From the Headlines

September 24 2020

forest trail in autumn

Another executive order? On Wednesday Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order on climate change with the goal of making Michigan carbon neutral by 2050. “This dangerous reality is already causing harm throughout Michigan, with communities of color and low-income Michiganders suffering disproportionately, which is why I’m taking immediate action to protect our state,” she said in a statement. It’s unclear how the executive order will affect residents and businesses, but the governor set an interim goal of a 28% reduction in carbon emissions–based on 1990 levels–for 2025. The newly formed Council on Climate Solutions will help the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) devise strategies to meet these targets. Jamesa Johnson-Greer of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition applauded the executive order, but said that it’s important for the new council to include those from the communities most impacted by environmental injustice like Flint, southwest Detroit and areas with extensive PFAS contamination. Apply to be a member of the council here. (Detroit Free Press)

US “Ecology”: As EGLE currently reviews a complaint that it violated civil rights law by allowing US Ecology to massively expand its hazardous waste facility on the Detroit/Hamtramck border, the agency has entered into a consent agreement with the company concerning odor violations at its other Detroit location. Between August 2019 and August 2020, EGLE verified five instances of “unreasonable nuisance odors” at US Ecology South, located at 1923 Frederick Street. According to the consent order, US Ecology must present a plan for monitoring odors and performing corrective actions as well as submitting quarterly reports to EGLE’s Materials Management Division. US Ecology may be subject to fines and penalties for future violations or failures to comply with the consent order. (EGLE)

Alley makeovers: Detroit is paying people to clean up alleyways around the city, part of a program launched in August to clear 500 alleys by the end of the year. The city is looking to hire 20 additional staff members to remove trash and debris, trim trees and do grading work to ensure alleys are passable. Positions offer starting pay of between $13 and $20 an hour, follow this link for more information. Block clubs and neighborhood associations can also request a cleanup by filling out this form. (WXYZ) 

Where’s the money? As part of a community benefits agreement, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) agreed to pay for $1.8 million in-home repairs for residents living near its expanded east side facilities, especially those on Beniteau Street. But U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib says that FCA has failed to pay for damage done to neighborhood homes as a result of construction. “I have heard firsthand from residents who feel like they’re being ignored and pushed out and it’s time FCA actually heard those concerns and addressed them properly,” Tlaib said in a statement. FCA says their responsibility is to pay for the repair program, and it’s the city’s job to actually administer those funds. Arthur Jemison from Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization department says the city’s work was delayed by COVID-19, but the repair work is now happening. (Detroit News)

COVID-19 surges on farms: At least 94 people tied to Todd Greiner Farms in Hart, Michigan have tested positive for COVID-19, part of a larger pattern of coronavirus outbreaks tied to farms. Workers say the farm failed to provide personal protective equipment and there was a lack of physical distancing in production facilities. Although the state enacted significant measures for testing and worker protection on farms, certain farmers and the Michigan Farm Bureau filed a lawsuit challenging these rules. Epidemiologists and advocates for farmworkers say that power dynamics and fear of deportation among a largely immigrant workforce can make it hard for them to speak out. (Freep)

Gross (but necessary)? The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and EGLE are partnering with municipalities, health departments and others on a $10 million pilot program to monitor wastewater for COVID-19. EGLE director Liesl Clark says that the monitoring could help predict outbreaks, especially in places with a high risk of transmission like colleges, nursing homes and prisons. (Oakland Press)

Bottle money: The Michigan Department of the Treasury announced that starting October 5, all retailers selling beverages in bottles and cans with a 10-cent deposit will be required to take these back. This reverses an earlier order that only required large retailers to accept returns. Stores may still limit returns to $25 a day, per-customer, and take returnables only during specific hours. (Free Press)

Making change: Tactical urbanism — the reconfiguring of public space in ways that sometimes fall outside of the law — is the subject of a piece in Detour looking at the installation of a non-sanctioned speed hump on Lichfield Street in Detroit’s Green Acres neighborhood and a proposal in Grosse Pointe Park for citizens to remove the walls that divide it from Detroit. These kinds of initiatives are one way for residents to circumvent an unresponsive or underfunded bureaucracy. They can also force change. The speed hump in Green Acres was removed by the city but then replaced with an officially sanctioned one. Noted: Green Acres is one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods. (Detour)

The big melt: Researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center say that sea ice has reached its yearly minimum in the Arctic with 1.44 million square miles of ocean covered, the second-lowest number on record. This year’s coverage is nearly a million square miles less than the average observed between 1981 and 2010. Scientists believe that Arctic summers could be essentially ice-less by the end of the century. The loss of sea ice can create rapid warming as water absorbs more heat than ice and snow. (NY Times)

Brian Allnutt is a writer living in Detroit. He covers open space, environmental justice, food and gardening.