Three Things Thursday: March 2, 2023
Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the March 2, 2023 edition of Three Things Thursday!
This week’s Three Things includes an update on the East Palestine, OH, train derailment disaster and the shipping of hazardous waste to Michigan; Michigan LCV’s work to hold our electric utilities accountable after hundreds of thousands of Michiganders lost power for days; and information on the “Progressive Summit” held in Oakland County last weekend. Let’s jump in!
1. Hazardous waste shipped to Michigan communities…and then quickly halted
Last weekend, news broke that – following the recent Norfolk Southern freight train derailment and environmental disaster in East Palestine, OH – hazardous waste was being shipped to Michigan communities for disposal. These shipments, full of carcinogens (notably vinyl chloride), were sent to Romulus and Belleville/Van Buren, MI. Romulus is home to a toxic liquid waste injection site, which has been the subject of a decades-long fight by citizens first to try and prevent its siting and then to shut it down. The Belleville/Van Buren sites accept contaminated soil.
Needless to say, the news quickly raised deep concerns among many Michiganders, including US Representative Debbie Dingell, whose 6th congressional district stretches from Manchester on the west to Trenton/Grosse Isle on the east. In a statement issued on Feb. 24, Representative Dingell took aim at Ohio leadership for the lack of transparency and clear communication around shipments to Michigan:
We were not given a heads up on this reported action. Our priority is to always keep the people we represent safe. We are making inquiries of EPA, DOT, Norfolk Southern, U.S. Ecology, the state of Ohio, and all others involved to understand what is being shipped, whether these are approved storage facilities, the implications of this decision, and how we ensure the safety of all Michigan residents.”
Michigan LCV also released a statement, which you can read here.
The good news is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has halted all shipments of hazardous waste from East Palestine to Michigan. After taking over the clean up efforts from Ohio officials, the EPA is now responsible for finding ways to dispose of the toxic waste without endangering communities, whether in Ohio or elsewhere.
Media throughout the region has been clamoring to cover this fiasco. I was interviewed on the WILS Morning Wake-Up radio show yesterday morning.
You won’t be surprised to know I emphasized that Michigan should not be a dumping ground for toxic waste, especially from other states, and that taxpayers should not pay the price for large corporations, like Norfolk Southern, that deliberately cut corners when it comes to safety regulations. I can’t say I do a lot of AM talk radio, but the interview went well and I hope the listenership appreciated my candor.
Tomorrow, Representative Debbie Dingell will be the featured guest on the March 2023 edition of WEMUs 1st Friday Focus on the Environment. Program Director David Fair and I are eager to see what the Congresswoman has to say about this toxic topic (and many others). I invite you to tune in at 6:45 AM to check out the show.
2. Michigan’s electric utilities prioritize profits over people
Almost everyone I know in Lower and Southeast Michigan has been impacted in some way by the recent ice storm and subsequent widespread power outages. Between DTE and Consumers Energy, more than 763,014 homes and businesses were left in the dark amid freezing temperatures – some for more than a week – as severe weather proved once again that our power grid and our electric utilities are unreliable and unprepared to protect the health and safety of our communities. (NOTE: as of today hundreds of DTE and Consumers customers remain without power.)
You can read Michigan LCV’s full statement in response to the situation here.
Michigan LCV has been working to hold our electric utilities accountable for several years now, recognizing that DTE and Consumers provide some of the worst service and restoration times while charging the highest energy rates in the Midwest. Over the last several years, Michiganders in the Metro Detroit area have had to grapple with frequent, widespread power outages that spoil food in refrigerators and freezers, make the Internet inaccessible, endanger those who rely on life-saving, electrical medical devices, and basically make it impossible live in their own homes.
Meanwhile, DTE and Consumers have consistently sought to raise their energy rates. Just last year, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) rejected DTE’s request to raise rates by more than $300 million, instead approving an increase of only 10%. And early this year, only days before the last catastrophic ice storm, DTE went back at the trough seeking another 19% rate increase – totalling $622 million, the highest single increase in state history – without having made any substantial improvements to service, reliability or restoration times. (Their request is pending with the Michigan Public Service Commission.)
In response to the most recent outages, some Michigan lawmakers are calling for DTE and Consumers to be held accountable, not only for their poor service record, but for their dark money political giving and lobbying influence, as well. On Wednesday, the Pontiac City Council unanimously passed a resolution that calls for hearings related to the outages and DTE/Consumers’ lobbying, and asks Lansing electeds to look into a “democratically accountable, state-run utility.” The good news is that Sen. Sean McCann, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, has indicated there will be hearings, and Representative Helena Scott, who chairs the House Energy, Communication & Technology Committee, has also indicated that more oversight is needed. In a statement released last Monday, Rep. Scott said:
Public safety is the immediate need we are focusing on; however, once things have settled down, rest assured that my colleagues and I are going to take a very close look at the utility companies and anyone who should be held accountable for things taking so long. We keep seeing more frequent intense storms, so we need improved infrastructure and well-prepared utilities to ensure fast restoration times during weather events like these.”
Michigan LCV is working closely with partners and elected leaders to catalyze action to hold DTE and Consumers accountable for their prioritization of profits over people. After so many outages, it is clear that DTE and Consumers Energy must invest into a clean, resilient energy grid to improve service and reliability and that work must start immediately.
If you are as upset about this situation as the hundreds of Michiganders we’ve interacted with over the past many days, I urge you to click here to send a message to your lawmaker. I would also be grateful if you would share this information with your family, friends and neighbors.
3. The Oakland County Progressive Summit
Last weekend, a number of Michigan LCV teammates attended the Oakland County Progressive Summit, a gathering that included countless partner organizations, community leaders, and local, state and federal elected leaders focused on addressing a myriad of social, environmental, economic, and climate justice priorities.
The second most populous county in the state (after Wayne County), Oakland County has been – and remains! – a big priority for Michigan LCV’s work. Over the past six years, we have built a strong Oakland presence and programs that focus on climate/energy/public transportation and electing champions to the state legislature and county commission. Dave Woodward, a long-time friend of our organization and former member of the state House of Representatives, now presides over the County Commission as chair; and he’s joined by a number of other Michigan LCV friends, including Marcia Gershenson (former MLCV board member) and Charlie Cavell (former Wolfpack member).
My Michigan LCV colleagues were instrumental in organizing last weekend’s summit, which took place in a church with no electricity or heat due to the widespread power outages. Bundled up in down coats and parkas, representatives from For Our Future, Sierra Club, Red Wine and Blue, Fems for Dems, Mothering Justice, Oakland Forward, and the Michigan Climate Action Network (among others) turned out in force, along with several members of the Oakland County Commission, State Senator Rosemary Bayer, and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.
Michigan LCV’s Advocacy & Outreach Director Victoria Stewart had this to say about her experience:
The summit was one of the most productive events I have attended in recent memory. The conversations focused on much-needed solutions that can be put into action at the county level to make real change. To show up to participate in these discussions in a building without power or heat is truly a testament to the dedication of our partner organizations, community leaders, and elected officials to create positive change.”
Gatherings like these always inspire me. I am reminded of the Dr Seuss quote….
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Thanks to my teammates – notably Lena Swirczek and Amani Johnson – and to the amazing community and elected leaders who took time to sit in an unheated building on a cold Michigan winter day to work on ways to make Oakland County a better, more welcoming, supportive and hospitable place for all.
Until next week, thank you for all you do to support our work. Please stay warm and safe. I hear there’s another snow storm headed our way…