From the Headlines — January 17 – 21, 2022

Following the money: A new report says that when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel restarted the investigation into the Flint water crisis, she dropped racketeering charges against state and city officials that would have come under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) laws. Nessel had criticized the investigations launched by her predecessor Bill Schuette as “politically charged show trials.” Although Nessel re-charged several of the individuals that Schuette had brought cases against, she dropped charges related to fraud associated with the $100 million bond deal that would have allowed Flint to switch its water source to the proposed Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). This deal resulted in the temporary switch to Flint River water and the subsequent failure to use proper corrosion control chemicals that allowed lead to leach from pipes into the drinking water. In 2018, Andy Arena, former director of the FBI’s Detroit office, said he believed there was “significant financial fraud” driving the deal. Had RICO charges been filed, the state of Michigan may have been liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in liability because Schuette’s office signed off on the allegedly fraudulent order that allowed the city to redirect $85 million set aside for environmental cleanup to issue bonds and join the KWA. (Guardian) 

It’s a Jeep thing: Next week, State officials will give Detroiters more information about what pollutants the east side Jeep plant has been emitting. The Stellantis facility has been fined several times for failing to properly treat emissions and emitting foul odors that residents say have been making them sick. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Lynn Sutfin previously said the agency had “not identified any immediate public health concerns or potential chemical odor sources based on the available data”. Sutfin said all available data from Stellantis, the Environmental Protection Agency and contractors will be presented at the public meeting on January 27. (Freep)

Hidden pollution: Environmental advocates are raising awareness about what they say is a lack of EPA air pollution monitors in low-income areas and communities of color, which can give an inaccurate picture of pollution in these neighborhoods. For example, Marion County Indiana, home to Indianapolis, has five monitors for PM 2.5 or fine particulate matter, but none of these are in the center of the city where car and truck traffic is likely to produce significant pollution. Other research suggests that industry polluters are gaming a system where air monitors are only activated on certain days and which allows them to avoid penalties by claiming excess emissions were unintentional. Meanwhile, a recent University of Michigan study says missing or limited information is a key cause of environmental exposure in low-income households or communities of color. (Mother Jones, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management)

Coal ash cover-up? Coal ash ponds at the Erickson Power Station in Lansing are leaching contaminants like lithium and boron into the groundwater and potentially contaminating residential wells. The plant is operated by the publicly-owned Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL), whose records show the utility broke federal rules by failing to monitor groundwater for several years. BWL says it will remove coal ash from the ponds. But Lisa Evans, attorney for the environmental nonprofit Earthjustice, calls the cleanup plan “inadequate” and says the utility should also be testing drinking water wells. Dave Price, chairman of BWL’s board, said the BWL’s administration failed to inform the board of the violations and that he was recently told the ponds weren’t contaminating groundwater. The Biden administration has recently begun enforcing regulations that will require power plants to clean up their toxic coal-ash waste. (City Pulse, CNN)

Treaty rights: Last year, Wisconsin officials issued an advisory against eating Lake Superior rainbow smelt, the first advisory issued for any of the Great Lakes that was triggered by PFAS contamination. PFAS–the so-called forever chemicals linked to cancer–threaten smelt and other fish that Indigenous communities in Michigan and Wisconsin depend on. The plight of Great Lakes fish is especially troubling for tribes who have retained the liberty to hunt and fish as part of their treaty rights, only to see those rights devalued by contamination. “In those agreements, we retained our rights to hunt, fish and gather,” said Jerry Jondreau, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. “In exchange, the U.S. got all the land. It’s accruing wealth. But the fish, the water … those things are becoming sick.” Edith Leoso, tribal historic preservation officer for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said education and voter pressure are needed to force the federal government to regulate polluters and protect tribal lands and waters. (WaPo)

Meijer(s): Meijer announced that it will cut its carbon emissions by 50% by 2025. The grocer said it will meet this goal by purchasing more renewable energy, piloting geothermal refrigeration projects, and expanding energy and fleet efficiency programs. Meijer’s announcement is notable for the short-term nature of its goal and the emphasis on absolute emissions rather than an intensity target. The latter would have allowed the company to keep polluting more by claiming that it’s making more efficient use of that pollution. However, there’s no indication that this goal looks at the store’s supply chain, which likely makes up a large portion of the emissions involved in their operation. (Channel 4, Greenbiz)

Planetary limits: Pesticides, plastics, and other chemical pollution threaten the ecosystems on which life depends, according to a recent study. “There has been a fiftyfold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950 and this is projected to triple again by 2050,” said Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a research assistant at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and collaborator on the study. “The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.” Pesticides, for example, are killing many non-target insects, undermining ecosystems, and threatening food production. Researchers say stronger regulation is needed to cap chemical production, which could involve establishing a global body to monitor the problem similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (Guardian)  


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