Flint’s Not the Only Prob­lem in Michi­gan

A re­fin­ery in Detroit wants to in­crease toxic emis­sions “We should be push­ing for less pol­lu­tion, not more”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - POLITICS / POLICY - −Steve Friess

“Govern­ment failed you,” Michi­gan Gov­er­nor Rick Sny­der told his con­stituents in his an­nual State of the State ad­dress on Jan. 19. “You de­serve bet­ter.” The com­ments were ad­dressed specif­i­cally to the res­i­dents of Flint, who’ve been drink­ing and bathing in lead-con­tam­i­nated wa­ter for more than a year, af­ter the city be­gan us­ing its pol­luted river as its main wa­ter source to save money. “We will be there with long-term so­lu­tions for as long as it takes to make this right,” the gov­er­nor went on. Repub­li­cans gave Sny­der a stand­ing ova­tion. Democrats in the state­house were unim­pressed.

Nei­ther are some of the 7,000 res­i­dents liv­ing in and around the 48217 ZIP code in south­west Detroit, la­beled by the Detroit Free Press as the state’s most pol­luted. They’re get­ting no help from the state in their ef­forts to stop a Marathon Pe­tro­leum re­fin­ery from in­creas­ing emis­sions of sul­fur diox­ide and seven other toxic chem­i­cals. “Be­fore Flint, it was us, the down­river com­mu­ni­ties, that were and are be­ing pol­luted,” says com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer Theresa Lan­drum, who’s lived her whole life a cou­ple of blocks from the Marathon fa­cil­ity. “Now they want to give us more pol­lu­tion.”

Marathon, based in Find­lay, Ohio, wants to emit an ad­di­tional 22 tons of sul­fur diox­ide per year from the fa­cil­ity, an in­dus­trial com­plex that can re­fine 132,000 bar­rels a day. The com­pany says the in­creased emis­sions are the re­sult of pro­cesses it’s putting in place to meet new fed­eral reg­u­la­tions re­quir­ing the re­duc­tion of sul­fur in its gaso­line from 30 parts per mil­lion to 10 ppm by next year.

The Michi­gan Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity (DEQ) has said it be­lieves Marathon’s pro­posed emis­sions in­crease—a 9 per­cent jump over the 250 tons per year the com­pany says it now emits—will still fall within fed­eral and state lim­its. “We have cho­sen the most ef­fi­cient, ef­fec­tive man­ner to get­ting it done and within reg­u­la­tory re­straints,” says com­pany spokesman Ja­mal Kheiry. State Air Qual­ity Divi­sion Chief Lynn Fiedler is due to rule on Marathon’s ap­pli­ca­tion af­ter a pub­lic com­ment pe­riod ends on Jan. 29.

The 48217 ZIP code and its sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties al­ready sit un­der a gloomy pall of pol­lu­tion that, as a whole, ex­ceeds the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s air qual­ity stan­dards. Each year, heavy in­dus­try in the area throws off 16,000 tons of sul­fur diox­ide, a chem­i­cal as­so­ci­ated with res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems. Ac­cord­ing to a study from Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity re­leased in De­cem­ber, Detroit suf­fers the high­est rate of child­hood asthma among the coun­try’s 18 largest cities. “A lit­tle more pol­lu­tion in a place as pol­luted as Detroit can cause an out­sized ef­fect,” says Ab­dul El-Sayed, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Detroit’s Depart­ment of Health and Well­ness Pro­mo­tion. “We should be push­ing for less pol­lu­tion, not more.”

Fiedler and the DEQ, whose di­rec­tor and spokesman both re­signed in De­cem­ber over their roles in the Flint fi­asco, didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. Sny­der spokesman David Mur­ray in­sists the gov­er­nor isn’t turn­ing his back on the po­ten­tial for an­other en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis in Detroit. “The gov­er­nor cares deeply about all com­mu­ni­ties,” Mur­ray wrote in an e-mail. “Much of his ad­min­is­tra­tion has been fo­cused on restor­ing Detroit—the city and now the pub­lic schools.”

Along with the Marathon emis­sions in­crease, the DEQ is also weigh­ing a sim­i­lar re­quest from a nearby steel plant. The gov­er­nor’s of­fice says the de­ci­sions are out of his hands. “If the gov­er­nor felt strongly about this, he cer­tainly could make that clear within his ad­min­is­tra­tion,” El-Sayed says. “We’re putting our foot down: No more pol­lu­tion in the city of Detroit. We just can’t take it any­more.” The bot­tom line As it deals with the Flint cri­sis, Michi­gan con­sid­ers re­quests from in­dus­trial plants to in­crease emis­sions in a poor area of Detroit.

Cam­paign 2016

tons Ad­di­tional sul­fur diox­ide Marathon Oil wants to emit each year from its Detroit re­fin­ery

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