From the Headlines— March 7 – 11, 2022

Energy burdens: Late fees add to the utility burden for households already dealing with energy affordability, poor insulation, and damage from natural disasters. In 2017, African American families spent 43% more on energy bills than white households. Michigan’s two largest utilities, DTE and Consumers, have a 2% late fee, the highest charge allowed under state law. In 2020, Kentucky enacted a moratorium on late fees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Kentucky Public Service Commission later concluding that “late fees have little discernible effect on the timeliness of residential customer payments for utility service.” (Associated Press/Detroit News)

Flood insurance: Over 360,000 Michigan properties have a 26% chance of severe flooding over the next 30 years, according to Fortunately, the Free Press is here to offer an explainer on some different forms of flood insurance. These include:

  • “Flood”: Water outside the home. Homeowners can assess their risk for this using the flood mapping tool.
  • Backup: Many metro Detroiters experienced sewer backups last summer, and although it isn’t part of standard homeowners insurance, you can usually add this by making a special endorsement.
  • Seepage: Water coming in through the basement walls is a less common issue than the other two forms of flooding, and homeowners may need to consult with an insurance agent to see if they’re covered, or this coverage can be tacked on. (Freep)

Water works: Highland Park is looking to revive its water plant and distribution system as it deals with $52 million in debt owed to the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) for unpaid water and sewer bills. City officials argue that GLWA overcharged them. In 2012, the state shut down the city’s water treatment plant, citing turbidity or cloudy water, and it could cost the city as much as $100 million to turn its taps back on. First, Highland Park would need to replace 60 miles of water distribution lines and upgrade its water treatment plant. Although some question the need for a city of 9,000 to have it’s own water department, Damon Garrett, director of the Highland Park water department, says it’s necessary. “If I get in a brand new plant, maybe I control my destiny a little bit more,” he said. “It’ll cost the same or less than I’m currently being charged to have somebody else manage our water system, and be able to have free rein over establishing the rates to where they want them to be.” Garrett says the city is exploring “grants, principal forgiveness and negative-interest loans” to obtain the necessary financing. (Detroit News)

High on water? Looks like there are loads of drugs, some of them recreational, contaminating area waterways. These include nicotine, cocaine, antibiotics, acetaminophen, and metformin, a diabetes drug. Researchers from Wayne State and the University of Florida were able to find these so-called “contaminants of emerging concern” because of advances in testing technology. The researchers also found artificial sweeteners, pesticides, and PFAS compounds in several water samples. Wastewater treatment plants are often unable to remove pharmaceutical contaminants that humans don’t fully break down. More research is needed to see what environmental impacts some of these substances could have. Caffeine, for example, is shown to cause anxiety and toxicity in fish and other species. (Freep)

Public relations: An editorial in the Lansing City Pulse has some choice words for Dick Peffley, general manager for the Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL). The BWL’s power station in Delta Township has been contaminating groundwater and potentially drinking water wells and municipal systems. The Erickson Power Station’s coal ash ponds have leaked boron, lithium and other substances since 2020. So far, the six wells the utility has been ordered to test have come back showing potentially dangerous levels of boron. City Pulse says Peffley has tried to manage the situation with a PR campaign. “While the state orders at least another 60 wells to be tested BWL still doesn’t have a handle on the pollution plume’s size or location, how many drinking water wells are contaminated in the nearby vicinity or how long its neighbors have been sipping on and showering in boron water,” the editorial says. (City Pulse) 

Farm belt: Ann Arbor is looking to expand its greenbelt program, which has conserved over 6,700 acres of farmland and open space over the last two decades, to begin purchasing farms and reselling them to beginning farmers while maintaining conservation easements. “We’re seeking to help new and beginning, historically underserved and socially disadvantaged farmers,” said Remy Long, manager of the city’s greenbelt program. The program could help farmers of color access expensive land around cities that offers the best market access. Michigan State University Extension has a list of more than 180 beginning farmers from historically underserved groups in Southeast Michigan. (MLive)

Why we have rules: Oil industry groups are pushing back against a rule that compels companies to increase monitoring of pipelines in sensitive areas like the Great Lakes. “Unusually Sensitive Areas fall under stricter regulations as to how an operator has to maintain the integrity of the pipe, which would lower the possibility of a failure,” explained Bill Caram, executive director of the group Pipeline Safety Trust. The industry groups American Petroleum Institute and GPA Midstream petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals to review the rule and prevent it from being enforced in the interim. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Michigan, causing more than $1 billion in damage and sending around 843,000 gallons of oil into the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River. (MI Radio, Belt) 


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