From the Headlines, Sept. 26 – 30

Unreformed, for now: Facing pushback from progressive lawmakers and Republicans, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, pulled a permitting reform bill from a short-term government funding package. Progressives opposed the bill’s relaxing of permitting regulations for oil and gas projects, while Republicans wanted to loosen restrictions more. Juan Jhong Chung, climate justice director for the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, said the decision to remove the bill from the budget package was a victory for Black, brown, and Indigenous communities, but warned it could be added to upcoming legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act or the December Continuing Resolution Bill. (Vox)

Kickbacks: The Detroit Water and Sewer Department is getting a kickback for its endorsement of a homeowners insurance program for water and sewer lines that has drawn complaints for poor service. Insurance provider American Water Resources must pay DWSD 2% of its revenue from annual enrollments in return for its endorsement under an agreement with the department, DWSD spokesperson Bryan Peckinpaugh told Detroit Documenters. DWSD Director Gary Brown said he would unveil a plan to divert some of that funding to the Lifeline Plan which aims to base water rates on income and avoid shutoffs for nonpayment. The program has not yet identified a permanent source of funding. (Outlier Media, Detroit Documenters)

Public comment: Speaking of the Lifeline Plan,Detroit water rights group We The People of Detroit is encouraging residents to submit comments on the plan.  Comments are due TODAY, September 30. The group says that the plan is a “step in the right direction”, but that more needs to be done to ensure access like increasing the monthly water usage allowance for households and finding a permanent funding solution for water affordability in the city. 

Drawing scrutiny: As DTE Energy requests an 8.8% rate increase for residential customers, the Michigan attorney general’s office is looking into the utility’s practice of selling customer debt to a collections agency, an unusual move for a Midwest utility. The practice has led to lawsuits for customers, and some have had their wages garnished. Meanwhile, the utility has the highest shut-off rate of any investor-owned utility in the state, disconnecting customers for non-payment more than 200,000 times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Detroit council member Angela Whitfield Calloway says she plans to ask DTE to appear before City Council to answer questions about shut-offs, power outages and debt sales. Whitfield Calloway co-sponsored a resolution requesting the utility pause gas and electricity shut-offs for one year. (Planet Detroit, Outlier/ProPublica)

Drive time: Four times as many metro Detroiters have been working from home since 2019, but commuters are spending almost as much time driving as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. “Even something like a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic hasn’t had that profound of an effect on drive times,” said Jeff Horner, an urban studies and planning professor at Wayne State University. “There’s always going to be a relatively long commute because we live in this sprawled-out society.” Road construction on major freeways is likely contributing to the traffic problem along with a large number of small delivery vehicles, resulting from a shift in buying habits during the pandemic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is responsible for 27% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and 60% of this pollution comes from cars, S.U.V.s and pickup trucks. (Crain’s, NY Times)

Hills are real: The Belle Isle Nature Center reopened this week after a $2.5 million renovation that added mudpuppy habitat, a pollinator exhibit and a replica of the Detroit sewer tunnel, among other things. “We’ve completely reimagined a new nature center that puts the focus on urban wildlife,” Amy Greene, nature center director for the Detroit Zoological Society, said in a press release. Further down the river, “Ze Mound” has also reopened, a 25-foot high pile of dirt made of soil removed from the harbor in Milliken Park. Trees and wildflowers planted along its slope offer beauty while the topography serves to remind Detroiters that hills exist. (Freep, Detroit News)

Still recovering: Following the city’s lead drinking water crisis, Flint residents are dealing with a high mental health burden, according to a Duke University study. Five years after the crisis began, researchers estimated one in five adults to have clinical depression, and one in four were considered likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “We know that large-scale natural or human-caused disasters can trigger or exacerbate depression and PTSD,” said Dean Kilpatrick, a psychiatry professor at the Medical University of South Carolina and senior author of the study. “We did not know until now the extent to which Flint residents continued to have mental health problems at the clinical diagnosis level five years after the crisis began.” (Popular Science)

Is it climate change? On Thursday, officials were still trying to get a full picture of the damage from Hurricane Ian. President Biden said early reports indicate “what may be a substantial loss of life” in Florida. The storm followed a now familiar pattern of “rapid intensification,” with wind speeds that increased from 75 miles per hour to 155 mph over two days. Climate change could add to this phenomenon in a couple of ways. First, it’s making ocean waters warmer, which, along with moist air and low wind shear, is a significant driver for rapid intensification. Climate change is also warming the land faster than the ocean, creating a temperature gradient linked with rapid intensification along the Atlantic Coast. (NY Times, Vox)

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