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Right to Fight Reuters reports that Indiana union members are expected to be in court today to try to overturn the state’s new Right to Work law.

$50 million That’s what the federal government expects to spend this year fighting invasive Asian Carp.

Ohio power State regulators in Ohio have overturned electricity price increases they approved in December. But, as partner station WCPN Ideastream reports, the fight isn’t over. Meanwhile, a trash to energy plan in Cleveland is showing signs of life, despite strong opposition.

Down, down, down The number of union jobs in Ohio continues to decline. The Dayton Daily News says union numbers in the state have been falling for at least the last 10 straight years.

Lockout over? A three-month lockout at Cooper Tire could be coming to an end, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Workers peace out CNNMoney takes a look at “Michigan’s Incredible Shrinking Workforce.”

Manufacturing, yo A new report says in order to build the future economy, Michigan should look to the “old economy.”

Occupy movement About 60 employees of a Chicago window-making company occupied their plant for 11 hours yesterday. They were trying to stop the plant’s closing. Partner station WBEZ reports the workers claimed victory after owners agreed to keep the plant open an extra 90 days. The workers will now try to find a buyer, or raise money to buy the plant themselves.


That’s a lot of clams GM made $7.6 billion last year. It was a record profit.

Mixed foreclosure news New foreclosure data is in. The numbers are down in Ohio and Michigan. But they’re up in Illinois.

Research and Decline R&D jobs dropped 43% in Chicago between 2000 and 2010, according to a new study. Crain’s Chicago Business has the write-up.

Collegial process The Columbus Dispatch reports Ohio’s 37 colleges and universities have agreed on a construction wish list for this year’s state budget. Governor John Kasich called the unified process “unprecedented.”

Small power plants, big effect? The closure of four small, little-used power plants is stoking speculation that energy prices in Ohio could rise. The Cleveland Plain Dealer says the common sense analysis would say that the change should have little effect on prices. But, the new world of online auctions for power prices “don’t necessarily make common sense.”

Bus cuts Detroit will cancel early-morning bus service in an effort to save cash.

Mining bill advances A special committee has been disbanded, and a controversial piece of mining legislation has been put on the fast track in the Wisconsin Senate, proving once again that nothing is simple in Wisconsin politics these days. The bill would loosen regulations to help open an iron mine in northern Wisconsin.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Contenders seek spurned transit funding. The city of Troy, Michigan rejected federal funds to build a mass-transit center. Now other suburban Detroit municipalities are lining up in hopes of claiming part of the $8.5 million. A U.S. Congressman pledged to have the money allocated to Royal Oak and Pontiac. The Detroit Free Press reports today a high-speed “turnaround area” for buses could be built in Pontiac while a rail facility could be built in Royal Oak. Meanwhile, Troy has faced a backlash for its decision. Gov. Rick Snyder wrote a letter saying he was “disappointed” in the decision, and Magna International, which employs more than 1,000 in Troy, said it will no longer seek expansion or job creation in the city.

2. Wisconsin fight not over yet? The Wisconsin Supreme Court could be asked to reopen a controversial case about collective bargaining legislation because a justice who presided in the original hearing received free legal service from an attorney involved in the case. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne is “taking a hard look” at asking the Supreme Court to reopen the case. Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman cast the deciding vote in a ruling that said state legislators had not violated the open meetings law when mulling the controversial legislation, which allowed a decision to limit collective bargaining for public workers to stand.

3. EPA mandates could cost Ohio. Many utilities in Ohio and elsewhere must cut 90 percent of the mercury emitted from their power plants under toughened air pollution limits announced Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “This is a great victory for public health, especially the health of our children,” said an EPA spokesperson. Industry representatives say the new rules mean more expensive electricity for customers and job losses because older plants may shut down rather than overhaul. The Columbus Dispatch says Ohio typically ranks No. 1 in the nation for the amount of toxic pollutants emitted by industry, largely because of power plants that burn coal.


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.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Detroit’s fiscal crisis looms. The amount of time Detroit has to address the city’s looming financial crisis is “relatively short,” Gov. Rick Snyder tells the Detroit Free Press, before he must decide whether to commence a financial review of the city under the state’s controversial emergency manager law. The city could be insolvent as soon as April, according to reports. In response, the city council issued a proposal that was more far-reaching than Mayor Dave Bing’s earlier this week, proposing a 20-percent income tax increase and 2,300 layoffs, among other items. “We are running out of time,” councilman Andre Spivey tells the newspaper.

2. Groupon stock sharply declines. Shares of Chicago-based Groupon are “getting pummeled” for the third consecutive day, reports the Chicago Tribune this afternoon. They are now trading 15 percent below the initial public offering price of $20 on Nov. 4, and down 35 percent since Friday’s closing price of $26.19. Groupon had cautioned investors that trading could be volatile because it offered only a 5.5 percent stake in its IPO.

3. Shale boom could miss Ohio. Shale gas may not create the economic prosperity across Ohio that Gov. John Kasich has touted as a jobs creator, warns a new report. The problem? The gas industry has been too successful. There’s so much natural gas supply across the U.S. that prices are falling. And no one is quite sure how much actually lies beneath the Buckeye State, reports The Plain Dealer. The jobs gain, once predicted to number as many as 200,000, “will happen on some scale,” Andrew Weissman, executive director of Energy Business Watch, tells the newspaper. “But the question is whether it moves quickly or whether it moves slowly so that it only has a modest impact on Ohio’s economy.”


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Detroit bridge project scrutinized. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder absorbed his first major political defeat since taking office – and it came at the hands of his own Republican party, which refused to green-light the construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Expectations are growing, according to the Detroit Free Press, that Snyder will try to circumvent the legislature, a strategy that will raise legal questions about the range of the governor’s executive authority. Last week, Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard detailed the skirmish over the new bridge for The Atlantic Cities, and examined forceful opposition from Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

2. Ohio foreclosures on the rise. After enjoying their lowest level of foreclosures in five years, Ohio residents saw a foreclosure uptick in the third quarter of 2011, mirroring a nationwide trend. Our partner station Ideastream reports foreclosures in Cuyahoga County increased 17 percent from the previous three-month period. Experts attribute the jump to mortgage lenders resuming the foreclosure process after last year’s robo-signing scandal had halted proceedings. Over the summer, less than 1 percent of Ohio home loans entered the foreclosure process, Ideastream reports. Currently, 9.3 percent of Ohio mortgage holders are late on their payments, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

3. Future of Michigan coal plant unclear. The only major power plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is at a crossroads. A coal-fired plant owned by We Energies could be shut down over the next five or six years as new environmental rules go into effect. One alternative would be a switch to natural gas, a conversion being employed by numerous plants across the Midwest. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the future of the plant is of high concern in Marquette, where We Energies employs 180 workers and plays 17 percent of the city’s property taxes. “A closure would be devastating for our community,” Mayor John Kivela tells the newspaper.

(Clarification: An earlier version of this entry contained dated information. It has been revised to indicate that a Michigan state senate committee defeated a proposal regarding a new bridge linking Detroit to Canada last month.)


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan’s unemployment rate drops. Michigan’s unemployment rate fell a half-point to 10.6 percent in October from 11.1 percent in September, according to numbers released Wednesday from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. It was the second straight month the state’s rate declined. The decline came “due primarily to a reduction in the number of unemployed individuals actively seeking employment,” Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information & Strategic Initiatives, said in a statement. Nationally, unemployment claims fell to a seven-month low Wednesday, according to our partner station WBEZ. The four-week average fell to 396,750, the first time the average has been below 400,000 in seven months.

2. Indy Plant Eschews Coal For Natural Gas. A plant that generates steam for heating some of Indianapolis’ biggest downtown institutions will convert its coal-burning boilers to natural gas. Citizens Energy Group CEO Carey Lykins tells the Indianapolis Star the project will “mean cleaner air for downtown Indianapolis and provide significant savings for our customers compared to continued use of coal.” The conversion could be completed as early as 2014 and save the company $5 million in annual operating costs. The Perry K plant heats many downtown businesses and institutions, including Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus.

3. Milwaukee Streetcar Support Swells. Supporters of a Milwaukee Streetcar project outnumbered its detractors by a 2-to-1 margin at a public hearing held Wednesday night on the planned streetcar line’s environmental impact. Supporters said the streetcar project will improve city transportation and stimulate economic development along the line. Opponents believe the cost is one the city cannot afford. City alderman have already voted to approve the project and move ahead with engineering, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but have withheld final approval “until more details are fleshed out.”


On Wednesday, the White House formally issued a proposal to nearly double automotive fuel efficiency standards by 2025. The proposal to boost the standards to 54.5 miles per gallon – a jump from the 27.3 mpg required today – comes on the heels of an agreement President Obama reached this summer with automakers.

Here’s a glance at five responses to the news:

Dan Becker, Safe Climate Campaign

“It is not every decade that a president does something to simultaneously help the environment, consumers and the auto industry. President Obama has done just that. These standards are the biggest single step any nation has taken to fight global warming. They will slash our oil addiction.”

John Dingell, U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 15th Congressional District

“The national program allows American manufacturers to continue building the cars consumers want to buy. It gives industry the certainty they need to invest in the future and promotes American manufacturing of advanced technology vehicles. This program is critically important so our manufacturers do not have to meet a patchwork of different standards.”

Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers

“The proposed regulations present aggressive targets, and the administration must consider that technology breakthroughs will be required and consumers will need to buy our most energy-efficient technologies in very large numbers to meet the goals.”

Jonathan Tobias, owner of Michigan Green Cabs in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“Higher fuel standards would allow me to expand my business immediately, and they would boost my employees’ spending power as consumers. In my industry, employees pay for the fuel that powers the vehicles I supply. If I could give drivers more fuel-efficient cars, they’d be lining up to work for me.”

Dennis McGinn, retired Vice Admiral, member of the CNA Military Advistory Board

“Gas-guzzling is not an American value. Cutting our oil use, increasing efficiency and diversifying our energy resources will protect our economy and our ability to move around the country freely. Programs like the new 54.5 mpg federal fuel economy standard … put us on the right path.”

 


Adee Braun

Construction workers at a Detroit refinery. It's being converted to process more Oil Sands crude piped in from Canada

The future of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline won’t be decided until after next year’s Presidential election, the Obama administration announced Thursday. This is the $7 billion, 1,700 mile pipeline that would carry crude from the Canadian Oil Sands (also known as tar sands by its detractors) down to refineries in the US Gulf. TransCanada, the firm hoping to build the pipe, plotted a route through states like South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma, on its way to Texas.

This has been one of those no-win decisions for the President, with critics of the pipeline arguing it will harm the environment and health of those along its path, and the energy industry touting the thousands of jobs that could be generated from the construction and operation of the pipeline. This week, the Obama administration delayed any decision until new routes can be devised—bypassing an environmentally at-risk region of Nebraska.

What does this have to do with the Upper Midwest? As I reported over the summer, pipelines carrying crude from the controversial oil sands come into the Great Lakes region as well. With the oil sands now financially viable, there’s been a frenzy to convert Midwest refineries to process this heavy, tar-like crude. It’s meant more jobs in cities like Toledo and Detroit, but also raised concerns about potential oil spills. Oil sands crude is thought to be more corrosive than conventional crude, and some think it contributed to the Marshall, MI pipeline spill in 2010. Click here to hear our reporting on costs and benefits for our region of this growing energy source.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Marathon Petroleum buys Detroit neighborhood. An oil refinery in Detroit wants to buy all the houses in the entire 48217 zip code as part of an expansion plan. Marathon is offering $50,000 per home to approximately 400 homeowners. The Atlantic writes the move is an unusual one, because the expansion actually won’t be located on the land. It’s more or less a goodwill transaction, in which “the company is essentially saying what few industries or companies will admit: I’m going to be a bad neighbor. I will make you sick.” Zip code 48217 represents one of the most heavily industrialized areas of Detroit.

2. Unemployment rate ever-so-slightly declines. The nation’s unemployment rate ticked down to 9 percent in October, the first time it has fallen since July, the U.S. Labor Department announced today. The nation’s economy added 80,000 jobs and the rate fell one-tenth of a percent from 9.1 percent. Our partner station WBEZ reports economists view the improvement as an encouraging sign, although a survey conducted by financial data provider FactSet showed they had expected a larger gain. The Labor Department also revised data from August and September, and said the economy added 102,000 more jobs in those two months than initially reported.

3. Small growth predicted for Indiana economy. Indiana’s economy is pointed in the right direction, but will not grow at a pace that fixes devastation wrought by the recession. That’s the consensus of a panel of Indiana University economists. They predicted Thursday that in 2012 the state will see a modest unemployment drop, a “slight” uptick in business output and a small gain in payroll, according to the Indianapolis Star. The five-person panel agreed that, like other states, Indiana will largely be at the mercy of national and global conditions. “Our economy is in trouble really, because of a generation of fiscal mismanagement,” associate professor Robert Neal,  a former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank, told the newspaper.