DTE rate hikes, border patrol on Belle Isle, and how Walmart rescued Flint (!?)

Aug 9, 2019 | CO2 410.16 ppm <<--www.co2.earth/daily-co2

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DTE set to raise rates amid reliability and environmental concerns

Michigan residents who were among the 600,000 people that experienced blackouts in July or 670,000 who dealt with them in March 2017 may not be happy to hear that DTE Energy is looking to raise its rates yet again. These rates hikes are perhaps the most aggressive in the nation. Freep reports:

Only Florida Power & Light Co. received more in rate hikes from 2015 to this year, but that utility has more than double the customer accounts — 5 million to DTE's 2.2 million.

DTE customers will pay an average of $9.84 a month more per-residence for service in a state where energy reliability has been deemed “well-below average” by the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board. The utility is also requesting that it be allowed to increase its profit margin—which is authorized by regulators—to 10.5% from 10%. Last year DTE reported earnings of $1.1 billions and executives like CEO Gerard Anderson made $10,986,808 in 2017.

The rate request submitted to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) comes at the same time as environmentalists question DTE’s new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that will create much less renewable energy than a similar IRP from Lansing-based Consumers Energy, and will construct a new natural gas power plant that many fear could become a stranded asset if and when more aggressive targets are placed on carbon emissions.

In response, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says she plans to:

...vigorously review all [DTE’s] filings and make certain the priority in this case is ensuring affordable energy for Michigan consumers, not dividends for… shareholders.

It’s worth noting that the high rates and frequent outages in Michigan could contribute to the vulnerability of people—especially those on society’s margins—to deal with the storms, polar vortices and heatwaves that are becoming more frequent with the climate crisis.

For its part, DTE says the rate increases are necessary to make improvements, invest in renewable energy and maintain a “very large system”.

Across Detroit

Boating while brown

Metro Times reports that Antonio Rafael—a local farmer, teacher and activist of mixed indigenous and Puerto-Rican ancestry—was stopped by Customs and Border Patrol while returning from a kayak trip.

The officer questioned Rafael, asked him for citizenship, demanded to know which hospital Rafael was born in, and threatened to ticket him for boating at night without a light.

Metro Times also reports that Border Patrol officers have been stopping and questioning other people of color on the island. The stepped up enforcement is a result of the fact that Belle Isle and the rest of Michigan lie in a designated border zone—giving officers more leeway to question and detain people amidst a climate stoked by President Trump’s racist rhetoric and immigration policies.

Angelo-Lugo Thomas, Belle Isle frequenter, photographer and activist with Belle Isle Concern, tells Planet Detroit that after the State of Michigan assumed operations on the island, she was stopped several times by State Police with a girlfriend while walking and asked “what are you doing?” She also had a police officer shine a light in her face at the end of the day before the park closed and was told “well hurry up and get in the car”.

Thomas says that incidents like these have lead many of her friends to stop using the park. However, she and Rafael continue go to Belle Isle because, they say, it is their park too.

Detroit to get electric buses

Metro Detroiters could soon begin riding electric buses on at least a few routes thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the US Department of Transportation. The money was given to the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) to purchase buses from Proterra, a manufacturer in California. DTE Energy is on board to help with the maintenance and charging infrastructure.

Great Lakes Water Authority recognized; report highlights water shutoffs

The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA)—which provides water to 127 municipalities including Detroit in 8 counties—was recognized for its “outstanding commitment to delivering superior quality drinking water to customers” at its Water Works Park facility, which produces 240 million gallons of water per day.

The GLWA has been criticized for its cost to Detroit taxpayers and the secrecy with which it was created during Detroit’s bankruptcy. A recent report by University of California Berkley’s Haas Institute—sponsored by the Troy-based Kresge Foundation—explored these issues:

A 2017 Michigan State University study estimated that if water costs continue to increase at the same rate for the next five years, a third of households in the US may be unable to afford water costs. This alarming figure highlights the scale of water insecurity due to barriers to affordable access. Detroit’s regional system fits patterns of water and sewer insecurity across the country, and creating water security is an effort that must also consider the operator and manager of the system—the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA).

Among the recommendations in the report was a moratorium on water shutoffs.

Training for environmental advocates

Detroiters are invited to apply for a leadership academy in environmental justice. Applications due August 15.

Across Michigan

Did Walmart rescue Flint?

If you’ve allowed your subscription to Chief Executive magazine to expire, you may have missed their think piece: “Walmart Rescued Flint Michigan…No One Noticed”. Allow for our considered response to this article: NO.

Perhaps the people of Flint who still line up to get bottled by the thousands are among those who have not noticed that they were rescued by Walmart. Among the more paternalistic and dunderheaded assumptions in the piece is that Flint residents were somehow rescued by Walmart’s donation of 504,000 bottles of water and 1,792 water filters. This is roughly five bottles of water for each of the city’s roughly 95,000 residents to drink, bathe, cook food and flush the toilet with for the duration of the crisis and a water filter for every 53 people or so to share. Dasani, Nestle and PepsiCo are singled out for similar acts of corporate benevolence.

Chief Executive’s Jeff Cunningham—who is a professor of “global leadership” at Arizona State’s Thunderbird School of Global Management—has no problem identifying the real tragedy of Flint:

When business fails, it is scandalized. When it rescues, the quiet is deafening. Part of the answer is business needs to tell a better story. If you have just saved a city from a health epidemic, as Walmart did, you owe it to your company and your teams to find a way to make the story go “mega-viral.”

Or maybe you owe it to your company to recognize that the failure of a city’s water system and the ensuing public health crisis is not a failure of corporate messaging? If there’s one thing the article demonstrates, it might be that corporate charity and “leadership” are no substitute for a functioning society.

Record water levels in the Great Lakes continue

Lakes Superior, Huron, St. Clair and Erie all set new records for water levels this month.

Although lake levels can vary somewhat dramatically over time—with record lows in 2013— conditions this year have caused problems with flooding and shoreline erosion, notably in Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. The high lake levels are a result of climate change due to increased precipitation, but then so were the record lows of previous years when heat drove evaporation. Such swings are believed by scientists to represent to be a new normal.

More bad news for Enbridge’s Line 5

Looks like Enbridge Energy Company’s Line 5 pipeline is going to remain a regular feature of this newsletter as its problems continue to multiply. This week, Enbridge disclosed that its controversial Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac has a gap between supports that exceeds the 75 foot maximum required for operation. A spokesperson for Attorney General Dana Nessel—who is no fan of the pipeline—said:

We know the currents in the Straits of Mackinac are complex, variable and remarkably fast and strong — clearly strong enough to erode an additional 15 feet of bottomland that was supporting the pipeline within the last year. This erosion makes the 66-year-old pipeline increasingly vulnerable to anchor strikes and potential ruptures and reinforces the need for the legal action Attorney General Nessel has taken to remove the pipeline from the Straits.

Hmm, sounds like this might be a terrible place for an oil pipeline.

State seeks members for a PFAS workgroup

State officials are looking for Michigan residents to join the Citizen Advisory Workgroup that will act as liaisons for affected communities. Those interested can apply to join the workgroup here.

Big Picture

Climate dispatches: Hottest July on record, melts, fires, food supply in jeopardy

The New York Times is reporting that this past July was the hottest July ever recorded. Among the lowlights of the month were wildfires in the Arctic, a heatwave in Europe. and melting ice in Greenland and Alaska.

The Alaskan heatwave has eliminated all of the sea ice on the coast, the earliest that has ever happened. Scientists warn that this heat exceeds the most extreme scenarios put forth by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

“We are seeing record after record after record,” said Marco Tedesco, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, of the heat and melting episodes. “It looks like the worst case scenario put forward by the IPCC could be an underestimate because we are seeing ice melting now that we expected 30 to 40 years from now.”

The IPCC also issued a report this week showing that humanity’s ability to feed itself is in jeopardy. The study estimates that soil is being lost between 10 and a 100 times faster than it is forming. The report states:

Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action…

The IPCC suggests that better land management is in order to trap more carbon as well as ensure future harvests and that meat consumption and food waste are drivers of climate change that need to be curtailed.

In Michigan, farmers have faced a hard season, driven by some of the same climate change-related phenomena that the report mentions like flooding and rainstorms. The Michigan Department of the Treasury is offering low-interest loans to those affected by these events.

Connect | Engage with Detroit’s environment

Have an opportunity you’d like to see featured here? Let us know.

August 10 | Beekeeping Basics | Detroit >>>

August 17 | Butterflies and Young Birders | Davisburg  >>>

August 24 | Joe Louis Greenway Tour & Fundraiser | Detroit >>>

August 21 | The River Runs Wild-Paddle the Clinton River | Sterling Heights >>>

August 24 | Bridge Valley Fen Tour with Michigan Botanical Council | Clarkston >>> Meet at 7150 Dixie Highway in Clarkston at 10 am

August 25 | Live Honey Harvest | Detroit >>>

August 28 | Urban agriculture bike tour | Detroit >>>

September 7 | Native Plant Sale, North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy | Clarkston  >>>

September 8 | Make Food Not Waste | Eastern Market >>>

September 10 | The 13th Annual Garden Party on Belle Isle | Belle Isle >>>

September 12 | Crafts on the Clinton | Yates Cider Mill >>>

Thanks for reading!