From the Headlines- June 13 – 17

Dancin’ in the streets: In 2014, amid Detroit’s bankruptcy, the Detroit Water & Sewer Department abruptly shut off water service to tens of thousands of Detroit residents for nonpayment. Since then, activists like the People’s Water Board Coalition, We The People Detroit and Hydrate Detroit have been clamoring for the city to stop shutting off water to low-income residents and adopt a water affordability plan to index water rates to income. They got their first wish in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted city officials to restore water to thousands of residents as a public health measure. But getting DWSD to agree to adopt an income-based water affordability plan – like the one Philadelphia has adopted – has been more of a challenge. In September of 2020, DWSD spokesperson Bryan Peckinpaugh told Planet Detroit that an income-based plan like Philadelphia’s was not feasible in Detroit. “An income-based rate shifts the cost to other ratepayers,” Peckinpaugh said. “In Detroit, 73% of the population is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, in which case an income-based rate would harm many Detroiters. The better alternative is state and federal financial assistance to supplement local water affordability programs for those in abject poverty.” 

But nearly two years later, the department appears to have changed course. At this week’s Detroit Water and Sewer Department’s Board of Water Commissioners meeting, DWSD Director Gary Brown announced he will “present an income-based affordability plan on Friday.” A follow-up email with Peckingpaugh confirmed Brown would meet with “water advocates about the new plan and also [have] a conversation on building a partnership-focused coalition that will aid in outreach and engagement.” For her part, longtime water advocate Monica Lewis-Patrick, from her bed after surviving a cardiac arrest last week, tweeted she was ready to dance in the streets of Detroit. We look forward to closely following this story. (Planet Detroit, Detroit Documenters, BridgeDetroit)

Heatwave: A heat dome parked over much of the central and eastern part of the country is producing record-breaking temps in parts of Michigan and high humidity. Residents of the Jeffersonian in Detroit were without air conditioning Tuesday; building management advised them to find alternative housing, offering a $400 July rent concession and a $200 prepaid debit card. So far, power has remained on in most places with some outages due to severe weather, according to DTE’s outage map. For tips on surviving this and future heatwaves, check out our Planet Detroit guide on Staying Safe and Cool in a Detroit Heatwave. (WaPo, Detroit News, Outlier Media, Planet Detroit)

Keeping the lights on: An early heatwave was not what Michigan needed after the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) warned that Michigan could see power shortages this summer. Will Michigan have the juice to keep fans and air conditioning running? The Michigan Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, says yes. Unlike some states, the MPSC requires investor-owned utilities to demonstrate they can meet peak demand four years into the future. However, even though Michigan may be less liable to outages caused by increased demand for energy than surrounding states, its power lines remain vulnerable to storms. Since 2000, the number of outages caused by extreme weather increased by 67% nationally, and Michigan suffered the highest number of power failures among all states.(Bridge Michigan)

Dust busting: A judge has denied an appeal from Marathon Petroleum that sought to excuse the company from monitoring required by Detroit’s fugitive dust ordinance. Marathon was the only bulk solids facility that sought a variance from the ordinance, which would involve the city monitoring for PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter) around the company’s coke processing unit for six months. The city will pay the $60,000 cost of the monitoring. Marathon’s Detroit refinery currently maintains four air monitoring stations that track several pollutants, but not PM 2.5. “It’s important that we find the sources, mobile or stationary, that are contributing to the high level of (particulate) matter in our air and reduce it,” said Theresa Landrum, a resident of southwest Detroit who pushed for the fugitive dust ordinance.  (Freep)

No safe level: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued new health advisories for several forms of PFAS chemicals, warning that the compounds are much more toxic than previously believed. However, the agency is only issuing advisories for four out of the roughly 9,000 types of the so-called forever chemicals, and the new advisories are not enforceable limits. “There’s no safe level for PFAS and science is telling us they don’t belong in our tap water,” said Emily Donovan, director of the Clean Cape Fear advocacy group in North Carolina. “There are still thousands of other PFAS out there. It’s time to regulate these ‘forever chemicals’ as a class and set an enforceable [limit] at 1 part per trillion (ppt).” Still, the new advisories mark a remarkable shift in the EPA’s guidance. Since 2016, the agency has used an advisory health limit of 70 ppt for the PFAS compounds PFOA and PFOS, while the new limits are 0.02 ppt and .004 ppt, respectively. The EPA says it will propose enforceable standards for these two chemicals and possibly others in the fall. Utilities would then be required to remove the compounds from drinking water, potentially leading to lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers like 3M, Chemours, and DuPont. (Guardian)

‘It’s alarming’: The EPA is sending coordinators to help Michigan officials respond to the spill of an oil-based substance on the Flint River. The state says there are several thousand gallons of a substance resembling motor oil spread across 10 miles of river. Flint Fire Chief Raymond Barton and Mayor Sheldon Neeley said that the spill had not affected drinking water. The city hasn’t used water from the Flint River for drinking since October 2015. Meanwhile, last week, another major spill occurred in the St. Marys River on the U.S-Canada border. The 5,300-gallon spill came from the Algoma Steel Mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Coast Guard officials determined the oil was “non-recoverable.” Environmental advocates said the events serve as a warning about the dangers of oil spills in the Great Lakes and the Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. “It’s alarming to hear of a second oil spill polluting Michigan waters in less than a week’s time and should be taken as a clear warning of the danger of oil pipelines in our waters,” said Bentley Johnson, federal government affairs director for the League of Conservation Voters. (MLive, Detroit News)


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