From the Headlines – August 30-September 3, 2021

What you’re paying for: Many of the lawmakers who will be investigating the power outages that impacted nearly one million customers last month likely received money from the utilities they are regulating. A Detroit News investigation finds that DTE Energy and CMS Energy – Consumers Energy’s parent company – funneled $55 million towards lawmakers in the last five years, appearing to use non-profits that aren’t required to disclose the sources of their funding. The $55 million number was obtained by tracking the utilities’ “civic” and “political” spending. DTE and Consumers employees and executives also funded political action committees (PACs) that donated money to 140 of the state’s 146 current lawmakers.  “We’ve asked for years the question of whether the Legislature is regulating DTE and Consumers or are DTE and Consumers regulating the Legislature,” said Bob Allison, deputy director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. (Detroit News)

Foot on the gas: Meanwhile, DTE Energy and Ann Arbor appear to be at odds over the future of natural gas in the city. DTE is updating gas lines in the city and spending billions on gas infrastructure across the state, seeming to undermine its own goal of moving to “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050 as well as Ann Arbor’s A2Zero plan to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2030. State Rep. Yousef Rabhi said it was disappointing to see DTE investing so much in infrastructure that rarely fails when they could be transitioning to renewable energy and “upgrading the electrical infrastructure which seems to be a weekly problem for them.” (MLive)

Underwater again: Two to four inches of rain fell on Detroit last Friday, flooding neighborhoods and expresswaysHelena Derrick, who lives on MacKenzie Street in the Aviation Subdivision, said this summer’s multiple floods will cost her at least $25,000. “I’ve got estimates for repairs, but getting somebody to work on it is hard,” she said. “And what are they supposed to do if they go down there and it’s all underwater again?” Repeated flooding has also sent billions of gallons of sewage into local waterways. A Free Press investigation found that four heavy rains this summer discharged 154.2 million gallons of sanitary sewer overflows (SSO), which are made up of raw, untreated sewage, and an additional 5.3 billion gallons of combined sewer overflows (CSO) from sanitary and storm sewers into Michigan waterways/ Add to that: 14 billion gallons of partially treated stormwater and sewage from retention bases. (Detroit News, Free Press)

A lot of PFAS: Toxic PFAS chemicals are polluting the groundwater around a number of Great Lakes military sites, according to data released by the U.S.Department of Defense. The so-called “forever chemicals” were found at levels up to 213,000 parts per trillion (ppt) near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan. (For context, Michigan’s standard for groundwater cleanup is as low as eight ppt for one type of PFAS.) Eighty-two thousand ppt of the PFAS chemicals PFOA and PFOS were found at Alpena County Regional Airport, and 17,000 ppt of PFOS were discovered at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mount Clemens. The chemicals are linked to cancer, liver damage, and fertility problems. “If you are relying on well water and are near one of these bases where PFAS has been confirmed in the groundwater, you should be concerned,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “And you should be doubly concerned if you are near one of the hundreds of bases where PFAS is suspected but not confirmed.” (AP)

Detroiters protest Line 5: The Michigan-based group Clean Water Action led a protest in Detroit on Wednesday against the ongoing operation of Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, one of several events also held in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Windsor. Sean McBrearty, a coordinator for Clean Water Action, hopes to see more work on the issue from the Canadian side of the border, where Enbridge is based. “We don’t think that the Canadian people would take it laying down if a U.S. corporation went over into Canada and was behaving illegally and putting their water at risk,” he said. “And we’d like the same courtesy from the Canadian government.”  A study from 2018 found that a spill from the pipeline could release 32,000 to 58,000 barrels of oil, affecting 400 miles of shoreline in the Great Lakes and damaging 60,000 acres of wildlife habitat. (Detroit News)

Magical thinking: Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources finalized a deal with DTE Energy to sell the company $10 million in “carbon credits” to offset greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement centers on the carbon-storing capacity of trees across 100,000 acres of the Pigeon River Country State Forest. But calculating how much carbon is stored by a tree or tract of land isn’t an exact science, and these credits can catch on fire. A recent study from the nonprofit CarbonPlan found so-called carbon capture programs frequently overvalue the carbon stored by forests. They concluded that California’s program created 20 to 39 million “ghost credits” which ended up giving polluters a pass to keep on polluting. Groups like the Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society have also seen criticism for selling credits for forests they managed whose carbon value was calculated based on what would happen if these lands were logged. Except these organizations were never planning to cut those trees down. So what were they selling again? (MIT Technology, Bloomberg)

Won’t stop: It’s been a week. Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana hard on Sunday, leaving New Orleans and other areas without power to run air conditioning as temperatures climbed to near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Several days later, remnants of the storm flooded portions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, leading to New York City’s first-ever flash flood emergency and killing at least 29 people across the Northeast. And all this occurred as the Caldor Fire continued to threaten Lake Tahoe, burning more than 200,000 acres and requiring the evacuation of a number of areas in California and Nevada. The World Meteorological Organization says that the weather-related disasters associated with climate change have increased five-fold in the last 50 years, along with significant increases in the economic losses from these events. The good news is that early warning systems have helped decrease the number of reported deaths. “More lives are being saved thanks to early warning systems but it is also true that the number of people exposed to disaster risk is increasing due to population growth in hazard-exposed areas and the growing intensity and frequency of weather events,” said Mami Mizutori, special representative of the UN’s Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. (Guardian, NY Times, NBC, BBC)


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