Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 12, 2012

Forum: Cherries in need of clean air

By Frank Szollosi

---- — Michigan's tart cherry crop was devastated this year by unseasonably warm temperatures in March, followed by more normal freezes. It's estimated that 90 percent of the crop has been lost, which hurts Michigan farmers and their families the most.

While some may chalk this year's crop loss up to a one-time event, what really is occurring is an increase in extreme weather events felt around the world.

One of the leading contributors to warming temperatures and extreme weather events is carbon pollution. And one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide is power plants.

More than 74 million tons of carbon dioxide spewed out of Michigan's power plant smokestacks, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Currently, there are no limits on the amount of carbon pollution that can be released from power plant smokestacks and this air pollution results in higher average temperatures, extreme weather, and serious impacts on public health and wildlife.

But the EPA is finally doing something about that. This past spring, the EPA proposed the first ever national limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. This is the first step in reducing pollution in the air we breathe every day.

EPA's proposed standard reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector toward building cleaner plants that take advantage of modern technologies to limit harmful carbon pollution to help provide the critical health protections American families and wildlife deserve. It sets achievable limits on dangerous carbon pollution, spurs investments in new clean energy technologies, and provides certainty for industry.

More than 2.2 million people across the United States — including more than 55,000 in Michigan — spoke out in support of these new national limits because they understand the harm carbon pollution does to the public health.

But with the recent news of Michigan's cherry crop being devastated — and cherries being shipped in from Poland to meet orders normally filled by Michigan businesses — the carbon pollution standards take on a new meaning.

That is why several conservation and environmental groups in Michigan are launching the Save the Cherry campaign, to raise awareness of the interaction between pollution and agriculture.

This week marks the start of the National Cherry Festival, which as an event that brings great pride to Northern Michigan communities and lets us shine for all of those who participate in the festival's activities.

Luckily, the festival will go on as planned, although cherries from other states have to be brought in and that will raise the price of a signature cherry pie, according to news reports.

We will be at the festival announcing the Save the Cherry campaign and talking with festival goers.

I'm looking forward to the EPA's rule taking effect so Michigan's cherry crop and agricultural products get to market. And our people and wildlife will have cleaner and healthier air to breathe.

About the author: Frank Szollosi is the Great Lakes Regional Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation based in Ann Arbor. He holds Master's of Science and Master's of Public Policy degrees from the University of Michigan.