithaca, where work stopped several months ago, said James Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

There’s an ongoing debate over how useful ethanol will be in replacing gasoline, said Stanley Pruss, director of the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth (DELEG), “because we need to utilize food products to make fuel, and it’s questioned whether ethanol has an effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Western Michigan University chemistry Professor Steve Bertman said ethanol from corn is not a long-term solution to transportation fuel.

“This is a very important issue that ties into the entire future energy question,” he said. “We can’t grow enough corn for ethanol. We should be searching for alternative liquid fuels from something other than corn.”

According to a report on biofuels by environmental advocacy groups – Food and Water Watch, the Network for New Energy Choices and the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment – fuel made from corn may have been oversold without considering possible ozone problems.

In 2007, about three billion bushels, equivalent to 23 percent of the country’s corn crop, were used for ethanol, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. That figure is up from 20 percent in 2006. In 2009, the ethanol industry expects to use 4.25 billion bushels.

Even if all the corn grown in the United States were used to make fuel, however, it would offset only 15 percent of gasoline use, the groups reported.

The report said the same reduction could be achieved by increasing fuel efficiency standards by 3.5 mile per gallon for all vehicles.

In addition, a Stanford University scientist found that E-85 creates at least as much greenhouse gas emissions as gasoline, resulting in ozone-related asthma, hospitalization and deaths.

However, Byrum said ethanol still helps minimize the burning of fossil fuels.

He cited a recent study that found corn-ethanol to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by about 50 percent over gasoline. “Unlike oil, ethanol from any source has a positive net energy balance – meaning it gives more energy than what’s needed to produce it.”

Cellulosic ethanol is better for carbon dioxide emissions than corn-based, Byrum said, because it could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 87 percent.

Cellulosic ethanol is produced from wood, grasses or the non-edible parts of plants. It’s a second-generation ethanol fuel and has little or no impact on food supplies, said Steven Pueppke, director of the Office of Biobased Technologies at Michigan State University.

Pueppke said a 2007 federal energy law is a good example of renewable energy promotion. “It anticipates slight increases in ethanol production from corn over the next dozen years or so, while mandating very aggressive increases in the use of second-generation fuels.”

The issue of greenhouse gas emissions from various renewable fuels is contentious, particularly with corn, Pueppke said.

“But there are very few people who would argue that we try to solve all of the country’s energy problems by simply turning corn into ethanol,” he said. “There’s agreement, though, that second-generation fuels have significantly stronger greenhouse gas benefits.”

Despite such controversy, ethanol is in high demand, especially when it’s regarded as a viable alternative to gasoline at a time of rising gasoline prices, according to DELEG.

Byrum, a member of the state Renewable Fuels Commission, said existing ethanol plants are doing well. “They are becoming more efficient every year and producing more ethanol from a bushel of corn every year as technology improves.”

He said ethanol plants offer several benefits.

“They bring better corn prices for farmers, a great source of feed for livestock, employment and economic activity, as well as technology such as carbon dioxide capture,” Byrum said. “In addition, profit margins have improved as corn prices fell, while demand remained steady.”

Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin said economic conditions prevented energy developers such as Indeck Energy, an Illinois-based independent power producer, from moving forward on the project in that city.

“When ethanol plants became the rage in Michigan and were supported by the governor with tax abatements, Indeck approached us,” said McCauslin. “But during the planning and permitting process, the cost of natural gas increased significantly, making the plant unprofitable.”

He said, “The economic impact, should the plant have been built, would have been significant. Principally in the construction jobs created to build the plant, later for employees needed to operate and the plant and lastly, an additional and stable market for farmers desiring to sell their corn.”

The volatility of commodity markets, low profit margins and unsuccessful management practices strain ethanol producers, the Renewable Fuels Commission reported. Such obstacles resulted in bankruptcy of ethanol producer VeraSun Energy and the closing of its plant in Woodbury.

However, the Woodbury plant reopened in June creating 40 jobs under Chicago-based Carbon Green BioEnergy, said DELEG Deputy Director Liesl Clark.

Clark said domestic fuel development can lead to energy independence and new capital investment.

“Michigan imports 97 percent of its petroleum needs,” he said. “Thus, virtually every sector of our economy could be touched by our production and use of domestic fuels and the industries that surround them.”

Pueppke, a biotechnology expert, said ethanol is only one part of energy independence.

“There’re many more tools – more fuel-efficient cars, better public transportation, second-generation fuel production from nonfood crops, etc,” said Pueppke. “Even if we use all of these tools, we’re still going to be dependent on petroleum for a long time.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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New discoveries boost efforts to control sea lampreys

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A sea lamprey attacks a fish in the Great Lakes. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Capital News Service

LANSING — While Great Lakes officials beat back the voracious Asian carp at the gates of Lake Michigan, they’re still wrangling with another nasty fish that snuck in at least 90 years ago.

Sea lampreys, eel-like parasitic fish native to the Atlantic Ocean, use a mouthful of teeth and a bony tongue to latch onto and scrape through fish flesh.

Scientists debate whether the lamprey is native to Lake Ontario, where it was discovered in 1835. But it invaded Lake Erie by 1921 and spread throughout the Great Lakes, reaching Lake Superior in 1938, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Now researchers have new insights on a pesticide that’s kept lampreys in check for 60 years. Their findings could help fishery managers kill more lampreys in Great Lakes streams with less poison and lower costs.

Lampreys chewed up enough Great Lakes white fish and lake trout in the 1930s and 1940s to cripple commercial fisheries. They’re a smaller problem now due to an eradication program coordinated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

But they’re still around, and the commission in sinking millions of dollars a year into keeping the invaders down.
Control methods include barriers that block spawning grounds and a sterilization machine that renders male lamprey impotent.

But the program’s real muscle is TFM, a pesticide applied to 250 streams around the Great Lakes. It kills lamprey larvae and leaves other fish species unharmed.

“It’s been the workhorse of the program since 1958 when it was first used,” said Marc Gaden, the fishery commission’s legislative liaison.

The fishery commission credits TFM with knocking the lamprey population down by 90 percent. It’s clear that it works. What’s less clear is exactly how.

Scientists have suspected that the pesticide keeps lamprey from producing ATP. That’s a compound that fuels cellular work in all living things, said Mike Wilkie, assistant professor of biology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

“Everybody needs ATP to survive,” he said. “Without ATP, you die.”

And so do sea lampreys. But the only proof that the pesticide cuts off the supply of this critical cellular fuel came from experiments done on rats, Wilkie said. “We didn’t really have a good idea about the exact mechanism in terms of lamprey.”

Now scientists do. A new study by Wilkie and colleagues from two other Ontario universities foiund that lamprey larvae exposed to TFM can’t produce the fuel as easily as TFM-free lampreys.

A clearer picture of exactly how TFM kills lamprey could lead to Great Lakes managers killing more larvae with less of the chemical.

That would provide both economic and environmental benefits. For example, in 2008, the fishery commission spent $3.7 million on TFM.

Gaden said, “If you can do it cheaper and have the same level of lamprey control spending less money, it’s certainly a strong motivator.”

And though TFM is relatively harmless to fish other than lamprey, it sometimes kills other aquatic organisms like insects and amphibians. Insect populations always recover after the pesticide breaks down, but less pesticide in the water is still a good thing, Wilkie said.

“Anytime you lower the amount of pesticide you’re going to basically protect other organisms,” he said. “If they can use less, that would tend to make everybody reasonably happy.”

Jeff Gillies writes for Great Lakes Echo

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