04.22.16

Detroit Free Press: Peters, Stabenow want action on Downriver air quality

WASHINGTON – Michigan’s U.S. senators wrote the nation’s top environmental official Friday asking her agency to implement a plan for reducing sulfur dioxide and other pollutants in Wayne County if the state of Michigan does not do so in the next two months.

Three years ago, a section of Wayne County stretching from Detroit south along the Detroit River past Trenton was found to have sulfur dioxide levels above federal standards, triggering a requirement for the state to submit a plan for controlling those pollutants by April 2015.

A year after that deadline, however, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality still hasn’t submitted a plan, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow wrote Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy on Friday.

Last month, the EPA noted that the state DEQ -- as well as environmental agencies in several other states with areas out of attainment -- had not yet submitted a plan as required but Peters and Stabenow, both D-Mich., argued in their letter to McCarthy for the agency to take action in the near future to force a plan to be implemented, noting that a draft plan released by the state last August “did little to determine how this non-attainment area would meet national air quality standards.”

“Residents of Wayne County simply cannot afford to wait for the process to drag on any longer,” the senators wrote. “Detroit and Wayne County residents are at risk of exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide, which is well documented to cause significant respiratory and cardiovascular problems.”

The EPA acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not respond to it. MDEQ officials, meanwhile, said they have already signaled to the federal agency their intention to submit a plan to the EPA next month and that it will include actions to be taken at DTE facilities downriver, as well as at Carmeuse Lime & Stone in River Rouge and at U.S. Steel on Zug Island.

The letter from Peters and Stabenow comes at a time when both the EPA and, more specifically, MDEQ, are under scrutiny for their handling of the public health crisis in Flint, where high levels of lead have been detected in the water. Two DEQ officials, along with one Flint officials, were criminally charged in connection with that crisis this week.

As the Free Press has reported, the state DEQ has been criticized by some who believe it puts business interests over public health concerns.

Last month, officials from Detroit and Marathon Oil’s southwest side refinery -- located in the non-attainment area -- reached an agreement under which the company said it would not increase sulfur dioxide emissions as it expanded its facility. But that was only after the state DEQ had earlier said it intended to approve Marathon’s request to increase those emissions and others. City and county leaders pressured Marathon not to increase emissions in what is considered the state’s most polluted zip code.

In their letter to McCarthy, the senators said the crisis in Flint has damaged trust in the state agency and that the EPA needs to take urgent action if there is no air quality plan in place soon.

“In light of continued delays, as well as a lack of action in responding to the Flint water emergency, we are concerned that the MDEQ is not fully committed to this process,” the senators wrote. “If the EPA finds that the state and private stakeholders are unable to work expeditiously to develop an effective implementation plan by the end of spring, we urge you to move forward.”


By:  Todd Spangler
Source: Detroit Free Press