From the Headlines – April 5 – April 9, 2021

Put the money in the ground: Michigan counties and municipalities are set to receive an estimated $4.4 billion as a part of the COVID-19 stimulus package signed by President Joe Biden last month. What should they do with all that cash? Justin Onwenu, an organizer for the Michigan Sierra Club, said this is a “huge opportunity to focus on clean water,” which could include replacing lead service lines, building new treatment plants, funding water affordability programs, and (our favorite) upgrading sewer systems. Paying for local governments to improve wastewater and stormwater systems and enabling rural residents to replace failing septic tanks could help block some of the estimated 5.7 billion gallons of raw sewage that enters Michigan waterways each year. (Bridge Michigan)

Thanks, Facebook ads: Facebook ads in Michigan have been attacking an energy bill in the statehouse that would eliminate the cap on how many homes or businesses with solar systems can connect to the grid. “Don’t let out-of-state special interests do to Michigan what they did to Texas,” one ad said, a reference to the blackouts in that state, which were not caused by renewable energy sources. Who’s paying for these misleading ads? Well, we hope you’re sitting down because it looks like DTE Energy and Consumers Energy are financing the groups behind them. Consumers has contributed more than $40 million to one non-profit buying the ads: the very cool-sounding Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy. “They’re in the business of selling electricity, and this [proposed legislation] prevents that,” explained Tony Anderson, general manager at Cherryland Electric Cooperative. “So of course they would not like it.” (Interlochen Public Radio, Reuters)

50,000 sign-ups: Co-lead counsel on the Flint water settlement Michael Pitt described the estimated 50,000 sign-ups for the agreement as “robust.” “We think this is pretty close to what we had predicted when we started the case,” Pitt said. The $641 million settlement fund was set up for civil claims related to Flint’s drinking water’s lead contamination. Those who have signed up will potentially get some of the money. Most is set aside for children, and some applications are likely to be denied. A district court judge will also need to approve the attorneys’ request for nearly a third of the settlement money. (Michigan Radio)

Great Lakes drownings: A new research study has found that a spike in drownings on the Great Lakes in 2020 may be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. With community swimming pools and water parks closed, more people visited local beaches where governments were often not providing lifeguards or other safety measures on account of the pandemic. “A greater proportion of the beach users may not have had experience swimming in wave-dominated environments and may have overestimated their ability to swim safely,” said University of Windsor researchers Chris Houser and Brent Vlodarchyk in a study published in Ocean and Coastal Management. Lake Michigan proved especially dangerous in 2020 with 37 drownings, 11 higher than the annual average from 2010 to 2019. (Freep)

How to power da U.P., eh? Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO) charges its customers some of the highest rates in the country for electricity, and there are concerns that an investment fund’s bid to purchase the utility will mean more of the same. If UPPCO is sold to Axium Infrastructure, this would be the third sale in 15 years. Will Lytle, a Hancock City Council member, believes that the challenge of transmitting power across long distances to a relatively small number of users could be met in part by microgrids and distributed energy from sources like solar. UPPCO and the Michigan Public Services Commission could also consider changes to net-metering rules to make home solar and other energy sources more feasible for residents. This move could help make up for the coming shutdown of the Line 5 pipeline that supplies propane for about 15 percent of the Upper Peninsula’s population. Others call for a switch to a cooperative model, where money wouldn’t have to be set aside for investors or to pay income tax. (Midwest Energy News)

New day at the EPA: Michael Regan, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, sent a directive to staff to “infuse equity and environmental justice principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs”. His memo also called for the agency to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution.” This marked a dramatic change from the Trump administration when the EPA stopped performing routine inspections during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. President Biden has also promised to direct 40 percent of climate and infrastructure spending towards communities most impacted by pollution, climate change, and racial and economic inequality. (Guardian)

Thank you to Planet Detroit member Emily Kostrzewa for this week’s header photo. Share your favorite photos of Detroit’s outdoors with us and we’ll feature them!


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