Midwest Memo: Environmental And Business Interests Clash In Ohio And Wisconsin, Sara Lee Returns To Chicago

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ohio officials scrutinize fracking finding. Ohio officials are closely watching the fallout from an Environmental Protection Agency finding that hydrofracking might have caused groundwater pollution in Wyoming. The finding, announced Thursday, could have significant ramifications in Ohio, where leaders have haggled over how to regulate the burgeoning industry. The industry has contended that fracking is safe, but the EPA detected hydrocarbons likely associated with fracking chemicals in the groundwater of a Wyoming town where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals. “All of the rhetoric from the industry has been there’s no way that this can happen,” Trent Doughtery, a lawyer for the Ohio Environmental Council, tells The Columbus Dispatch. “This shows that it has happened, and we need to protect the people in Ohio.”

2. Wisconsin Republicans envision mining boom. Wisconsin Republicans proposed legislation Thursday that would encourage construction of iron ore mines and reduce environmental restrictions. Sponsors of the bill tell the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel its passage could create thousands of jobs. The newspaper reports the bill would scale back water protections and waste rock disposal, as well as mandate that the Department of Natural Resources accelerate its review process. Mining emerged as a significant state issue this year when Gogebic Taconite announced it would construct a new mine that would employ 700 workers. Advocates decried the sweeping rollbacks of environmental protections. The bill will gets its first hearing Wednesday, according to the newspaper, and could be voted upon in January.

3. Sara Lee headquarters back in Chicago. Six years after leaving, Sara Lee is returning part of its corporate headquarters to Chicago. The food and beverage company was headquartered in the city for more than 60 years before a 2005 consolidation brought it to suburban Downers Grove. Next year, the company will split into two publicly traded companies, and one will occupy a building on South Jefferson that will be renovated at a cost of $60 million, according to our partner station WBEZ. A $6.5 million subsidy, a first under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, helped bring the deal to fruition.

Governors Provide Weak Regional Leadership Across Midwest, Says Environmental Advocate

The Midwest lacks leadership. That’s a blunt assessment delivered from Gary Wilson at the Great Lakes Echo, a website that covers news related to the Great Lakes environment.

When it comes to issues surrounding the region, he says governors are more interested in stealing companies from each other in a zero-sum jobs battle than confronting – and collaborating on – the region’s economic and environmental challenges.

“They’ve been the antithesis of collaboration and now are singularly focused on creating jobs, many times by trying to pirate them away from neighboring states,” Wilson writes. “That’s when they’re not weakening environmental regulations to create a more business friendly climate.”

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Midwest Memo: Biden Touts Jobs Bill in Michigan, Rahm Emanuel Promises to Face Chicago’s ‘Sacred Cows’

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Biden champions jobs bill. Vice President Joe Biden made two stops in Michigan on Wednesday, touting President Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill. In a visit to Flint, Biden noted the city’s rise in murders, rapes and fires that occurred as police and fire staffing levels dropped. “That is a witch’s brew,” Biden tells Businessweek. “That is a mixture for a cancer in the city.” Later, during a stop in Grand Rapids, the vice president said economists believe the American Jobs Act would create 2 million jobs next year. Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said federal funding recently helped the city hire six police officers, but more are needed.

2. Chicago budget proposal chops services. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a budget that called for taxes on tourists and suburbanites, close three police stations, streamline garbage collection, cut library hours and double water bills for the average household by 2015, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve taken on a tremendous amount of political sacred cows,” Emanuel said  during a presentation to the City Council. “Not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, but multiple times across the budget.”

3. Hydrofracking permits soar in Ohio. The pace of permits being issued for hydrofracking in Ohio has quickened. The Columbus Dispatch reports today that 27 permits were issued for drilling in the Utica Shale formation underneath Ohio from July to September – more than half the total number issued since 2009. Meanwhile, Democrats in the state House said yesterday they would seek a moratorium on hydrofracking in the state until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes a study on the controversial drilling’s effects on air and water.

Midwest Memo: Ohio voters will decide SB5 fate, bills would restrict Michigan’s regulatory power

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. SB5 will appear on ballot. Ohio’s controversial collective-bargaining law will be decided by Buckeye State voters in November, according to The Plain Dealer, which first broke the news Thursday afternoon. A group leading the repeal effort needed to submit 231,147 signatures to place the issue on the ballot. They submitted 915,456, the Ohio elections chief told the newspaper.

2. Bills restrict Michigan regulators. Two packages of bills making their way through the Michigan state Legislature would prohibit the governor and other state agencies from making any rule more stringent than federal standards. Only the Legislature would retain that power, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. Critics say the legislation is a power grab, and that Michigan needs strengthened laws to protect resources like the Great Lakes.

3. Ohio ranks worst in air quality. Three Midwestern states ranked among the top seven states in which residents are most at risk from toxic emissions from coal-and-oil power plants, according to a report issued Wednesday. Ohio ranked worst in the nation, while Indiana and Michigan were sixth and seventh, respectively. The study, according to Reuters, was an analysis of 2009 toxic emissions data released by the Environmental Protection Agency last month.

Commentary: What About Wisconsin’s Environment?

Gary Wilson is worried about Wisconsin’s environment. The former co-editor of the Great Lakes Town Hall and board chair of  The Biodiversity Project says Wisconsin’s Governor isn’t just upsetting public employee unions, but environmentalists as well. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed rolling back some environmental regulations in his state to cut costs, including loosening the regulation of phosphorus runoff from fertilizer and ending Wisconsin’s mandatory recycling program. Those suggestions, among others, inspired Wilson, a former finance executive at United Airlines, to write a commentary for the Great Lakes Echo to protest them.

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Ohio, Indiana Communities Get Cleanup Money

Two communities in the Changing Gears region — Cleveland and Goshen, Ind. — are getting money from the Environmental Protection Agency. Each will receive grants to clean up brownfield sites, a subject that Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo in Chicago explored in September.

The funding is part of the EPA’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities program. In all, the EPA is handing out $4 million to 23 communities nationwide for brown field clean up. Each community will receive up to $175,000.

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Updated: An Oil Spill Of Our Own

The oil spill in the Kalamazoo River looks worse than originally thought. It now covers more than 25 miles of the Kalamazoo River, according to the latest information from the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm declared a state of disaster in Calhoun County and potentially affected areas along the Kalamazoo River downstream of Talmadge Creek in response to Monday’s oil spill from a pipeline near Marshall, Michigan.

“This disaster declaration reinforces our efforts to ensure the safety of Michigan citizens and the environment by making any needed state resources readily available,” said Granholm.

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From The Senior Editor: Welcome to Changing Gears

The past few years have been devastating for the industrial states. As a journalist for the New York Times, I wrote numerous stories about plant closings, job losses, beleaguered communities, and residents’ bewilderment that the nation did not see value in what generations had created.

Many people have written off the manufacturing belt as a remnant of the past. But I grew up in Michigan, and I refuse to believe that region is finished. That is why I decided to join the Changing Gears project.

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