Marathon oil vapor leak in SW, Detroit transit enters new era, Trump picks fights w/ car companies and NWS

September 13, 2019 | CO2 408.71 ppm <<

Photo via Marathon

Marathon oil refinery released toxic oil vapor cloud, I-75 ramps closed, 2 hospitalized, press conference planned for today

The Marathon oil refinery in southwest Detroit notified the Department of Homeland Security of an oil vapor leak at 1:38 p.m. on September 12. Third party workers were evacuated as the vapor cloud floated across I-75, prompting Melvindale Police to close ramps and the road between Dix and Fort Street. Two contract workers were hospitalized. WXYZ Detroit posted chopper video showing water being sprayed on the facility as workers looked on. The city of Detroit tweeted that the leak was under control at 2:38 pm and traffic has since returned to normal. The city of Detroit and the Detroit Fire Department both issued statements saying the cloud posed no danger to the public.

A press conference is planned for 10:30 am on September 13 at Cadillac Place, 3060 W. Grand Blvd. Detroit by community activists and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to demand “broad accountability for the repeated release of toxics in the air by Marathon Oil” according to a press release from the Sierra Club and the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition.

The zip code where the facility is located, 48217, is infamously known as “Detroit’s most polluted zip code.” According to most recent EPA Toxic Release Inventory data, the Marathon facility released 144,610 pounds of toxic chemicals in 2017. Marathon was most recently in the news in February 2019, when it was issued a violation by state regulators for noxious odors.

Is a new era dawning for public transit in Detroit?

In addition to writing about real estate, Curbed Detroit has recently been doing a good job reporting on the systems and services that either make life livable for Detroiters or—just as often!—make us want to stock up on BuzzBallz and hide out in our musty basements to watch old episodes of the New Dance Show. Aaron Mondry’s article on Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) bus service makes a case for adding this service to the plus column.

Basing the piece on his own ridership experiences, Mondry praises DDOT’s Transit app that allowed him to purchase bus-fair and plan his trip. He also has positive things to say about the cleanliness of the buses and free Wifi. Last week, Curbed published a a comprehensive guide to public transit in metro Detroit.

Public transit in Detroit still has a way to go, but it also suffers from a history of poor performance that became especially bad during the municipal bankruptcy of 2013.

Megan Owens from the transportation advocacy group Transportation Riders United (TRU) says that DDOT has gone from having an F grade on their group’s report card to “probably a C+”.

In order to get a ‘B’ or ‘A’ grade, Owens says DDOT will need to increase frequency and speed. In cities like San Francisco, buses arrive every 5 to 10 minutes at certain times of day. And in cities like Cleveland, they’ve instituted single priority or dedicated lanes.

In addition to reducing local air pollution and improving quality of life, efficient mass transit could also be a key to reducing global CO2 emissions.

Will such benefits ever extend into the larger region? New Oakland County executive Dave Coulter says yes, but we will see. We’ve been here before.

How serious is the “Great Lakes State” about protecting its water?

Life may well continue to exist without many things—including oil—but water is and will always be rather important. Luckily for Michigan, we have a lot of this stuff. And yet, according to Dave Dempsey and John Hartig, who penned an opinion piece in The Detroit News this past week, Michigan’s defining resource has often been abused or neglected:

For a state whose destiny is so intertwined with clean fresh water, it's surprising how Michigan has lagged in treasuring and protecting this resource in the past.

Dempsey and Hartig credit the environmental reforms of the 1970s for initiating dramatic improvements to Michigan’s waterways. But they say the size of the Great Lakes—which contain roughly 20% of the world’s freshwater—should make them the pre-eminent laboratory for how this resource is managed, making it the “de facto freshwater capital of the world”.

However, as much as water quality has improved in the region, each week brings new threats. To wit:

The climate crisis is an essential factor in all of these issues, potentially exacerbating the effects of algal blooms and making water itself a more precious resource. All of this forces the question of what Michigan is getting for its involvement with companies like Nestle or Enbridge, and how changes to regulations will affect the water that will continue to define this place.

Trump accuses car companies of “illegal conspiracy” to fight climate change with fuel efficiency, picks fight with National Weather Service

It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all of the environmentally dangerous steps taken by the Trump administration from allowing logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to issuing an executive order to limit the ability of state to fight oil and gas pipelines. This week, Trump renewed his attack on Obama’s fuel efficiency standards, which were being adopted by the state of California and a number of automakers. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Jody Freeman describes this as:

…a senseless exercise of apparent presidential pique. Worse, it threatens to undo what would be the country’s most important climate achievement, the doubling of vehicle fuel efficiency to about 55 miles per gallon by 2025.

Among the more extreme aspects of this, the Department of Justice may charge Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen with “illegal conspiracy” for their efforts to comply with California’s rules.

In addition to taking on auto companies, Trump also declared war on THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE this past week after its office in Birmingham, Alabama contradicted his claim that Hurricane Dorian could affect Alabama. Reports say that Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross ordered the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to issue a statement rebuking the Birmingham office.

By compromising the independence of NOAA—whose science citizens and outlets like Planet Detroit routinely rely on—the Trump administration risks creating a crisis of trust. Experts and ordinary people use NOAA’s data for understanding long-term issues like climate change, but also for responding to immediate threats like hurricanes.

“There is a price to pay for compromising NOAA’s independence,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The public is clamoring for information it can trust.”

ClimateProgress killed by liberal policy organization

In a move that we’re quite sure has no political or poetic resonance beyond the world of journalism, the liberal policy research and advocacy organization Center for American Progress (CAP), led by Neera Tanden—who once allegedly assaulted a reporter for asking Hillary Clinton a question about her support for the Iraq War—announced that it would shut down the ThinkProgress website and its ClimateProgress section, putting its unionized workforce out of work.

Former ThinkProgress reporter Emily Atkin recounts this saga in her excellent Heated newsletter, which focuses on the climate crisis.

Although CAP says it shut the site down because it was losing money, former writers point out it was never intended to be a profit-making venture. Atkin points out that ClimateProgress became an important voice when many news outlets had dialed back their environmental reporting. It also perhaps represents where some leading figures in Democratic politics stand when it comes to environmental issues and unionized workers.

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