From the Headlines – November 8-12, 2021

‘Hall of shame’: High utility bills and shut-offs may have played a role in the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 had in Black, brown and Indigenous communities. A working paper from the National Bureau for Economic Research shows that a national ban on utility disconnections during the pandemic would have reduced COVID-19 related deaths by 14.7 percent and infections by 8.7 percent. Michigan’s own DTE Energy is included in the report’s “hall of shame” for its high level of disconnections. Shutoff moratoriums may have made it easier for individuals to observe stay-at-home orders and maintain proper hygiene with hot, clean running water. The report found that 16 utilities received $1.25 billion in federal COVID relief, and just 8.5 percent of this money could have prevented every single shutoff. (Midwest Energy News)

‘Band-Aid on a bullet wound’: A federal judge has approved the $626 million dollar settlement for Flint residents affected by the lead drinking water crisis, although around $200 million of this could go to attorneys. A number of Flint residents expressed disapproval with the settlement. “It’s a Band-Aid on a bullet wound once again for our city that is still coping with the residual effects of the water crisis,” said Flint resident LuLu Brezzell. Eighty percent of the settlement will go to those who were under the age of 18 when exposed to lead-tainted water. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint physician who helped expose the drinking water crisis, said this wasn’t “the end of the story” and that long-term resources will be needed to help the people of Flint recover from the crisis. “I am hopeful this settlement serves as a reminder of Flint’s lessons; where the perfect storm of environmental injustice, indifferent bureaucracy, lost democracy and austerity, compounded by decades of racism and deindustrialization left a city powerless and forgotten,” she said. (Guardian, MLive)

Action and inaction: Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin testing water from 300 homes in Benton Harbor to check water filters given out by the state. This follows several years-worth of water samples showing high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water and calls for the state and federal government to do more about the crisis. Meanwhile, thousands of emails released by the state show a city that struggled to manage its water supply with limited resources and a state that delayed action. After testing showed high lead levels, Michael O’Malley, the city’s self-described “water guy”, continued to tell residents that it was fine to drink from the taps. The state later removed O’Malley’s certification to operate the drinking water system after he refused to disclose where water samples were taken among other issues. And this crisis will not end anytime soon. So far, state lawmakers have failed to allocate billions in pandemic relief that includes potentially $2 billion for lead service line replacements. (Freep, Bridge, WaPo, Detroit News)

Getting around to it: Stellantis is giving itself until the end of the year to properly treat the emissions from its Mack Assembly Plant. The automaker formerly known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had previously said that the plant would have “the lowest achievable VOC (volatile organic compound) emission rate of any auto assembly plant in the country,” which may have been true had they remembered to hook up the tubes right. As it stands, the ducting from the plant’s paint shop is going into an exhaust stack, not the regenerative thermal oxidizer that is required under the plant’s permit. VOCs can have a number of negative health impacts and at high temperatures, they contribute to ozone formation, a major trigger for asthma. U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib recently described the odors coming from the plant as “unbearable” and “disgusting”. (Detroit News, Metro Times)

Treaty talk: White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre says the Biden administration is in negotiations with the Canadian government over Enbridge’s Line 5 oil and gas pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac and there are no plans to shut down operation. The Canadian government invoked a 1977 treaty after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the Canadian-owned company to shut down the pipeline. All this treaty talk might seem a bit rich to Michigan’s Indigenous communities, who sent a letter to President Biden asking him to shut down Line 5 and preserve their own, much older, treaty rights. Tribal leaders say that a spill from the pipeline endangers their rights to Great Lakes water and fisheries, which are already threatened by pollution and climate change. (Michigan Radio, MLive, Michigan Advance)

‘Awesome habitat’: The deer population has grown significantly in Michigan in the last few decades, with most of this growth concentrated in the southern Lower Peninsula. “When you have agriculture right next to some forested woodlots right next to some suburban areas, that’s awesome habitat for deer,” said Sonja Christensen, a faculty member at Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. These factors and increasingly warm winters are helping drive the population boom, while a decline in hunting has removed one of the key checks on deer numbers. More deer can stunt trees and endanger woodland songbirds as well as damage crops and cause car accidents. In response, some municipalities are hiring hunters to cull the animals, not without controversy. The Department of Natural Resources is also encouraging hunters to take more does, which had been discouraged in the past. (Bridge)

Budgeting for the apocalypse: The $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill set to be signed by President Biden will put $47 billion towards climate resilience measures like flood control, improved forecasting, and wildfire defense. But this amount is dwarfed by the $555 billion included in the Build Back Better Act for fighting climate change. Progressives had hoped to pass both bills at the same time. But moderate Democrats want to hold off a vote on Build Back Better until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) presents its “score” for what the legislation will mean for revenue, spending, and the deficit. (NY Times, Vox)

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