University of Michigan
News for Faculty and Staff

December 17, 2017

Faculty members testify in D.C. about biofuels, plastic debris in water

August 3, 2017

Faculty members testify in D.C. about biofuels, plastic debris in water

Topic: Campus News

Two University of Michigan faculty members testified recently before congressional panels regarding topics related to biofuels and cleaning up plastic debris in the oceans and U.S. waterways.

John DeCicco, research professor at the U-M Energy Institute and director of the U-M Energy Survey, testified July 25 before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Subcommittee on Energy.

John DeCicco testifies before the Subcommittee on Environment and Subcommittee on Energy. (Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives)

Melissa Duhaime with Sen. Gary Peters after the hearing. (Photo by Kristina Ko)

The hearing titled "Examining Advancements in Biofuels: Balancing Federal Research and Market Innovation" focused on federal funding of biofuels projects and how it affects the private market.

DeCicco's testimony emphasized the importance of robust federal investment in research across all areas of study. He also discussed the problems associated with the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires an increasing percentage of biofuels to be added into the nation's gasoline supply.

DeCicco said the RFS has been harmful to the environment, and that his research has found the RFS cannot claim any significant reduction in carbon dioxide. His testimony noted that the federal biofuels policy has overstepped its bounds and it is time to revisit and revise federal biofuels policy.

On July 25, Melissa Duhaime, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, testified before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.

The panel's hearing, titled "Efforts on Marine Debris in the Oceans and Great Lakes," explored existing government efforts and possible solutions to marine debris cleanup in our nation's oceans and waterways.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, the ranking member of the panel, shared his concern about marine debris, focusing on the negative affect of trash pollution in the Great Lakes. He said the Alliance for the Great Lakes removed 100,000 pounds of debris from the lakes in 2015, but that an estimated 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters the lakes every year.

Duhaime discussed her research on plastics in the Great Lakes during the last five years that shows plastic affects the food supplies of aquatic animals with unknown consequences to human health. Additionally, the amount of plastic in oceans and bodies of fresh water will continue to rise.

In 2014, her lab conducted the largest survey to date of Great Lakes plastic pollution. The smallest plastics dominated the samples, which mussels and worms ingest by mistaking it for food. These worms are a food source for foraging fish, then salmon, bass, trout and walleye, and later by humans.

She concluded that basic research has shown plastic is everywhere, in all oceans, in the Great Lakes, in beer and fish sold for human consumption, and it is almost certain that humans are consuming plastic. Plastic pollution must be decreased to avoid irreversible ecosystem harm, she said.