Saturday, March 27, 2010

Meet Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon March 28 in Hancock

HANCOCK -- Andy Dillon, speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives and candidate for Governor, will appear with State Representative Mike Lahti from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, March 28, at the Ramada Inn in Hancock to meet local Democrats and the Copper Country public.

Andy Dillon represents District 17 in lower Michigan. To learn more about his priorities click here for a brief summary and video clip.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Deadline for Tree Sale orders approaches

HOUGHTON -- The original deadline for Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District Tree Sale orders, March 26, is extended to Monday, March 29. Orders must be accompanied by payment. Pick-up times are from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, May 7, and from 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, May 8, at the Houghton County Arena in Hancock.

You can take your order in person to the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District Office in the former UPPCO building at 600 E. Lakeshore Dr., Houghton, MI 49930 (Suite 204). Make check payable to Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District.

Click here for the Tree Sale Catalog. Click here for an order form.

See our March 16 article for more details.

Michigan Tech students rally in Lansing for higher education funding

In Lansing today, March 25, 2010, Michigan Tech University Undergraduate Student Government members hold up their banner after an all night bus ride on Superior Lines to join a student rally protesting higher education funding cuts. Pictured here with the banner are, from left, Lucia Gregorakis (chemical engineering), Travis Waineo (electrical engineering), Tyler Martell (chemical engineering) and other MTU students.(Photo Courtesy Marshall J. Anderson, Pyykka-Photo.com)*

By Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Tech director of public relations

LANSING -- A busload of Michigan Tech students joined college and university students from across Michigan at a massive rally in Lansing on March 25. They gathered in front of the Capitol to protest higher education funding cuts and to urge Michigan's legislators to support higher education adequately.

Students from Michigan Technological University pause for a quick photo on the steps of the Capitol building in Lansing Thursday morning, March 25. (Photo Courtesy Marshall J. Anderson, Pyykka-Photo.com)

"Lansing's math doesn't add up," is their message to the state's policymakers.

Michigan Tech's Undergraduate Student Government (USG) organized Tech's participation in the rally sponsored by the Student Associations of Michigan (SAM). The students left Houghton for the long bus ride to Lansing at 8 p.m. on March 24. The bus ride was free.

"I believe that higher education is a priority for Michigan," said Keshon Moorehead, an electrical engineering major from Detroit who chairs the Michigan Tech USG's External Affairs Committee. "I believe in fighting for what's right."

"The state needs to step up," Moorehead added. " And we need to step up and tell them so."

Michigan Tech undergraduates Travis Waineo and Leanna Van Slooten worked with Moorehead on the organizing committee. They papered the campus with posters and sent fliers inviting students to participate.

Michigan Tech students, from left, Travis Waineo, Keshon Moorehead and Leanna Van Slooten -- all members of Tech's Undergraduate Student Government External Affairs Committee -- prepare posters and fliers to invite student participation in their bus ride to Lansing for the protest against higher education funding cuts. (Photo Courtesy Michigan Technological University)

At least one of the Tech organizers planned to join a group of students from Michigan's other public universities, entering the legislative chambers and stating their case. SAM prepared a set of grievances.

Les Cook, vice president for student affairs, sent a letter to faculty, asking for their consideration for students who missed classes because of their participation in the Lansing rally. The legislature's elimination this year of the Michigan Promise Scholarship and the Michigan Competitive Grant cost nearly 1,300 students at Michigan Tech $2.2 million, Cook noted.

*Editor's Note: Guest photographer Marshall Anderson, originally from Keweenaw County and now living in the Lansing area, is a former Daily Mining Gazette photographer and colleague of Keweenaw Now's editor. Thanks, Marshall!

Stupak attends Executive Order signing

At a White House ceremony on Wednesday, Mar. 24, President Obama signs the Executive Order assuring no taxpayer dollars will go toward abortions in the new health care legislation. U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) (standing, left of President Obama) led pro-life Democrats in negotiating the Executive Order. (Photo Courtesy of The White House)

WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) attended the Executive Order signing at the White House Wednesday afternoon, Mar. 24, 2010, as a guest of President Obama. The president’s Executive Order maintains the Hyde language that states that no taxpayer dollars will be used to pay for abortion under the new health care reform legislation.

"President Obama made a commitment in September that the health care reform legislation would maintain current law of no public funding of abortion," Stupak said. "Today the president signed an Executive Order and gave his iron-clad commitment that Hyde language will be enforced in the health care reform bill. I was honored to attend today’s Executive Order signing, and am proud to have voted in favor of health care legislation that will provide 32 million uninsured Americans with access to affordable health care."

The president’s Executive Order has full force of law and makes clear that current law of no public funding for abortion applies to H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Executive Order states, "The Act [the new health care reform legislation] maintains current Hyde amendment restrictions governing abortion policy and extends those restrictions to the newly-created health insurance exchanges." Without this Executive Order a loophole in H.R. 3590 would have left the door open to federally funded abortion services in community health clinics.

Throughout history, Executive Orders have been an important means of implementing public policy. In 2007, George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13435 restricting embryonic stem cell research -- a pro-life policy that was applauded and welcomed by the pro-life community. These same groups have been opposed to President Obama’s pro-life Executive Order.

Some have also criticized the general provisions section of Executive Order saying the language would prevent the Executive Order from having force of law in the courts. Yet the language that critics point to is standard language with any Executive Order, including President Bush’s ban on embryonic stem cell research. Again, these same pro-life groups did not express concern over the language under President Bush, yet claim it is unacceptable under President Obama.

"This Executive Order protects the sanctity of life," Stupak said. "It is disingenuous for pro-life groups who cheered President Bush’s embryonic stem cell Executive Order to now claim President Obama’s Executive Order maintaining the Hyde language in the health care reform bill is not worth the paper it is printed on."

In addition to the Executive Order, Stupak engaged in a colloquy on the House floor with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to further enter into the record Congress’ intent that the Hyde provisions of no public funding for abortion will apply to the health care reform legislation.

"Together, the Executive Order and the colloquy, provide strong assurances that there will be no taxpayer dollars going toward abortion in the health care reform legislation," Stupak said. "Today’s signing was the culmination of many months of hard work to pass legislation that provided our nation with much-needed health care reform while protecting the sanctity of life. I was proud to stand up for this principle today with my Democratic pro-life colleagues and President Obama as he signed this Executive Order."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wind farms -- coming to the Keweenaw?

Wind turbines at a commercial wind farm near Brownsville, Wis. This wind farm includes more than 80 large-scale turbines. Wind farms similar to these are now being proposed for sites in Michigan, including Houghton County. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos © 2010 by Katharine T. Alvord)*

By Katie Alvord*

HANCOCK -- Large-scale commercial wind power is coming to Michigan -- and maybe coming fast.

That’s one reason Michigan State University’s Land Policy Institute (LPI) has hosted two recent meetings at Hancock’s Jutila Center about commercial wind farms. On March 15, LPI environmental sociologist David Bidwell and renewable energy manager Charles McKeown led their second wind power meeting here in less than a month.

According to Bidwell, the meetings are part of an "integrated assessment" to learn what people think of commercial wind farm development in coastal areas of Michigan. This study, funded by Michigan Sea Grant and W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is visiting three regions of the state: part of the thumb; Presque Isle County at the tip of the mitten; and Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga and Marquette counties in the Upper Peninsula.

"What we’ve been doing is going out and giving people information, but also trying to learn what they think, as well," Bidwell said.

The centerpiece of both meetings was a presentation given by McKeown about commercial wind energy in Michigan. The state ranks 14th in the nation for wind energy potential, but so far has done little to tap this source. Right now, McKeown said, three commercial wind farms operate downstate. None exist in the U.P., but three -- including one in Houghton County -- have been proposed.

McKeown’s talk focused exclusively on commercial wind, as opposed to residential windmills or community wind projects. Commercial wind farms, he said, generally consist of 15 to 300 very large wind machines, with 1.5 to 2 megawatt (MW) turbines mounted on towers that can be nearly 400 feet high. The total height of these installations can reach 550 feet.

The turbines are based on large concrete foundations.

Guest writer Katie Alvord, author of this article, stands at the base of a commercial-scale wind tower.*

"In sandy soils like you have up here," McKeown noted, "some of these can run as much as 50 feet deep, of concrete and rebar, to keep the tower vertical."

In 2008 and 2009, wind energy accounted for more than 40 percent of the new generating capacity added to the U.S. grid. In fact, McKeown reported, the U.S. now leads the world in commercial wind energy installations. This growth in the industry has shifted the nature of the business, he explained.

"It is no longer run essentially by the sustainability movement," he said. "It has shed that. It has become big business and so it is aggressive."

According to McKeown, the state’s high potential for profitable wind energy is one reason the industry has its eye on Michigan. New laws have also created pressure for commercial wind development -- such as Public Act 295 of 2008, which creates a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). This law mandates that ten percent of Michigan’s retail electricity must come from renewable energy by 2015.

In addition, demand for electricity in Michigan has grown recently despite declines in both population and manufacturing.

"The profusion of little electric doodads and computers and large-screen TVs … are causing electric power demand to keep increasing in the state," McKeown said.

He noted big-screen TVs are about five times less efficient than old cathode-ray tube TV sets.

Despite these pressures, there are some factors that could slow commercial wind power development here in the U.P. One such factor, said McKeown, is a lack of adequate transmission lines to ship the wind-generated electricity to urban markets.

"The U.P. is basically kind of running on extension cords," he commented, referring to this lack of modern high-voltage transmission capacity.

McKeown also detailed the steps involved in establishing a wind farm, from acquiring land rights to procuring equipment to gaining approvals. And when it comes to actual construction, the huge components of wind turbines can create logistical challenges.

"The blades can vary from about 120 feet to about 180 feet long," he said. "Putting these guys on trucks causes a lot of fun when you move them … you just don’t move these around during the day or during peak traffic."

New road construction is required to access and maintain the tower sites, and county roads can suffer during construction, McKeown added.

"A lot of these are in rural areas and the roads just aren’t designed for the machinery that’s going on them," he said.

The presentation also ran through a list of the impacts of commercial wind farms.

"The visual effects are one of the flashpoint issues with wind turbines in local communities," McKeown said. "In rural landscapes or remote landscapes, they tend to be a rather large-scale industrial intrusion."

A "Danger" sign warns of high voltage near large commercial wind turbines.*

Noise has also been a problem.

"Wind turbines do make noise, make no mistake," McKeown said. "So in most of these rural areas, which are quiet areas, that noise becomes a serious concern for people."

Some have developed symptoms including sleep disturbance, headaches, ear pressure, vertigo, nausea, blurred vision and other problems when exposed to turbine noise. A New York physician, Dr. Nina Pierpont, has written a book called Wind Turbine Syndrome which describes case studies of this condition. She suggests a link between these symptoms and low frequency noise from turbines.

An opposing study sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association concluded that there is no evidence that wind turbine noise has direct physiological effects. However, it did indicate that some people are annoyed by wind turbine noise and this annoyance can have physical health impacts.

McKeown also mentioned wildlife issues. Bird kills by wind power are well known, he said, but changes in tower construction and siting have reduced them considerably. Today, both the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club support wind energy, as long as it is properly sited.

Bat kills might prove a bigger problem, McKeown reported, but not because bats collide with wind towers or turbine blades.

"When the blade passes the tower … there’s a low compression wave that comes out from in between the blade and the tower, and that actually pops the bats’ lungs if they’re too close to it," he said.

Management of wind farms to avoid or repel bats can reduce this, he added.

McKeown ended his presentation with economics. Wind farms will add to the local tax base, he said, and will create jobs, mostly in construction. For instance, LPI estimates that building 494 wind turbines in Calumet Township would create 100 short-term construction jobs, and seven ongoing maintenance jobs.

Calumet Township has the highest wind development potential in Houghton County, LPI has calculated, followed by Hancock Township, Stanton Township and Osceola Township. All other Houghton County townships have low wind development potential, while all Keweenaw County townships have a very high potential.

Most studies have found that, in general, wind farms don’t seem to affect property values. McKeown added, however, that individual properties have lost value if a turbine is too close to a house, or if there is shadow flicker -- repetitive shadows caused by the turning of turbine blades in front of the sun, which is easily preventable with zoning.

"From a local zoning perspective, you just say you’re not allowed to do it," McKeown said. "Most areas that are unzoned in the state decide to zone because of something like this."

Without zoning, he noted, a local area has no control over a wind developer’s actions.

David Bidwell, who coordinated the information-gathering part of the program, distributed questionnaires to attendees before and after McKeown’s March 15 presentation. Answers from these will be added to other information collected by the team, including feedback gathered at a Feb. 22, 2010, meeting in Hancock. At that event, audience comments ranged from positive -- noting the cleaner air, greenhouse gas reductions and energy independence to be gained from wind farms -- to negative -- with loss of wildlife habitat, noise and loss of community control among possible problems. Several participants expressed a preference for residential and community-scale wind development, rather than large commercial wind farms.

The integrated assessment team also gathered information in Marquette on their trips to the U.P. A final report will be written later this year. It is intended to help shape wind energy policy at both the state and local level.

* This article and photos are © Copyright 2010 by Katharine T. Alvord. First North American Serial Rights. Printed with permission.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Portage Library to host screening of Michael Moore's new documentary March 27

HOUGHTON -- A screening of Michael Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, at the Portage Lake District Library, 58 Huron Street, Houghton.

There is no charge for the movie. Guests are encouraged to bring snacks for themselves and others (if they choose).

To sign up for this event, click here. For more information contact Joe Hernandez at

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mike Lahti announces priorities in run for State Senate seat

HANCOCK -- State Representative Mike Lahti announced on Friday, March 19, that he is a candidate for the 38th District Senate seat, which stretches from Keweenaw County in the north to Menominee County in the south and from Luce County in the east to Gogebic County in the west in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.). He is seeking to replace Senator Mike Prusi (D-Ishpeming), who is term-limited out.

Last Friday Lahti spent the day traveling around the District to announce his candidacy and his top priorities: fighting to create jobs, supporting education and protecting our natural resources.*

"As a lifelong Upper Peninsula resident and businessman myself, I am ready to roll up my sleeves and go to work for the people of the U.P. to create good-paying jobs and protect our way of life," said Lahti. "We need to continue to support the mining, timber, manufacturing and tourism industries that are part of our U.P. heritage while also investing in the industries of the future like renewable energy."

Mike knows that this is not the time for partisan bickering. This is the time to work together to get things done for the good of the U.P. and the state.

As a small business owner and developer, Mike Lahti knows what it's like to work hard. He will continue to fight to preserve and create good-paying jobs for the people of the Upper Peninsula, supporting small businesses and investing in growing industries as well as traditional ones. Mike understands the sacrifices families are making now, and he believes that government needs to share in those sacrifices in order to keep Michigan and the U.P. a good place to work and raise a family.

"With the support of the citizens of the 38th Senate District, I will take their issues to the State Senate and work hard to make Lansing responsive to our need for good jobs and educational opportunities that will make Michigan strong now and in the future for our children and their families," said Lahti. "The new economy and the 21st-century jobs that will be waiting for them will demand a good educational foundation from pre-kindergarten to college, and I will make sure that our children and grandchildren have access to the universities and community colleges and the training they will need to succeed."

Having lived in the U.P. and Hancock his whole life, Mike has worked hard to protect Michigan’s natural resources. As a State Representative he has sponsored legislation on protecting our waterways from invasive plants and fought to guard the Great Lakes from Asian Carp. His passion for the Upper Peninsula’s way of life makes him a strong and effective advocate for the communities and businesses that rely on our natural resources for their economic well-being.

Mike Lahti began his public service in 1994 as a member of the Hancock School Board, where he served for seven years. Later that same year, he joined the Board of Trustees of Finlandia University, where he still serves today as Vice Chair. Lahti’s six years of service as chairman of the Houghton County Board of Commissioners gives him firsthand experience of how state laws and regulations affect local governments and the people they serve. Most recently, Mike has served the residents of the Western Upper Peninsula in the Michigan House of Representatives, where he is Chairman of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (DNRE) subcommittee on Appropriations. He is also chairman of the Capital Outlay committee, as well as a member of the committee on Corrections.

Lahti and his wife, Sharon, have six children and nine grandchildren.

*Editor's Notes: See Keweenaw Now's video clip of Mike Lahti's March 19 announcement of his candidacy.

This press release is courtesy Alex Rossman in Mike Lahti's office.

Stupak votes to pass historic health care reform

WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) voted Sunday evening, March 21, to pass H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This legislation is the most significant step ever taken toward providing access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. H.R. 3590 passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 219 to 212. The bill now goes to the president to be signed into law.

"Since I was first elected to Congress I have fought to provide quality, affordable health care for all Americans and I am proud to be able to vote for this historic legislation," Stupak said. "In my travels and town hall meetings around northern Michigan I have witnessed the struggles families and employers face under the current health care system. Americans have spent 98 years talking about reforming health care; today Congress has finally accomplished that goal."*

More than 31 million uninsured Americans will have access to affordable health care, including 44,000 uninsured residents in Michigan’s First Congressional District. An additional 364,000 residents in northern Michigan will receive improved health insurance coverage under the legislation.

For seniors, health care reform includes key improvements to Medicare. H.R. 3590 will immediately begin to close the Medicare prescription drug donut hole by providing a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the donut hole in 2010 and instituting a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs in the donut hole. The donut hole will be completely closed to ensure seniors pay less out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. The bill will also eliminate Medicare co-payments for annual physical exams and preventative screenings starting January 1, 2011.

H.R. 3590 includes critical reforms to the health insurance industry that Stupak has long fought for and highlighted through his hearings as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. These reforms include prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, eliminating lifetime caps on benefits, and eliminating the practice of rescission, or cancelling insurance coverage when policyholders become seriously ill. These consumer protections go into effect immediately, along with a provision that will allow parents to keep their children on their health insurance policy until age 27.

Since health care reform legislation was first introduced in Congress last summer, Stupak has made clear that any legislation he supports must increase insurance
competitiveness and lower health care costs for consumers. H.R. 3590 accomplishes that goal. Beginning in 2014, health insurance exchanges will open up the marketplace for private health insurance policies for individuals and small businesses. These exchanges will put consumers in charge by offering a choice of insurance plans, establishing rules for offering and pricing insurance, and providing consumers with more information about all of the available health plans. The exchanges will also lay out the tax credits to help individuals afford coverage.

"Although this legislation is not perfect and does not do everything I believe is necessary to reform our health insurance industry, it is a tremendous step forward for northern Michigan residents and for our nation," Stupak said. "Skyrocketing health care costs are unsustainable for our families, our seniors, our businesses or our government. This legislation will protect consumers from unconscionable industry practices while helping to lower costs and make the health insurance industry more competitive."

Since last summer Stupak and other pro-life members of Congress insisted that health care reform maintain current law of no federal funding for abortion. Stupak and other pro-life members of Congress made clear that on its own, H.R. 3590 would implement a dramatic shift in federal policy that would allow the federal government to subsidize insurance policies with abortion coverage and recognize abortion as a benefit in a federal health plan. However, after intense negotiations with Stupak and other pro-life Democrats, President Obama announced he would sign an Executive Order reaffirming the Hyde amendment could not be circumvented and that no taxpayer dollars would be used to pay for health plans that cover abortion.

In addition, Stupak engaged in a colloquy on the House floor with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to further enter into the record Congress’ intent that the Hyde provisions of no public funding for abortion will apply to H.R. 3590.

"I have said from the start I would not vote for health care reform without adequate protections in place to make sure the current law of no federal funding for abortion is maintained," Stupak said. "The president’s Executive Order upholds the principle that federal funds should not be used to subsidize abortion coverage."

The president will sign the Executive Order following the signing of H.R. 3590.

"While there is still work to be done, this historic health care reform legislation marks significant progress toward making sure the cost of health care in America never results in our citizens having to file bankruptcy because of illness, disease or injury," Stupak said. "I look forward to the president signing this bill into law to provide 31 million Americans with access to affordable, quality health care."**

Editor's Notes:
* See Keweenaw Now's Jan. 9, 2010 article on Stupak's Town Hall meeting in Houghton.

**This press release, received Sunday evening, March 21, 2010, is courtesy Michelle Begnoche in Rep. Stupak's Washington, DC, office.