From the Headlines- Aug 29 – Sept 2

Rate hike? While DTE Energy pushes for a nearly 9% rate hike, roughly 370,000 residents lost power after heavy storms on Monday. And on Wednesday around 200,000 were still without power with DTE predicting some would have to wait until Saturday to be reconnected. Downed power lines also resulted in the death of a 14-year-old girl in Monroe, while an 8-year-old boy in Warren was badly injured. The Citizens Utility Board of Michigan found that Michigan is worse than many states regarding the number of power outages per customer, duration of outages, and the time it takes to restore power. And DTE ranked second worst among state power suppliers for lengthy restoration times, according to the group’s 2021 utility performance report. “Why should we be paying higher rates when the service is, and has been, poor all along?” Citizens Utility Board president Keith Cooley said. “They need to start taking that (money) out of the stockholders and the company itself until they get to a place where customers are getting the kind of service they expect. Clean, reliable and affordable service.” People who experienced prolonged outages can apply for a $25 credit. (Freep, MI Radio, Detroit News)

Environmental racism: A congressional field hearing was held on Detroit’s east side to examine the disparate impacts of polluting industries on predominantly Black communities. “Our current environmental permitting and enforcement systems are sacrificing Black, brown, and immigrant and low-income, working-class communities for the profits of U.S. polluters,” said U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib. “We have an urgent and moral duty to build new systems and structures that put our health and environment first.” Environmental advocates called on Congress to change how industries are regulated, taking into account cumulative impacts rather than looking at each company in isolation. Jamesa Johnson-Greer, executive director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, said communities impacted by environmental injustice also need to be given greater voice in the decision-making process for new projects. (Metro Times)

Pollution hotspots: Community groups in and around Detroit are building a network of air quality monitors to better understand pollution from trucking and other sources. Although residents have successfully lobbied for the state to install monitors at several locations mostly around Southwest Detroit, they are expensive and take longer to install than the devices community groups use. “The state’s never going to be able to do that level of monitoring in all the locations that it needs to,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the nonprofit Ecology Center. “We could have literally hundreds and hundreds of monitors throughout the county with a lot more detail. That allows us to pick up hot spots, it allows us to identify areas where we’ve got issues with truck traffic.” These monitors could give insight into neighborhood-level concerns like the scheduled demolition of Detroit’s incinerator, which has raised concerns about contamination in the Poletown East neighborhood. (Detroit News, Planet Detroit/Bridge Detroit)

Toxic land: A Michigan farmer is suing Tribar manufacturing, the company responsible for contaminating the Huron River with toxic PFAS chemicals, as well as hexavalent chromium. Jason Grostic’s land and cattle were contaminated by the so-called “forever chemicals” after applications of municipal wastewater sludge, which were used as fertilizer. “The farm is useless. It’s been in the family for over 100 years and now they quite literally cannot do anything on this land,” said Kyle Konwinski, an attorney at the Varnum law firm. Officials from Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) say PFAS contaminants were so high on the farm because Grostic used a large amount of sewage waste and grew his own cattle feed, allowing the chemicals to bioaccumulate in the livestock. However, Grostic believes the problem is more pervasive, saying he knows of four other farmers who were using sewage sludge from the Wixom plant at the same time as him. Environmental advocates have been raising alarms for years that “biosolids” fertilizer from wastewater treatment plants could contaminate farmland across the state. (MLive, Metro Times)

Black farmers: Black farmers in Michigan were hoping to get some financial relief from the American Rescue Plan Act that promised $4 billion in debt relief for farmers of color, who have faced historical discrimination when trying to obtain loans and federal aid. But lawsuits claiming the program discriminated against white people blocked the program and efforts to include a similar initiative in the Inflation Reduction Act were also abandoned. Remi Harrington from Zoo City Farm and Food Network in Kalamazoo is working with the National Young Farmers Coalition on the “One Million Acres” campaign, pushing lawmakers to spend $2.5 billion on creating equitable access to farmland. Black farmers only own around 1% of U.S. farmland, having lost 80% of their land between 1910 and 2007. (MLive)

Mineral rush: Ford Motor Company is pushing the federal government to fast-track permits for mining battery components like lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes various incentives to increase domestic production of these minerals. But a proposed nickel mine in Minnesota has drawn concern from members of Indigenous communities who worry about the leaching of sulfuric acid and heavy metals into rivers and lakes, including areas where they harvest wild rice. “We were here first,” said Jean Skinaway-Lawrence, member of the Sandy Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa. “We should be heard.” (Detroit News, NY Times)

Years of neglect: Mississippi declared a state of emergency after Jackson’s main water treatment facility began to fail and officials say residents in the majority-Black city will be without running water for an extended period. Heavy rains and flooding on the Pearl River damaged the city’s main pumps, leaving water pressure so low that residents can’t take showers or flush toilets. B.ut local leaders say this crisis comes after years of disinvestment. A similar event occurred in 2021 when a cold snap caused pipes to burst, leaving thousands without water for weeks. “I have said on multiple occasions that it’s not a matter of ‘if’ our system would fail, but a matter of ‘when’ our system would fail…We don’t have the funds to deal with 30 years of neglect,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. He added that fixing the city’s water system could take billions of dollars. One resource for helping people in Jackson is available here. (Guardian, NPR)

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