From the Headlines

November 13, 2020

$15,000: That’s the amount Detroit Bulk Storage–which operates the property that partially collapsed into Detroit River last November – has agreed to pay the city in settlement for illegally storing limestone on the riverfront. The collapse set off a flurry of concern because the property had been used in the 1940s and 1950s to process uranium and other materials for the Manhattan Project. The property owner, Revere Dock LLC, had previously paid $63,000 in blight fines to the city and $60,000 to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) for violating environmental regulations. Nick Leonard from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center said he was glad some action was being taken against Detroit Bulk Storage, but added, “It’s not a ton of money for companies like these. We don’t think this enforcement action is going to stop something like this from happening in the future.” (Crain’s Detroit Business)

“Rotting fish mixed with a permanent marker”: That’s how resident KT Andresky described the odor outside her Detroit home located one mile east of the 15-acre US Ecology waste treatment and storage facility on Detroit’s east side. The facility entered into a 90-day consent agreement with EGLE in September, which requires it to develop an odor control plan. The company says the odors are short-lived and don’t pose a threat to health or safety, but according to one resident, the smell has become more noticeable since it is no longer masked by odors from the incinerator, which shut down last year. In July, environmental groups filed a civil rights complaint with EGLE over what it called the agency’s “long history of discrimination” that has allowed facilities like US Ecology to set up shop in poor communities of color. (Detroit News, Michigan Radio, via Detour Detroit)

A return to water shutoffs? On Oct. 12 the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated most of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency orders relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them was a requirement to restore water services to customers who had experienced shutoff and a moratorium on new service interruptions. Marianne Udow-Phillips, former head of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, argues that water access is essential for preventing the spread of the disease and urges lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 241, which would restore Whitmer’s restoration order and prevent further shut-offs during the pandemic. Some utilities–including the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department–are temporarily blocked from performing shut-offs as a condition of money received through the CARES Act, but this applies to just 130 of the state’s 1,400 water systems and lasts only until the end of the year. So far, 29 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have moved to protect residents from shutoffs during the pandemic. (Bridge, Great Lakes Now)

HCMA comes to Detroit: The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and Huron-Clinton Metroparks have announced a partnership for the future Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park on the Detroit riverfront. Metroparks will contribute $6 million over seven years to the Conservancy for programming and operations at the 22-acre site west of downtown, which is slated to open in 2023. The park will include a sports house and large children’s play area. Both Metroparks and the Conservancy reported substantial increases in visitors in 2020. (Press release)

More visitors, less money: Parks like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Sleeping Bear Dunes have been seeing huge crowds this year, causing headaches for those living near the attractions and creating problems like traffic jams and overloaded septic systems. Pictured Rocks especially has seen a huge increase in popularity recently, with over a million people visiting the park this past year. The park is considering a user fee to help keep its budget in line with the increased traffic, while Sleeping Bear Dunes is looking to “formalize” parking areas near popular hikes to limit damage from vehicles. Both parks are currently dealing with multi-million dollar maintenance backlogs that may only be partially addressed by the recently passed Great American Outdoors Act, which is allocating $6.5 billion to national park properties over the next five years. (Bridge)

‘Enforcement discretion’: At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made the controversial decision to exercise “enforcement discretion,” a policy that ended on Aug. 31. Cynthia Giles, former head of the EPA’s enforcement division, referred to the move as “essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules.” But how did states–which carry out much environmental oversight themselves–respond to the EPA policy? In Michigan it appears that EGLE largely followed the EPA’s lead, providing “regulatory flexibility” and processing 179 requests for enforcement discretion as of September 30. Many of these seem to have been for short-term delays in enforcement activities. However, with COVID-19 surging again across the state, EGLE communications manager Hugh McDiarmid said the agency will “wait and see” about “potential associated new or re-imposed restrictions going forward.” Which–if we’re reading this right?–could mean that some form of the EPA policy could continue in the state, even without a federal directive. (NY Times, Great Lakes Now)

Whose land? Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) has begun using a land acknowledgment, the short version of which reads, “Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg — Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi peoples. The university resides on land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw.” This is part of an effort by CANR to be more inclusive of Indigenous students and acknowledge the role the Morrill Act of 1862 played in systemic injustice by creating land-grant universities with territory ceded from Native peoples, functionally transferring land and wealth from Indigenous peoples to land grant universities. Some of these universities continue to generate revenue from this land through real estate or mineral rights. (High Country News)

PFAS study: The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will be conducting a five-year study on PFAS contamination in drinking water for those living in the Rockford and Parchment areas of west Michigan. The study looks to use blood samples to learn more about the health effects of PFAS exposure, which have been linked to cancer and other illnesses. (Wood TV) 

Have thoughts on Line 5? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will be hosting a rare public hearing to discuss Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 5 oil and gas pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. The tunnel requires a permit from the Corps, who says the hearing will be used to “acquire information which will be considered in evaluating the permit application and to afford the public an opportunity to present their views, opinions, and information on the proposed permit action.” The online hearing will be held on Dec. 7 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. and the web link will be posted on the Detroit District website about a week before the event. (MLive) 

Biden time: As the U.S. contemplates the peaceful transfer of power and what exactly constitutes a coup, the New York Times has a relatively hopeful article about what the president-elect could accomplish with environmental policy in the first 100 days. Noting that Joe Biden has the most ambitious climate platform of any presidential candidate ever, the author suggests he could host a global climate summit, include clean energy in coronavirus relief measures, and form an environmental justice advisory board. These moves would be in addition to rejoining the Paris Agreement and creating new financial regulations for public companies to disclose climate change-related financial risks and greenhouse emissions, measures that Biden has already committed to. (NY Times)


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