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Great Lakes Article:

Environmentalists' warning: More power plant emissions could drop lake levels


By Mike Magner
Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Michigan environmentalists today kicked off a campaign against global warming with a report warning that a continued rise in power plant emissions could mean a continued drop in Great Lakes water levels.

A coalition of groups, led by the Michigan Environmental Council, faces an uphill battle on the issue, though.

Only two Michigan members of Congress -- Democratic Reps. Lynn Rivers of Ann Arbor and John Conyers of Detroit -- are backing legislation to mandate emission cuts, the environmentalists said.

"We know what we need to do to clean up power plants, and we have the technology to do it," said Megan Owens, field director for the Public Interest Research Group of Michigan. "Now our elected leaders need to act."

Rivers, Owens and representatives of the Michigan Environmental Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists were to urge Michigan lawmakers to support mandated cuts in utility emissions at a news conference in Detroit this morning.

Coal-fired plants run by Michigan's largest utilities -- Consumers Energy Co. and Detroit Edison Co. -- produced 74 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2000, or about 13 percent more than they emitted in 1995, the groups' report said. The increased emissions are mainly due to higher energy usage.

Carbon dioxide is abundant in the atmosphere, but manmade sources of the gas -- primarily from burning of fuels -- is believed to be a major cause of climate change. Government scientists reported in March that this past winter was the second-warmest on record, exceeded only by the winter of 1998.

The result is less ice cover on the Great Lakes, which in turn means more evaporation of the water, said Isaac Elnecave, policy specialist for the Michigan Environmental Council. One study predicted that average lake levels, already near record lows, could drop a foot with global warming, he said.

"Michigan coal plants must begin to take responsibility for the damage caused by their pollution," Rivers said in a statement prepared for this morning's news conference. "The technology exists to reduce carbon dioxide emissions."

Rivers is co-sponsoring a bill that would require utilities nationwide to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels, or by about 14 percent, by 2007.

The Bush administration, however, is urging Congress not to mandate cuts but to allow utilities to voluntarily reduce emissions over the next 15 years.

Lawmakers worried that mandates could boost energy prices tend to support Bush's plan, though Elnecave argued that costs could be kept down by developing renewable energy sources and by promoting energy efficiency.

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