From the Headlines — January 24 – 28, 2022

Limited data: A community meeting intended to inform the public about the Stellantis facilities on the east side of Detroit seemed to generate more questions than answers, including why the plant was allowed to continue operating for several months after it was discovered that emissions weren’t being properly treated. Representatives for Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others sought to reassure residents about the safety of the air around the recently expanded Jeep plant. Yet, residents expressed frustration that they weren’t getting a complete picture of what kind of pollutants they had been exposed to. Brandon Reid of the Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services said the agency “didn’t find any short or long term health risks.” but that “the data that we have is pretty limited.” Much of the discussion revolved around odors that could produce headaches or impact residents’ quality of life. However, as a recent opinion piece stated, a greater concern for Detroiters is what has been producing those odors and how their health may be affected. One of many unanswered questions came from State Sen. Stephanie Chang, who asked if it would be possible to amend the Stellantis air quality permit in the near future. (Detroit News, Metro Times)

Who benefits from EVs? This week, General Motors announced it would invest $6.5 billion in battery plants in Delta Township and Lake Orion, which it said would create 4,000 jobs. But the company’s largesse is predicated on $824.1 million in tax incentives, meaning Michiganders would be paying $206,025 per job. Meanwhile, GM and Ford are pushing for federal legislation to provide rebates of $7,500 for electric vehicles with an additional $4,500 for cars made in union facilities and $500 for those with batteries made in the U.S. But while widespread adoption of electric vehicles could reduce emissions, analysis of an EV rebate program in Massachusetts showed benefits overwhelmingly flowed to wealthy residents, money that could have gone to increasing public transit access and purchasing electric buses. (Detroit News, StreetsBlog)

State of the State: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also emphasized investment in electric vehicle manufacturing and rebates for EVs and charging infrastructure in her State of the State address, earning praise from the Michigan Environmental Council. Still, President and CEO Conan Smith noted a lack of information on how the administration planned to address drinking water issues in the state. “Support for the $3.3 billion water infrastructure supplemental under discussion in the legislature and the passage of Filter First legislation that prevents lead poisoning from school drinking water are two ways the administration could take further action this year,” he said. (Freep)

Testing the waters: Flint’s most recent testing shows lead in the drinking water at seven parts per billion (ppb), representing the fifth straight year the city has been below the action level of 15 ppb. But some in Flint continue to doubt whether they can fully trust the tests. “I’m leery of the testing procedures and the press releases,” said City Council President Eric Mays. “I would say that there’s going to continue to be a lack of trust as it relates to the government, particularly state government, as it relates to the accuracy of information.” (Detroit News)

Rate hike redux: DTE Energy plans to ask for a rate increase to cover $388 million in investments to modernize its grid and improve reliability, a move that could cost the average residential customer upwards of $10 a month. The utility will use the money for things like tree-trimming, smart technologies to help detect and prevent service interruptions, and investments in substations, poles, transformers and wires. This follows a 2019 DTE rate hike that was one of the largest in the country and a rate increase for gas at the end of last year. Meanwhile, a failure to keep up with tree trimming and other maintenance has left Michigan with one of the country’s least reliable energy grids. (Detroit News, Freep, MLive, Energy News)

Bridge fuel: The Gordie Howe Bridge project in southwest Detroit is looking to obtain a permit for a new natural gas-fired cogeneration unit that will support various operations at the US-Canada border crossing. EGLE says the air permit would require equipment to ensure it meets air quality and health standards. The agency will be holding a virtual hearing to provide information and take questions on March 1 at 6 PM. 

Is Detroit next? On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would increase its monitoring and enforcement of federal air and water quality regulations, especially in communities of color, which have historically had a high pollution burden. “I pledge to do better by people in communities who have been hurting for far too long,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. He said the agency would increase unannounced inspections for industry, add more air quality inspectors and use new technologies to improve real-time air monitoring. (NY Times)

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