Detroit water affordability, DTE's green ambitions, PFAS in milk?

October 4, 2019 | CO2 2019/2018 407.84 / 405.33 ppm <<

DTE announces 2050 carbon neutrality goal

DTE Energy kicked off Clean Energy Week in Michigan with an announcement of its goal for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This would push the utility beyond its previous 80% carbon reduction goal for 2040, something it says can be achieved in part by “carbon capture, large-scale storage, and modular nuclear facilities”.

Solar industry trade website PV Magazine asks: “DTE’s zero-carbon pledge: Ambition or greenwashing?

Among the points raised by the article are DTE’s

  1. Use of 2005 as a baseline for hitting the 100% mark, something that will allow it to take credit in the future for reductions that have already occurred.

  2. Dependence on largely unproven carbon capture and storage technology.

  3. Continued advocacy for new natural gas infrastructure—which recently came under fire from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel for the way it seems to support DTE’s investments in natural gas at the expense of Michigan rate-payers. DTE net-zero commitment does not apply to its natural gas arm, DTE Gas Co.

Technological developments like battery storage are changing the calculus around renewables, and strategic investments could make the difference. But climate projections have changed in the last year to show that we have even less time to act than previously supposed. Although DTE’s net-zero goal aligns with the benchmarks set by the Paris agreement, experts say delaying action until after 2025 will have undesirable consequences.

Detroit considers a water affordability plan

As water shutoffs continue to make life difficult or even dangerous for Detroiters, Detroit City Council Pro Tem Mary Sheffield is pushing a slate of legislation called the “Peoples Bills” that seek to regulate surveillance technology, create job opportunities for city residents in construction, and offer a water affordability plan that would align with research saying no more that no more than 3% of a household’s income should go toward their water and sewerage bill.

This plan follows in the footsteps of cities like Philadelphia that have implemented affordability plans. Chicago’s mayor Lori Lightfoot recently discontinued water shutoffs in that city entirely, saying, "Water is a basic human right.”

The University of Michigan faces continuing criticism on carbon reductions, divestment 

As Miriam Francisco recently reported in this newsletter, U of M’s progress towards its 2025 goal of 25% emissions reduction has been stalled for years. Student groups like the Climate Action Group (CAM) and other local activists have been organizing protests to pressure the university into action. CAM has also been pushing the university to divest from fossil fuels and remove energy industry executives from the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, among other demands.

Francisco attended last Wednesday’s community forum in Ann Arbor hosted by the President’s Commission, where a number of attendees questioned the university’s lack of progress.

Francisco reports:

The event consisted of a question and answer session followed by small group discussions with members of the Commission’s Internal Analysis Teams. During the first portion of the forum, co-chairs Jennifer Haverkamp and Stephen Forrest explained the goals of the Commission and the importance of community input in reaching those objectives. “We need engagement from everybody, all segments of the University, to be successful,” she said. 

When an audience member asked about divestment, Forrest said the university’s financial policies and investments are outside the realm of the Commission’s work. “Our job is not to set university policy,” he said. 

Harrison Smith, a research associate at U-M in sustainable agriculture, was frustrated with the forum.

“While I appreciate the fact that the university has made a public commitment to pursue carbon neutrality, in my opinion they don't seem to be addressing some of the most critical issues,” he said.  “The University of Michigan currently has over 1 billion dollars invested directly in the fossil fuel industry, and they continue to increase these investments.” Smith says he believes the university must account for its investments in fossil fuels as part of its carbon calculations.  

Smith also attended the breakout session about campus culture and communication.

“I thought the smaller session was useful in that it gave the public direct access to some of the members of the commission,” he said. “The leaders of the Internal Analysis Teams seemed receptive to input and committed to their charge.”

Students and Commission members are trying to influence an institution that used 504,845,462 kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2018 and 50,961,343 hundred cubic feet of natural gas.

Perhaps more important is the question of the university’s endowment, which is currently valued at around $11.9 billion dollars. The University of California system recently announced its own decision to eliminate fossil fuel investments from both its endowment and pension fund. The University of Michigan has divested twice in its history, from South Africa in 1978 and the tobacco industry in 2000.

Has PFAS made its way into Michigan’s milk? Don’t ask, don’t test, says MDARD official

A story in the Metro Times recounts some interesting remarks by Kay Fritz, a toxicologist for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD):

"If you test the milk and you find PFAS, then you have to tell the farmer, then the farmer has to tell the co-op that takes the milk," she said. "Then, they say, 'Oh no, we don't want any PFAS milk.' Then you put this farmer out of business immediately, as we have seen in New Mexico."

So you don’t test the milk? That seems to be MDARD’s current policy so far, even as farms in other states with PFAS issues like Maine or New Mexico have had to exterminate cows after high levels of the chemicals—which can cause cancer, thyroid disorders, and numerous other problems—were found in the blood of farmers themselves.

MDARD has no plans to begin testing food products because there is no established federal limit or standard for PFAS. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services worked together to set such limits on fish. Sierra Club Michigan Director Christy McGillivray says.

There's a financial motivation that has nothing to do with science and public health

Agriculture is the state’s second-largest industry, and dairy contributes $15.7 billion to Michigan’s economy, according to MDARD.


Some brighter spots we found in the news this week:

Read this: Underwater mortgages, but for real

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Connect: Engage with Detroit’s environment

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October 4 | NOHLC Wild Night Out Gala | Pontiac >>>

October 5 | Headwaters Trails Shiawassee River Fall Canoe in Color Paddle Tour | Fenton >>>

October 5 | Belle Isle Bat Festival | Detroit >>>'

October 5 | State of Compost | Detroit >>>'

October 5 | Community Treehouse Center Detroit Solar Tour | Jefferson Chalmers >>>

October 5 | Fall Group Paddle | Rouge River >>>

October 9 | Bees, pollination and beekeeping | Clinton Township >>>

October 20 | Clinton River Trail Ride | Rochester  >>>

October 29 | Your Water, Your Voice: Drinking Water Summit | Grand Rapids >>>

November 2 | Fall Birding Hike on the Clinton River Trail | Rochester Hills >>>

November 20 | Michigan Sustainability Conference | Lansing >>>

February 29, 2020 | Quiet Adventures Symposium | Lansing >>>

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