From the Headlines

Sept. 4, 2020

dripping water faucet

Sept. 4, 2020

Toxic justice? A recent decision to allow US Ecology to massively expand its toxic waste storage facility on the Detroit/Hamtramck border has led to a civil rights complaint from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC) and questions over Michigan’s priorities when it comes to environmental justice. This comes against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement that have intensified concerns over how burdens like air quality and water access disproportionately affect low income areas and communities of color. Monica Lewis-Patrick from water rights group We The People of Detroit points to Gov. Whitmers temporary moratorium on water shutoffs during the pandemic as a step in the right direction. But she and Nick Leonard from GLELC say the state needs to do more for environmental justice, including pursuing community benefits agreements with companies like US Ecology and accounting for cumulative impacts when giving permits to polluters. (Bridge Magazine)

Ancient plumbing: The University of Michigan and a company called Maryland Structural technologies are undertaking a project on Detroit’s east side that will test cement and polymer liners–both reinforced with steel–to see which might be best for repairing some of the city’s very old pipes. Sensors and monitors will be used to gauge how well these materials handle water pressure and changing temperatures. John Norton Jr., director of energy, research and innovation for the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) says that this type of monitoring has never been done anywhere else in the world. He believes it has the potential to help the water utility be more strategic in which pipes it replaces and prevent major failures, like the pipe break that caused a boil water advisory for 325,000 Oakland County residents in 2017. (Detroit Free Press)

Rollin’: A piece in Bridge Detroit explores the history of the former Uniroyal tire factory on the Detroit River. Currently, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is working on capping the site’s toxic soil. Once that’s complete, the site will then be added to the popular Detroit Riverwalk walking and biking trail and connect Belle Isle with downtown. For decades local businessman Larry Mongo and others tried to develop the site, meeting with varying degrees of cooperation and opposition by a succession of mayors. Now the DRC seems to be succeeding where others have failed. “It’s successful because [the RiverWalk] helps spur private development,” Conrad Kickert, a professor of urban design at the University of Cincinnati says. Or, it may also be “successful” because people enjoy it. (Bridge Detroit)

Marathon: On Wednesday, the department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) updated Detroiters on an agreement between Marathon Petroleum and the state that will have the company pay $82,000 in fines and improve air quality monitoring and filtering at the Mark Twain School for Scholars in the Boynton neighborhood. Justin Onwenu, an organizer for the Sierra Club, expressed support for the plan, but urged EGLE to make sure that higher grades of air filters are used in the school. Community activist Theresa Landrum pushed for Marathon to expand its agreement to maintain the filtration system beyond the current five-year commitment. (Detroit News)

Pennies for solar: Consumers Energy wants to cut the amount of money it pays customers with solar panels by 46%. Margrethe Kearney of the Environmental Law and Policy Center says users are entitled to more compensation, not less. “It keeps [Consumers Energy] from having to send [electricity] to my neighbor from some power station miles away, ” she says. “So it’s saving tons of use on the transmission and the distribution systems.” Her group is asking the Michigan Public Service Commission to study the costs and benefits of rooftop solar and keep the current “net metering” reimbursement rates for the time being. (Michigan Radio)

Testing farmworkers: Last month, Michigan farmers and the Michigan Farm Bureau presented a legal challenge to the state’s rules for mandatory COVID-19 testing and other protections for the state’s migrant farmworkers. They claimed the rules discriminated against the largely Latinx labor force, framing their desire to deny workers health care as a win for civil rights. But Diana Martin from the Michigan Immigrants Rights Centers says the challenge “created a false narrative that Latino workers don’t want to get tested (for COVID-19) and that they don’t need this protection.” Nevertheless, Michigan’s rule represents one of the more comprehensive efforts to protect agricultural workers in the nation, although Martin says many workers have complained that the rules are not being followed. (Civil Eats)

Manure: The Michigan Farm Bureau has also thrown their weight behind a challenge to the state’s new rules for how concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that deal with manure. Several Michigan environmental groups presented their support for the rules that would require CAFOs to get a permit before applying manure to fields as fertilizer. When applied while the ground is frozen, the animal waste–which is typically stored in lagoons–can more readily spill out into waterways, contributing to algal blooms and bacterial contamination. (MLive)

They’ll un-dam-it themselves: The state is making plans to partially breach the Tobacco River spillway to shore up a portion of the failed Edenville Dam, citing a lack of cooperation from dam-owners Boyce Hydro. “They’ve not met one deadline or milestone that we’ve asked,” EGLE director Liesl Clark says. Work on the Tobacco River spillway could help restore flow to downstream sections of the river and alleviate strain on the collapsed M-30 bridges as well as minimizing other upstream impacts. (MLive)

Do wolves need protection? The Trump Administration is looking to remove endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S. by the end of the year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has said that — aside from a small population of Mexican wolves — the animals are “biologically recovered,” according to USFWS director Aurelia Skipwith. But the Humane Society of the United States and other wildlife groups believe that the animals are still vulnerable. (Detroit Free Press)

Heatwave Harry? In the Heated newsletter, Emily Atkin asks why hurricane Laura–which recently devastated parts of Louisiana–had a name, but a subsequent heat wave in the state did not. Of course, the two events could work in combination to endanger residents as those deprived of shelter or air conditioning struggle to deal with a heat index that rose to 112 degrees in some places. Naming and even assigning a category level for significant heat events like this might be one way to communicate the threat posed by high temperatures, which in 2019 resulted in more deaths than any other extreme weather event, including hurricanes. Metro Detroit saw its share of hot days over the summer, including one in early July where Metro Detroit saw multiple days over 90 degrees. Most places in the lower peninsula had five to seven more 90-degree days compared to long-term averages. (Heated, MLive)

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