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Sierra Club Calls on EPA to Hold MDEQ & Michigan Polluters Accountable

MDEQ Approval of DTE Permits Outrages Community, Sierra Club and EarthJustice


The Sierra Club, EarthJustice, and a coalition of community leaders strongly condemned the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for its decision last Friday to sign off on DTE Energy’s draft permits for the dirty and aging River Rouge and Trenton Channel coal plants. These permits were approved without requiring the significant reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions from those plants that are necessary to bring Wayne County into compliance with the federal 1-hour SO2 National Ambient Air Quality Standard.

“MDEQ has demonstrated yet again that it is not willing to take the steps that its own analysis has shown are needed to bring air quality in Wayne County into compliance with public health standards. It is shameful that the state won’t do what is necessary to protect the communities in Detroit and downriver,” said Regina Strong, Michigan Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “We can only hope that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will step in and do what MDEQ apparently lacks the political will to do – require meaningful reductions in sulfur dioxide air pollution from DTE’s dirty and aging coal plants.”

“We deserve safe air to breathe. This is a basic human right, and MDEQ is not protecting us. We need the EPA to step in now,” said Ebony Elmore, River Rouge resident and childcare provider. “Earlier this year, we had hundreds of people calling for the MDEQ to reject these permits. It’s not right to let big corporate polluters continue to threaten the health of our families without being held accountable.”

According to State Representative Stephanie Chang, curing the SO2 nonattainment is critical to the health and wellbeing of the people who live in her district.

“The concerns that community members share with me are overwhelmingly about their health and the health of their children,” said Rep. Chang. “DTE is one of several industries present in this area and the cumulative impact of pollution is devastating to the health of people in this region. We need to realign our priorities and put people first. By allowing SO2 levels to remain out of attainment, we are putting lives at risk.”

Detroit-based DTE Energy is responsible for at least 85 percent of Wayne County’s sulfur dioxide pollution, with the River Rouge and Trenton Channel coal plants being the major contributors. In 2010, the U.S. EPA finalized a new 1-hour sulfur dioxide National Ambient Air Quality Standard to help protect people from such pollution. In 2013, a significant portion of Wayne County was identified as one of 29 areas through the country that are out of compliance with the 2010 standard. As a result of that finding, MDEQ was legally required to present a plan by April 6, 2015 to bring Wayne County into compliance with the standard.

In June 2014, MDEQ issued a draft plan that, with a few small improvements, would have achieved compliance by requiring stringent hourly limits on sulfur dioxide emissions from the River Rouge and Trenton Channel coal plants, along with other pollution sources in the area. The agency, however, has apparently abandoned that draft plan and, instead, is moving ahead with a far less stringent plan that its own analysis shows will not bring Wayne County into compliance. Given MDEQ’s failure to meet the April 6, 2015 deadline, the U.S. EPA may, under federal law, issue its own plan to bring Wayne County into compliance.

Sulfur dioxide is known to trigger respiratory symptoms like asthma attacks and cardiovascular problems like chest pain. According to a 2014 American Lung Association report, Wayne County has the highest number of pediatric asthma cases in Michigan and an asthma hospitalization rate that is three to six times higher than the state as a whole. In 2015, Detroit moved up to #4 from #10 on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s list of Asthma Capitals. In addition, Detroit’s downriver communities, deemed the “Epicenter of Asthma Burden” by the Michigan Department of Community Health, have a long history of enduring the impacts of heavy industrial pollution.


Campaign Name: Beyond Coal


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