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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Guest article: Questions on air pollution from L'Anse Warden biomass plant and postponed public hearing

These railroad ties and wood chips, to be burned in the L'Anse Warden Electric Company's biomass plant, appear to be stacked near a wetland. (Photo courtesy Diane Miller)

By Diane Miller*

As a lover of clean air and wild places, and a communication professor who emphasizes the need to become informed and participate in the democratic process, I have some bad news, some good news, and a few questions that hope you can help me with.

Bad news: The L’Anse Warden Electric Company, LLC, markets itself as "green." This is bad news because this biomass incinerator burns up our forests and our tax dollars, and it’s allowed to spit out more kinds of serious air pollution every single day than most coal-fired power plants in Michigan.

Good News: The Renewable Operating Permit for the Warden Plant expires at the end of this year. This is good news, because our democratic process provides for public input on the renewal of the plant’s permit. That is, we are allowed to communicate with the regulatory bodies charged with monitoring the plant’s environmental effects, with the idea that our public officials could stop allowing private companies to release toxins into our air.

Bad news: An important element of this public comment process -- a public hearing that had been scheduled for this evening -- October 29 -- has been postponed because, according to an October 21 Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) press release, "the company’s latest emissions testing indicates it may not be able to comply with air quality regulations."


The press release gives this explanation: "The DEQ cannot move forward with the current draft renewable operating permit if a non-compliance issue exists."

Is this good news?  That is, does this mean that since the plant is not complying with emissions limits, the hearing is not needed because the plant will shut down -- either immediately or on January 1? Nope. According to DEQ spokesperson Ed Lancaster, the plant has successfully applied for an "Application Shield." This seems to mean that the plant’s admission of non-compliance is one way to avoid having to comply: even after the current operating permit expires, Warden gets to keep burning.

Diane Miller, left, the author of this article, joins Catherine Andrews, right, in a presentation on biomass at the Portage Lake District Library last April. Since then both of them have been researching the emissions from the L'Anse Warden biomass plant. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

According to the air quality terminology link at, "A permit shield can protect a source from enforcement of an applicable requirement under two circumstances: 1) where that applicable requirement has been included in the permit and is therefore enforced through the permit, or 2) where it has been determined that the requirement does not apply to the source. Under no circumstances should a permit shield be used to exempt a source from a requirement to which it is subject."


If the requirement is included in and enforced through the permit, why would the application shield be needed? If the second scenario is the case, why does the requirement suddenly not apply? Let’s make sure we don’t forget this part of the definition: "Under no circumstances should a permit shield be used to exempt a source from a requirement to which it is subject."

Meanwhile, although we have been told that the current permit is not moving forward, the process itself does seem to be moving forward after all: According to Lancaster, the DEQ expects to hold a hearing sometime in January -- a much more difficult month than October in which to gather concerned citizens in L’Anse Michigan. The DEQ is required to announce the date 30 days before the hearing.

Given this confusing situation, it is good news that the DEQ will extend the period during which it will accept public comment through telephone and mail -- we’ve got that contact info for you at the end of this article. But first, I have a couple of more questions. How do you feel about renewing the operating permit of a facility that is referred to as "green," but according to the August 10, 2015, draft, will be licensed to:
  • Burn natural gas for up to 49 percent of its annual heat input?
  • Burn old tires -- 32,800 TONS per year?
  • Burn railroad ties -- 72,078 TONS per year of the creosote-soaked variety, and 6 TONS per day of extremely toxic pentachlorophenol-soaked wood? (Who will be monitoring which railroad ties are which as they go into the hopper?)
  • Burn 44,280 TONS of wood "fines" (small particles) and bark every year? (Aren’t "fines" former trees?)**
Old tires at the L'Anse Warden plant are used for Tire Derived Fuel (TDF). (Photo courtesy Diane Miller)

These are just some of the practices that contribute to the Warden Plant’s reputation as one of the world’s worst biomass plants. Meanwhile, ALL biomass plants share these core problems that make all large-scale biomass burning for power generation the opposite of "green":

1. Although biomass burning is touted as "carbon neutral," it is not. Burning wood is simply not carbon neutral -- even if invested parties say it is. Biomass produces about 40 percent more emissions than coal for every unit of energy generated. While it is true that "waste" wood otherwise left on the forest floor would also emit carbon, this decomposition takes years, sometimes decades, and happens to be essential to the health of the forest. It also takes decades, even centuries, for "harvested" forests to grow back -- if they can. Large, living trees, meanwhile, absorb large amounts of carbon -- currently as much as 15 percent of our total emissions. The small trees planted to replace them cannot do this job. So, to think of biomass burning as carbon neutral seems a lot like using your credit card to pay for an expensive dinner, then somehow hoping that long after it’s over, you -- and your children and their children’s children -- will pay the bill and its interest, which has grown faster than the children’s ability to pay.

2. Biomass plants do not burn only sawdust or other "waste wood" -- instead of whole trees. Google "aerial view of biomass plant," the celebrated McNeil plant, for example, in Vermont, and see how it is surrounded by stacks of what used to be forest, ready to help charge our cell phones and our hair dryers. But what is "waste wood" anyway? We know how dead limbs are needed by the forest, to build soil and provide homes for animals. As Mother Nature would tell us if we asked, there is no such thing as "waste wood."

3. Biomass burning does not lead us away from fossil fuels. In fact, the practice depends on fossil fuels in a variety of ways. First of all, it takes a lot of diesel fuel and natural gas not only to ignite the wood, which is often green and difficult to burn, but also as a backup when the plants break down; and they frequently do. Fossil fuels power the large equipment required to cut, gather, and haul wood for burning. And now that our forests’ soils have been depleted by third and fourth cuttings, petroleum-based fertilizers are being applied in some areas by airplanes. So how does anyone make a profit doing this? Because of government subsidies for "green" energy, plant owners can still make a profit even though their practices are not cost- or energy-efficient.

4. Biomass burning is not environmentally friendly. The list of heavy metals and volatile organic compounds released from biomass plant smokestacks is too long to include here, but you can see which ones the Warden Plant is allowed to release by reading its operating permit.** Worse, the increased demand for forest products exacerbates the reduction in wildlife habitat that has become a crisis for many species -- again a long list, easier to spell, but more painful to think about.

This sample of black melted snow taken from the playground of the BHK pre-school located near the L'Anse Warden plant was exhibited at the April 2015 presentation on biomass at Portage Lake District Library. Since then it has been analyzed at Michigan Tech and determined to contain particles of tires. Black snow on children's clothing raised concerns by parents and teachers about pollution from the plant. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)***

5. There is not enough wood to provide a meaningful amount of energy for our needs. According to ecologist Marvin Roberson’s article in the April 27, 2014, Detroit Free Press, "If we used all the forest growth from all of Michigan’s forests for biomass, including state parks, all private, protected and public lands, and closed down all current consumers of timber (lumber, paper, etc.), we would generate less than 7 percent of Michigan’s electrical needs." Indeed, if biomass burning were the sustainable practice it is touted to be, shouldn’t a country who engages in it be able to rely on its own resources? European countries, including Germany and Finland, don’t. Their imported wood chips are our exported former forests riding on a boat. Worst of all, while the burning of forests, tires, and trash has provided a measurable amount of electricity, it does not seem to have reduced the amount of electricity produced from other sources. Rather, we just keep using more.

I am not attacking people who burn wood to heat their homes. I do this too. I’m talking here about large-scale burning for electricity -- and ALL biomass plants fall into this category.

I could go on. But don’t take my word for it. You can look these things up for yourselves, starting with the Warden Plant’s (Draft) Renewable Operating Permit.**

Then, please, please, please make a comment to the Department of Environmental Quality. (The DEQ is still accepting comment until the public hearing date, which has not yet been announced but will probably be held in January.) Here’s how to submit comments:
Contact Ed Lancaster by calling 906-228-4853 or writing to him at the Upper Peninsula District Office, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality, Air Quality Division, 1504 West Washington St., Marquette, MI 49855.

Editor's Note:
Just after Diane Miller submitted this article, the DEQ announced early this week that it is also seeking public comment about proposed changes to its Air Pollution Control Rules. The extended comment period on these changes runs through Dec. 18. Two public hearings will be held on Dec. 7, 2015, in Lansing. (It is not clear whether this affects the ROP for the L'Anse Warden plant.) Click here for details.


* Guest writer Diane Miller is a former Keweenaw resident and former Finlandia University communication professor. She now teaches at a community college downstate.

** See the Aug. 10, 2015, Draft Renewable Operating Permit for the Warden Plant.

*** See our Sept. 16, 2015, article, "Groups cite deficiencies in draft air permit for L’Anse Warden plant, potential health hazards from emissions."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Israeli-American peace activist Miko Peled calls for one-state solution to Israeli occupation of Palestine

By Michele Bourdieu

Miko Peled, Israeli-American peace activist and author, presents "Freedom and Justice: The Keys to Peace in Palestine/Israel" on Sept. 17, 2015, at Michigan Tech. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON, MARQUETTE -- Just a few weeks before renewed violence between Palestinians and Israelis hit the news this month, audiences at Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan universities heard stories about this long conflict from the perspective of an Israeli-American peace activist and author, Miko Peled, whose dream is not the often cited "two-state solution" but a more optimistic solution that would accept Palestine/Israel as one country -- cured of its current apartheid-like colonial occupation.

At the invitation of Miguel Levy, Michigan Tech professor of physics and materials science and engineering, Peled visited Marquette and Houghton on Sept. 16 and 17, respectively, and gave two presentations open to university and community audiences. The events were sponsored by Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion and departments of Humanities, Social Sciences and Physics; the Michigan Tech Indigenous Issues Discussion Group; and Northern Michigan University's Center for Native American Studies.

On Sept. 16, 2015, Miko Peled speaks to a Northern Michigan University audience about what he calls an apartheid-like situation in Palestine/Israel. (Photo © and courtesy Tom Biron.)

Peled is the author of the auto-biographical book, The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine (Just World Books: 2012), which includes a Foreward titled "The Sanity of Friendship," by Alice Walker. She points out that Peled "realizes the insanity of remaining enemies of a people he has had no opportunity to truly know." Peled's book is his own story of how he rejected the narrative he had heard during most of his life as an Israeli and learned to become friends with Palestinians and to treat them as equals.*

In his book and in his lecture, Peled recounts how he was inspired by the example of his own parents. His father, Israeli General Matti Peled, fought in Israel's 1947-48 War for Independence as well as the 1967 six-day war, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza; but he then left the army, did graduate study in the United States and became a professor of Arabic literature and a peace activist. His mother, a very loving person, was supportive of his father's transformation. At one point she refused to accept the offer of a free house because it had been confiscated from a Palestinian family that she assumed was probably exiled to a refugee camp.

It was his desire to have a career as a karate master that led Miko Peled to move to southern California, where he was far from the conflicts at home but kept in close touch with his family by phone. There, in 1997, he learned his 13-year-old niece, Smadar, had been killed in a suicide bombing. This tragic event was the start of his journey to get to know Palestinians and to understand their cause. In 2000 he discovered in San Diego a Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue group -- his first experience "in a place where Jews and Palestinians exist as equals." Miko soon found himself on a journey of self-discovery and became an activist for human rights and a lasting peace in the country he calls Palestine/Israel.

Through friendships with Palestinians, Miko eventually began to travel across the borders and checkpoints in Palestine/Israel and to explore the situation of the Palestinians first-hand, despite many obstacles. He began to see the Israeli occupation as a kind of colonialism similar to the former apartheid system in South Africa.

At Northern Michigan University: Conversation on treatment of indigenous peoples

Miko Peled's visit to Northern Michigan University on Sept. 16 was a conversation titled "Settler colonialism in the 'promised lands': Similarities and differences between the U.S. and Israeli treatment of Indigenous peoples" with Martin Reinhardt, Northern Michigan University associate professor and chair of Native American Studies.

At Northern Michigan University on Sept. 16, 2015, Miko Peled, right (front) and Martin Reinhardt, left of screen, discuss similarities and differences between Israel's treatment of Palestinians and U.S. treatment of Native Americans. At the podium (far left) is Michigan Tech Professor Miguel Levy, who invited Peled for the presentations at NMU and MTU. (Photo © and courtesy Tania Levy)

Miguel Levy explained why he organized Miko Peled's visit to NMU as a conversation with Reinhardt on treatment of indigenous peoples: "It is important to unite the various streams of struggle around the world against racism and settler colonialism into a powerful torrent that can wipe out injustice from our midst," Levy said. "This is already happening, with very powerful expressions of mutual support and solidarity between Black and Palestinian peoples. The indigenous peoples' struggle through the world against settler colonialism and for the defense of the environment is part and parcel of this joint fight. And this meeting on Settler Colonialism in the 'Promised Lands' was a conscious expression of the development of this unity in action."

Reinhardt, who is a mixed ancestry Anishinaabe Ojibway citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and is involved in defending Native American treaty rights in several Michigan environmental issues, welcomed the conversation and comparison.

During the Sept. 16 conversation with Miko Peled, Martin Reinhardt, Northern Michigan University associate professor and chair of Native American Studies, speaks about the history of colonialism and oppression of Native Americans in what is now the United States. (Photo © and courtesy Tom Biron)

"The discussion with Miko was a great opportunity to speak with someone who has experienced life as a settler in the colonized state of Palestine/Israel," Reinhardt said. "This has so many parallels with the history of the United States in its relationship to American Indian tribes and people."

Martin Reinhardt and Miko Peled compare maps that show how Palestinian lands (top row, in green) were reduced over the years of Israeli occupation and how Native American lands (bottom row, in red) were also taken over in the U.S. as indigenous populations were killed or scattered on reservations. (Photo © and courtesy Tania Levy)

During their conversation, Reinhardt noted how in pre-colonial days 2.3 billion acres of the area that is now the U.S. was under tribal (indigenous) control.

"We are left now with 56,200,000 acres," he said, noting how this land is scattered in reservations and checkerboarded on the map.** (See link to video in Notes below.)

Admitting that he comes from a colonizer background (a Zionist Jewish family in Israel), Miko explained that his journey into Palestinian areas to learn the other side of the story -- that of the colonized -- has helped him understand the racism and fear that makes the colonizer oppress "the other." He pointed out how the changes on the map show that the United Nations gave more land to the people with the smaller population (the Israelis) when Israel was founded as a Jewish state in 1948.

"Twenty years later Israel took the rest of it," Miko said, referring to the 1967 war.

For the Native Americans the loss of land was accompanied by a loss of population, Reinhardt noted, from 100 million indigenous people living in the area now the U.S. in the 1400s to a present population of 5.3 million self-identified Native Americans in the U.S.

In contrast, Miko pointed out that genocide against Palestinians did not work for Israelis. The Palestinians still outnumber Israelis, so the Israelis keep their dominant position through discriminatory laws, aggressive police policies and an apartheid-like system, he explained.

"Today 12 million people live in the entire country -- about 5.9 million are Israelis," Miko said.

He added the Palestinians inside the country number more than 6 million and another 4 or 5 million Palestinians live in refugee camps right outside and around the country.

Miguel Levy added the fact that in 1948 half the Palestinian population at that time (750,000 people) were exiled from the country, and those in refugee camps still insist on their right to return.

During the conversation between Miko Peled and Martin Reinhardt, several NMU audience members asked questions and joined the discussion. (Photo © and courtesy Tom Biron)

Miko Peled at Michigan Tech: Freedom and Justice

On Sept. 17, 2015, at Michigan Tech, in his presentation titled "Freedom and Justice: The Keys to Peace in Palestine/Israel," Miko Peled outlined the history of Israel's occupation of Palestine and spoke again about his own journey to understand the culture and the present-day situation of Palestinians living under unjust, discriminatory laws and daily oppression.

In his introduction, Miko points out why we (Americans) cannot be neutral about the situation in Palestine/Israel; we are supporters of Israel because the U.S. gives $10 million of our tax money to Israel every day:

On Sept. 17, 2015, Israeli-American peace activist Miko Peled begins his talk at Michigan Tech by explaining why he thinks the issue of Palestine and Israel is misunderstood in the U.S. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Miko noted 20th-century historical events leading up to the occupation of Palestine by Israel -- beginning with the 1917 Balfour Declaration, a letter from the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, favoring the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine.

Next Miko described the United Nations Partition Plan of Nov. 29, 1947, at a time when the Jewish people in Palestine numbered about a half million and Palestinians about three times that number. A map of the partition shows the greater area of land was given to the people with the smaller population.

During his presentation at Michigan Tech, Miko Peled offers some background on historic events that led to Israel's occupation of Palestine. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

After Palestine rejected the Partition Plan, Israel's armed militia fought, defeated and exiled thousands of Palestinians (who did not have an army) in a short conflict which led to the 1948 establishment of Israel as a state. According to Miko, modern Israeli historians have shown that this "war" was one of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians rather than heroism.

Here Miko talks about Gaza, populated mostly by refugees from 1948:

Miko Peled talks about harsh living conditions in Gaza. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Calling Gaza "uninhabitable," Miko noted 1.7 million people are crowded into 140 square miles in Gaza and face a lack of work, water, food and access to medicine.

According to Miko, the Israeli government treats Palestinians unfairly and harshly because it considers their very existence a threat to the legitimacy of the state of Israel.

Here Miko talks about his father's transformation from military general to peace activist after the 1967 war and the diplomatic efforts toward a two-state solution:

Miko Peled relates how his father, an important Israeli general, changed totally and worked for peace with the Palestinians. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

While Miko's thinking was influenced by his father's peace efforts, his own activism actually began after the tragic death of his 13-year-old niece, Smadar, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 1997. He was inspired by her parents, his sister and brother-in-law, who chose reconciliation over revenge for their daughter's death:

Miko Peled tells the story of the death of his 13-year-old niece during a suicide bombing -- an event that had a profound effect on him. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Miko also spoke about the political prisoners in Israel -- now numbering more than 6,000 -- the vast majority of whom have never been charged with acts of violence.

Miko speaks about non-violent Palestinian political prisoners who protested their "administrative detention" -- indefinite imprisonment without charge -- by going on hunger strikes. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"Resistance is a right. It's a duty, and the world recognizes this," Miko said. "None of these people should be in jail."

Miko said these prisoners, if they weren't Palestinians, would be considered heroes for resisting Israeli oppression.

"We have to support the resistance," Miko said.

Here he speaks about one way for people of conscience in the U.S. to resist -- by divestment from Israel:

Miko Peled speaks about the U.S. role in supporting Israel's apartheid-like oppressive regime and the need for divestment if there is to be any hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Following his presentation, Miko fielded questions and comments from the audience at Michigan Tech and then signed copies of his book.

Miko answers some questions from the audience. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Some members of the audience at Michigan Tech shared their impressions of the event with Keweenaw Now.

"I thought the whole thing was moving, compelling and interesting," said Ruth Robertson of Houghton and Jefferson City, Missouri. "To see the transformation he made in his political view is promising for what any of us can do when we're exposed to more information."

Gloria Melton, retired Michigan Tech dean of students, said she was interested in the presentation because Miko brought up the need for dialogue between people of different points of view.

"I'm always intrigued by people who seem to be enemies beginning to understand what seems to divide them," she said.

Gloria's husband, Willie Melton, Michigan Tech emeritus professor of social sciences, said he thought Miko may have exaggerated some of the numbers cited, but he understood the image Miko was trying to convey.

"My impression was that he was making a point that you've got an internal conflict -- a civil war within a state," Willie noted. "The audience has to be aware that he's advocating a cause."

Zoe Coombs, a Michigan Tech graduate student in energy and environmental policy, had a positive reaction to the presentation.

"I was just glad that someone was actively speaking out on this point of view on campus," she said.

Pictured with Miko Peled after his presentation and book signing at Michigan Tech are, from left, Tania Levy, daughter of Prof. Miguel Levy; Wafa Mazi of Saudi Arabia, Michigan Tech PhD candidate in chemistry; Marwa Abdalmoneam of Egypt, Michigan Tech PhD candidate in physics; and Miguel Levy, Michigan Tech professor of physics and materials science and engineering. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)


* Visit to read about or order Miko Peled's book, The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.

** Click here for a complete video of the NMU conversation, "Settler colonialism in the 'promised lands': Similarities and differences between the U.S. and Israeli treatment of Indigenous peoples."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

DEQ to accept public comment on proposed changes to air rules; public hearing to be Dec. 7, 2015

LANSING -- On Oct. 26, 2015, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced it is seeking public comment about proposed changes to its Air Pollution Control Rules. The extended comment period runs through Dec. 18.

The proposed changes address transparency and public engagement, as well as the analysis of toxic air contaminants. In addition, they include updates to the requirements for Renewable Operating Permits (ROPs) and revisions to the overall exemptions from obtaining installation permits.

"We look forward to comments from residents living near industrial facilities as well as business interests that must obtain air permits," said DEQ Air Quality Division Chief Lynn Fiedler. "We have provided a Frequently Asked Questions document as well as a rule-by-rule summary to help describe the proposed changes to those interested in commenting."

These documents, as well as the proposed language changes to the rules and the public hearing notice, are available at

The DEQ will host two public hearings on Dec. 7 in Lansing, including an opportunity to discuss the proposed changes with DEQ staff for one hour before the formal hearing begins. To accommodate different schedules, the hearing is split into afternoon and evening sessions, with question and answer times preceding each. The hearing will run from 3 p.m. - 5 p.m. and reconvene at 7 p.m. Interested individuals are invited to either or both sessions.

Backstage Jazz Returns to Rozsa Oct. 30, 31

Backstage at the Rozsa. (Photo © and courtesy Brockit)

HOUGHTON -- Backstage at the Rozsa again opens its doors to the groovin’ sounds of big band jazz. The Rozsa stage becomes a pop-up jazz club, and the intimate club atmosphere is a perfect setting for the Research and Development (R and D) Big Band and the Jazz Lab Band to loosen the reins on creativity and capture the flow of jazz! Join Jazz Studies Program Director Mike Irish and the Michigan Tech Jazz ensembles for Jazz Showcase: Backstage at the Rozsa at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 31.

According to Irish, "Jazz was born in the tonks and joints of Storyville in New Orleans and has always found a home in the small but lively entertainment venues throughout the world: the 'speakeasies' of Chicago, the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan, Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, Birdland in New York, Ronnie Scott’s in London, the Town Tavern in Toronto, the A - Trane in Berlin, the Shaft in Istanbul, the Blue Note and Vanguard in New York -- and the Orpheum in Hancock, Michigan. Jazz is now enjoyed and practiced all over the world and is one of America’s greatest cultural exports. So sit back, and immerse yourself in the music! In the words of jazz legend Art Blakey, 'Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.'"

Tickets for Jazz Showcase: Backstage at the Rozsa are on sale now: $13 for adults, $5 for youth, and no charge for Michigan Tech students with the Experience Tech fee. Tickets for Backstage at the Rozsa are limited, so please order tickets early! Tickets are available by phone at (906) 487-2073, online at, in person at the Central Ticketing Office in the Student Development Complex, or at the Rozsa Box Office the evening of the performance. Please note the Rozsa Box Office only opens two hours prior to performances.