Here comes 2023!

Last week Planet Detroit recapped some of the most important stories of 2022. Here are the stories we’ll be keeping a close eye on in the coming year:

Will DTE clean up its act? One of the most consequential climate and energy justice issues this year is likely to be DTE Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which shows how the utility will provide power over the next two decades. The Union of Concerned Scientists said that the IRP fails to meet the state’s climate plan goals, including eliminating coal use by 2030. DTE won’t shut down the last of its coal-fired power plants until 2035. “There’s only so much that I as an individual can do (to) reduce my carbon footprint if the electricity we, as Michiganders, rely on remains dirty,” Sara Kendall of Ann Arbor said during a recent public hearing. Advocates may find some hope in the Michigan Public Service Commission’s recent move to reduce DTE’s requested rate hike by 90%. This was the most significant reduction in at least a decade. (Crain’s, Planet Detroit)

Will EGLE hold polluters to account? An open question for environmental advocates is whether Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will keep issuing permits for air pollution infractions such as the frequent ones at Stellantis. Will stricter fines or enforcement actions be carried out? Civil rights complaints were lodged against the agency over the permits for Stellantis and an asphalt facility on the Flint border. Residents and environmental groups said the actions affected communities of color. Following the midterms, some hope that Democratic control in Lansing could mean new laws to protect frontline communities and stricter enforcement. Yet, for now, east siders will have to wait to breathe cleaner air. A recent consent agreement between EGLE and Stellantis for air quality violations included fines and a plan for correcting the company’s air quality violations, but the proper pollution controls for the Mack plant’s paint shop still won’t be in place until the end of June 2023. (WDET, Planet Detroit, MI Radio)

Will Detroit return to water shutoffs? Detroit could return to water shutoffs for non-payment in 2023. A moratorium on disconnections expires at the end of the year, although groups the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a motion in district court to prevent the city from returning to the practice. “Our lawsuit shows that water shutoffs are devastating to poor families, with a particular impact on Black families, in violation of civil rights laws,” Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s Racial Justice Project, said in a statement. Programs help Detroiters maintain service, including the recently launched Lifeline Plan, where residents can pay as little as $18 a month to maintain service. But some have reported difficulties signing up for the program, which also caps water usage at 4,500 gallons a month. Between 2014 and 2020, Detroit shut off water to more than 141,000 accounts. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Denise Fair Razo, Detroit’s chief public health officer, said, “the Detroit Health Department has found no association between service interruptions and an epidemic of any reportable communicable disease.” Health experts refuted the statement at the time, and subsequent research showed shutoff moratoriums significantly lowered the rate of COVID infections. (Freep, Bridge Detroit, Bridge, Planet Detroit)

Where’s the next concrete facility? Residents scored a recent win in Detroit’s Core City neighborhood when Detroit officials denied a permit to a business looking to crush concrete there, although the company could appeal the decision. Another, Moroun-owned concrete operation on the Detroit River is seeking a similar permit, posing a threat to riverfront parks and the Detroit RiverWalk. A long-term permit from the city for this project could give the Morouns leverage to force the city council to approve a land deal needed to build a second span for the Ambassador Bridge or even approve the sale of the Port of Detroit property to the Morouns. And earlier this year, residents of Detroit’s Cadillac Heights neighborhood criticized the Moroun-owned Crown Enterprises for attempting to force them out of the area, where the company is also building a concrete facility. Why the sudden hunger for concrete? “Between rebuilding Michigan and all of the work that’s ongoing in Metro Detroit with I-696, I-275 and I-75…lots of projects have created more of a demand for all materials,” said Jeff Cranson, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation. Wayne County Executive Warren Evans criticized efforts to place these facilities in the city’s heart, saying the dust they produced was a public health threat and that companies were deliberately endangering residents to save money on transportation. (Bridge Detroit, Planet Detroit, Detroit News, Freep)

Will the heat and flooding return? Metro Detroit suffered through some hot days and localized flooding in 2022, but not disasters comparable to the widespread basement flooding of 2021. Yet, climate scientists warn that these disasters will return. Detroit could see 56 days above 90 degrees by mid-century, up from the present number of 21, and will likely experience heavier rainfall and more frequent flooding. Officials in metro Detroit are rolling out infrastructure projects to help sequester stormwater and prevent flooding, but these are not likely to match the scale of rain events like the area experienced in June 2021. It’s also doubtful the region has done enough to prepare for a heatwave, which could be especially deadly if accompanied by a power outage. This year, storms caused days of outages for some DTE customers, a problem that has been hitting low-income and minority neighborhoods hardest in what some are calling ”utility redlining.” (Planet Detroit, Guardian)

Where will the next toxic spill strike?  We expect the toxic legacy of Michigan’s industrial past continued to surface in 2023, hopefully not as spectacularly as when “green ooze” appeared on I-696 in 2019. Still, Ann Arbor received a scare when Wixom-based Tribar Technologies spilled hexavalent chromium into a tributary of the Huron River, the primary source of the city’s drinking water. Ann Arbor is already paying $150,000 a year to treat PFAS being discharged by the same company. Michigan’s 24,000 contaminated sites virtually guarantee that these problems will continue. But there appears to be some momentum building for Democratic lawmakers to pass a new polluter pay law in 2023, a move that could help fund cleanup at some sites and prevent pollution going forward. (MI Radio, MLive, Detroit News, Planet Detroit)

If we don’t build it, will they come? As the West deals with historic drought and wildfires, the South is buffeted by hurricanes, and much of the U.S. becomes increasingly, uncomfortably hot, Michigan is starting to look pretty good. “The whole world is going to want to come here or take our water. We cannot let that happen. But what we can do is have a strategic plan for population growth and management of our natural resources,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Yet, Michigan already has a shortage of affordable housing, and many areas struggle to provide affordable and safe drinking water. And the state will continue to experience its own climate-related disasters that need to be addressed, which could be exacerbated if newcomers place additional stress on resources like stormwater systems, energy infrastructure and cooling centers. Building denser residential developments in towns and cities may help meet the state’s challenge of accommodating new and existing residents, delivering services more efficiently, and allowing ample room for greenspace. City climate plans, like the one Ann Arbor recently passed a millage for, could be critical for making sustainability goals a reality and pushing for a livable future. (MLive)


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