From the headlines – November 15-19, 2021

Disparate impacts: East side Detroit residents filed a civil rights complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing that the state discriminated against the neighborhood’s predominantly Black and low-income population when it allowed Stellantis to expand its Mack assembly plant. Stellantis–formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles–had agreed to reduce emissions at a plant in predominantly white Warren in order to increase pollution in Detroit. “The disparate health impacts that would occur by increasing emissions among a Black community with uniquely high levels of respiratory disease while decreasing emissions in a community with less people of color was not taken into account when granting the permits,” Nicholas Leonard with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center wrote in the complaint on behalf of residents. Those living near the Stellantis facilities experience asthma at a rate 130 percent to 176 percent higher than the state average. (Detroit News)

Hotline to nowhere: Lawmakers sent a letter to Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) asking them to hold Stellantis accountable for recent air quality and odor violations at its Detroit Facilities. State Sen. Stephanie Chang, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Detroit city council member-elect Latisha Johnson said the company should be fined and ordered to help residents relocate away from areas close to the Mack assembly plant. The lawmakers questioned Stellantis’ decision to set up a hotline for odor complaints. “How, if at all, is the hotline coordinated with EGLE’s accountability efforts?” they asked. EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenbergconfirmed that the company isn’t required to share this information with the agency. EGLE has its own hotline for reporting air quality concerns at 1-800-292-4706. On Thursday, EGLE announced they intended to fine the automaker as well as institute a “compliance plan.” The agency contacted the EPA for assistance, which performed air monitoring with a mobile lab around the Stellantis facilities earlier this week. (Freep, Detroit News)

Asphalt everywhere: Detroit is considering granting a permit to a new asphalt plant near the junction of the Southfield and I-96 freeways. And an asphalt plant near Flint received permit approval from EGLE this week, despite accusations of environmental racism from residents. “I’m frustrated and disappointed that EGLE would issue the permit before having all the information they need to do so, namely the cumulative impact analysis,” said Mona Munroe-Younis, executive director of the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint. EGLE director Liesl Clark said the permit was issued after the operator, Ajax Material Corp., met permitting requirements. But in a letter to the EPA she added that the permitting process, “highlights the limitations of federal and state environmental regulations in addressing the concerns raised by Flint residents.” EGLE says that Ajax will not be allowed to burn waste oil and there will be limits on sulfur in the fuel they burn. Other safeguards include strict stack-testing for emissions, a fugitive dust plan, and long and short term limitations for volatile organic compounds. And did we say Detroit is considering permitting an asphalt plant? (MLive)

Something else: President Biden visited the General Motors plant in Detroit to tout the recently passed infrastructure agenda and push proposed Build Back Better framework (BBB). General Motors was an interesting choice for the visit. Although the company has expressed support for BBB’s climate provisions, GM CEO Mary Barra is a board member and incoming president of the Business Roundtable, which opposes the legislation. This may be because BBB would institute a 15% tax on corporations that report more than $1 billion in yearly profit to shareholders and at least a 15% tax on foreign profits. Nevertheless, Biden drove GM’s electric Hummer and declared it to be awesome.  “These suckers are something else!” he said. Indeed. At over 9,000 pounds–three times heavier than a Ford Focus–and with an ability to accelerate to 60 miles per hour in three seconds, the car could be deadly for pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers. (WaPo, Popular Info, CNBC)

Blame game: In response to the city’s lead drinking water crisis, Benton Harbor residents are suing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as well as other city and state officials for “deliberate indifference.” Whitmer and other officials say the state has worked to pass out water filters and, more recently, bottled water, following the discovery of lead in the city’s drinking water in 2018. According to the lawsuit, residents were not notified until last month that they shouldn’t be drinking the water. Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammadsaid that the state’s largely Republican legislature shares blame for the problem, having failed to approve funding to remove the city’s lead service lines until this fall. (Freep)

Lost in the noise: A federal judge ruled that Michigan’s lawsuit over Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac must remain in federal court. “…with Canada’s invocation of the dispute resolution provision in the 1977 Treaty, the federal issues, in this case, are under consideration at the highest levels of this country’s government,” Judge Janet Neff wrote in her order. Meanwhile, conservative groups including Michigan Rising Action, a group tied to the billionaire DeVos family, are broadcasting disinformation, like tweeting that Line 5 will soon shut down and that this will increase winter heating costs. Line 5 is in no immediate danger of shutting down and a report from the business consulting firm London Economics International found Detroit refineries could get more than enough crude oil from other pipelines for gasoline production. Similarly, the report shows that any increase in propane costs in the Upper Peninsula from a Line 5 shutdown “would be lost in the noise of usual propane price volatility.” (Detroit News, Metro Times)

New boss: The new head of the EPA’s Region 5 office–which oversees most of the Great Lakes states, including Michigan–answered questions about what role her office will play in resolving issues with lead in drinking water and protecting water quality in the Great Lakes. She touted the recently passed federal infrastructure bill as a “game changer” for places like Chicago and Detroit that will receive help cleaning up Superfund sites as well as contaminated sentiment and other pollution in the Great Lakes’ so-called Areas of Concern. One question she did not answer was why it took so long for the EPA to respond to Benton Harbor’s water crisis, saying these decisions were made before her time at the agency. (Great Lakes Now)

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