From the Headlines – January 3-7, 2022

A Planet Detroit preview: What to expect in 2022 (It’s gonna get weird) 
Unresolved issues like air pollution and basement flooding will likely continue to plague Detroit and the metro area.  Here are some of the stories Planet Detroit will be paying close attention to in 2022. 

Way forward on water: For Detroiters, the most important environmental issue of 2022 may well be whether the city comes out with a water affordability plan, beyond the shutoff moratorium that’s set to expire at the end of the year. Former Detroit Health Department director Dr. Abdul El-Sayed has been tasked with stopping shutoffs and developing a long-term solution to the city’s water affordability problem. Federal infrastructure spending isn’t currently being directed at the problem and although Rep. Rashida Tlaib has introduced legislation to address water shutoffs nationally, her proposal seems unlikely to pass. This has left El-Sayed to consider other funding options like municipal financing or taxing companies that bottle water in the state. (Detroit News, Freep, Planet Detroit)

A fix for basement flooding: Many metro Detroiters will likely also be waiting for some sign that officials intend to do something about the recurrent basement and freeway flooding that plagued the area this year, first with the historic storm of June 26 and then after a series of smaller storms resulting in localized floods. The Great Lakes Water Authority–which oversees much of the region’s stormwater infrastructure–says as much as $20 billion may be needed to address flooding and it could take them through the summer to develop a plan. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department floated their own number of $2.2 billion to improve stormwater infrastructure, suggesting this plan may involve backflow valves to prevent sewage from entering basements as well as new sewer pipes on the east and west sides of the city to send water straight into the river rather than into homes. (Planet Detroit, Detroit News, Freep)

Heat danger: While threats like flooded basements consume Detroiters’ time and energy, heat remains an issue that could devastate the city, especially if a heatwave is accompanied by a power outage. Planet Detroit reported on research last year showing how climate change puts large numbers of Detroiters at risk for severe illness or death during a heatwave. And yet the city appears to be doing little to address this issue. Tree planting–which could lower temperatures–is likely barely keeping up with die-off and the city has actually had fewer cooling centers open in recent years, a problem made worse by library closures that significantly limit the number of places where Detroiters can go to escape the heat. One bright spot in this conversation is the number of “resilience hubs” that are being rolled out in neighborhoods like Chandler Park and Jefferson Chalmers to help residents deal with problems like heat and flooding. (Planet Detroit, Freep)

Un-leading the water: 2022 is set to be a year where Michigan takes serious action on the lead drinking water crisis that has affected Benton Harbor, but also Metro Detroit cities like Hamtramck and Wayne. The Michigan Senate passed a $3.3 billion water infrastructure bill that would invest $1 billion in replacing lead service lines. However, Elin Betanzo–a water engineer who helped uncover the Flint water crisis–says as much as $2.5 billion could be needed to remove all the state’s lead service lines, some of which could come from federal infrastructure funds. Bentanzo is also part of a state corrosion control advisory panel, which is tasked with advising water systems on how to treat water in a way that minimizes the impact to water quality from existing lead infrastructure. But questions about water testing and treatment remain. A Planet Detroit investigation found that many municipal water systems are often testing a small number of taps for lead, and they are including non-lead service lines in their compliance sampling, potentially giving residents a false sense of security about the safety of their water. (Bridge, MLive, WDET, MI Radio, Planet Detroit)

Permitting (in)justice: Residents of Detroit and other Michigan cities continue to endure high levels of air pollution, with a recent report showing that low-income and minority residents made up larger shares of the population in areas where air pollution permits were recently issued than in places that didn’t receive permits. One example of this is Detroit’s recently-expanded Stellantis facilities, which has received several air quality violations since it began operating last year. In response to these issues, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC) filed a civil rights complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency, saying that state Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) is continuing, “the discriminatory legacy of requiring communities of color to bear the disproportionate burden of the industrial pollution generated by all of society.” It’s unclear what impact complaints like this may have on Michigan’s permitting decisions, but after issuing a permit for an Ajax Asphalt plant in Flint, EGLE Director Liesl Clark asked EPA Administrator Michael Regan for guidance on responding to environmental justice concerns. “…The permit action taken today (on Ajax Asphalt) highlights the limitations of federal and state environmental regulations in addressing the concerns raised by Flint residents,” she wrote. Nick Leonard from the GLELC says there is plenty the agency can do to address these concerns within current laws and regulations. (Freep)

It’s gonna get weird: If the past few years of dam failuresgreen ooze, repeated shoreline collapses and mysterious eruptions of soil have shown us anything, it’s that bizarre disruptions are likely as the accelerating climate crisis collides with Michigan’s history of pollution and disinvestment. “The underlying order is chaos,” the movie “Slacker” once told us, only now chaos is being compounded by historic rainstorms, fluctuating lake levels and smoke blowing in from thousands of miles away. This doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things citizens can do to help themselves and their neighbors prepare for disasters, but a certain mental flexibility may be needed as these events multiply. Californian Alex Steffen described this as being “trans-apocalyptic” or becoming “native to now,” in other words learning to accept the discontinuity brought on by the crises of climate change and adapting to the “constant engagement with ecological realities” like wildfires or flooding. Things are only likely to get stranger from here. (Belt, MI Radio, Freep, Great Lakes Now, Austin Chronicle, Bridge, NY Times) 


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