Community residents raised concerns about a permit request submitted by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) for both their Detroit Assembly Complex Mack Plant and their Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP) in an online hearing held Wednesday by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).
The request was to make modifications to the assembly line at the Mack plant, and to install a new coating line and modify equipment at JNAP.
In order for EGLE to grant the permit, FCA modeling has to show compliance with air quality emission standards for pollutants like volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide.
“My trust with FCA as a corporate entity doing the right thing, as far as self-monitoring is real low,” Gregg Newsom, activist and local resident, told Planet Detroit. FCA conducts its own monitoring to prove it is meeting standards, and Newsom pointed to FCA’s recent $800 million dollar settlement in 2019 — the company was sued for tampering with its technology to produce lower emission results—as evidence.
Bihn Phung, a Detroit resident who lives on Beniteau St. next to the plant, told Planet Detroit that he wants to see source monitoring, instead of regional monitoring. “After you dilute it, it seems fine,” he said. “However at the source, where the Beniteau residents are living, it may be very high and nobody knows.”
In the hearing, Dave Thompson, an EGLE employee who reviewed the permit request, said that FCA is “required to do testing to verify that the emission rates of particulate matter coming out of their stacks matches what was modeled.” He added that multiple layers of filtering required on the stacks worked to ensure air quality standards are met.
A 2019 survey performed by the Eastside Resident Environmental Health Working Group, found that the asthma rate in the FCA impact zone was three times as high as the state average, and twice as prevalent as Detroit’s average.
The FCA Neighborhood Advisory Council, established to represent the neighborhood as part of the city’s community benefits process, was also critiqued during the hearing. FCA entered into a Community Benefits Agreement in April, 2019 as part of its expansion deal with the city.
The council is made up of nine people, seven of which are appointed. The other two were elected in a voting process. All committee members are required to live in the impact area, but some still felt the committee wasn’t a fair representation of the community and those impacted.
“All of them except one live in gated communities,” Newsom told Planet Detroit, also noting that most of them live on the east side of the plant.
“It’s also important that this forum, and EGLE, recognize the impact of racism and public policy and regulation on black and brown communities,” Newsom said in the hearing. “Consider the cumulative impact of what FCA is doing here, the historical impact, and look at the public health crisis that is happening in the midst of this decision, especially with COVID-19.”
The meeting was attended by almost 40 people, and there were eight EGLE employees on the panel.
“There are a number of unfulfilled requests from the community,” Senator Stephanie Chang said in the hearing.
Demands previously released from the Just Beniteau residents’ group included more money to make repairs to their houses, for Beniteau residents to be prioritized in a home repair program included, and for the needs of residents in multifamily housing to receive resources, among other items.
The public comment period closes on September 18th. Comments may be submitted by U.S. Mail to the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Air Quality Division, Permit Section, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7760, by email at: EGLE-AQD-PTIPublicComments@michigan.gov, or by calling: 517-284-0900.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality offers a hotline that community members can call with complaints about air quality.