GM & FCA side with Trump on emissions, Enbridge wins a round, why the Midwest is the place for renewable energy

November 1, 2019 | CO2 2019/2018 409.15 / 406.79 ppm <<

In this issue:

  • General Motors, FCA sides with Trump in the battle over emissions

  • Legislation enabling Enbridge tunnel construction ruled constitutional

  • Harvard study shows Midwest has most to gain from renewable energy development

  • The lead problems keep coming in Metro Detroit

  • Petition to secure community benefits submitted to FCA

  • Jobs v. pollution in Southwest Detroit?

  • READ THIS: Sea level rise could hit cities even harder than previously thought

  • Solutions & Bright Spots

General Motors, FCA sides with Trump in the battle over emissions

This week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, GM and Toyota announced their support for the Trump administration’s campaign to curtail the ability of California to set more stringent auto emissions rules than that of the federal government. The conflict has opened a rift between the Trump administration and various states (including Michigan) who are backing the California standards. The conflict has also divided the automakers with Honda, BMW, and Ford, who are supporting California’s requirements.

An EPA report released in March showed that GM and FCA ranked at the bottom of a list of 13 automakers on fuel efficiency and emissions over the five years between 2012-2017. Toyota actually got worse on both counts.

Source: EPA

The new standards would weaken rules enacted during the Obama administration that would have required vehicles to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. If California wins the right to set its own standards, it could force automakers to make cars for these stricter rules rather than produce different vehicles for sale in individual states.

This latest development might force a compromise, which would effectively weaken California’s standards. That appears to be the position of John Bozella, chief executive of the Association of Global Automakers that includes GM and FCA.

“We can still reach an agreement that is supported by all the parties,” he said.

Emissions from personal automobiles make up about a fifth of U.S. carbon emissions.

Legislation enabling Enbridge tunnel construction ruled constitutional

In a setback for Attorney General Dana Nessel and Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Enbridge won its case in the Michigan Court of Claims Thursday on the constitutionality of legislation to enable the energy company to build a natural gas pipeline tunnel through bedrock beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

At issue was the constitutionality of legislation established by the Republican-led legislature during the lame-duck session at the end of 2018 that created an authority to oversee the tunnel. Nessel claimed the legislation violated the constitution because it did not clearly define its purpose, and Whitmer subsequently shut down construction. Enbridge filed suit in the Michigan Court of Claims, and Judge Michael Kelly ruled Thursday that the terms in the legislation were specific enough to support the legislation.

Kelly wrote:

"Defendants stress too narrow of an interpretation … and they purport to impose an exacting requirement on legislation that is not supported by caselaw.

The win represents a major victory for Enbridge. Nessel released a statement late Thursday in which she vowed to appeal, citing a 120-page report that she says shows Enbridge misrepresented its financial holdings to the Snyder administration, meaning Michigan could be “left holding the bag” in the event of a catastrophic spill.

Nessel wrote:

“The most chilling finding of the report specifically states that any ‘contribution of funds under an indemnity agreement made with a subsidiary would appear to be a purely voluntary endeavor for Enbridge, Inc.’

Lead problems keep coming in metro Detroit

This week, Royal Oak became the latest Michigan city to find lead in its water. Eight of 30 homes tested were above the “action level” of 15 parts per billion. The city emphasized this is not a health-based standard, saying in a press release that the advisory was intended to “begin a conversation”. However, experts frequently warn that there is no safe lead level for water and that even small amounts can cause cognitive impairment in children.

A Michigan Radio piece by Sarah Cwiek last week spotlighted a number of communities with lead problems that include Highland Park, Oak Park, Birmingham, Benton Harbor, Dearborn Heights, Clare, Melvindale, and Hazel Park.

Michigan’s new Lead and Copper Rule requires municipalities to replace all lead service lines by 2040. Michigan Radio reached out to water safety engineer Elin Bentanzo, who had worked with the US Environmental Protection Agency:

Betanzo says the most important steps are the ones people can take to protect themselves in their own homes—such as getting water filters certified for filtering out lead, and cleaning out aerators on faucet heads where lead particles can get stuck.

Harvard study shows that the Midwest has the most to gain from renewables

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Carnegie Mellon University have found that the upper Midwest has the most to gain from solar and wind energy compared to other regions of the country. Benefits were measured in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improvements to public health.

Per the New YorkTimes:

The study found that a megawatt hour (Mwh) of wind-powered electricity installed in the Upper Midwest achieves about $113 worth of benefits compared with $28 per Mwh in California, which already boasts large amounts of renewables and gas. The values were similar for other renewable fuel sources, like solar.

Part of the reason for these impacts is the possibility of reducing coal plant pollution that gets carried to the East Coast from the Midwest. The study did not evaluate the impact of methane leakage from natural gas plants, which are an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

Petition to secure community benefits submitted to FCA

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and state representative Stephanie Chang have backed a petition submitted to Michigan’s Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Monday that would require Fiat Chrysler to go beyond current requirements in its expansion area on Detroit’s east side. The petition asks for a number of measures including placing air quality monitors in schools and senior housing, working with neighbors on truck routing and engaging in regular community meetings.

As we’ve reported before, this area has some of the worst zip codes for asthma hospitalizations in Detroit, and the FCA expansion could make it worse by increasing local emissions of volatile organic compounds while decreasing those at a plant in Warren to achieve regional requirements. Detroit activist Gregg Newsom referred to this as “textbook environmental racism”. 

Michigan Radio reports that FCA issued the following statement in response to the petition:

"FCA is not only committed to creating 5,000 new jobs in Detroit, but also building an assembly plant that will have the lowest emissions rate in the United States. Also, we will voluntarily conduct additional air monitoring and make those results public. Today, we are currently engaged with various Detroit community groups to determine additional environmental projects to ensure we're a good neighbor that is respectful of the community in which we've been allowed to operate. We will announce those plans once finalized."

Jobs v. pollution in Southwest Detroit?

In a related opinion piece in The Detroit News penned by Sierra Club organizer Justin Onwenu and representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58 Russell Rader say that Detroiters should not have to choose between jobs and clean air. They draw on the example of Dearborn’s AK Steel, which has received 30 violation notices for pollution in the last decade.

The company is within a mile of an elementary school and is close to Marathon and other polluters that continue to make the 48217 zip code in Detroit’s southwest corner the state’s most polluted area. So far, AK Steel has declined to pay for air filtration systems for vulnerable residents. According to Onwenu and Rader, they have also made little effort to hire local workers.

READ THIS: Sea level rise could hit cities even harder than previously thought

A paper released in the journal Nature Communications uses new elevation data to demonstrate that the effect of sea-level rise could be much worse than previously thought. The New York Times provides data visualizations to show how the forecasts for 2050 have changed.

Cities—especially many extremely large ones in the Global South—could see significant portions of their geographical footprint underwater at high tide. Cities like Bangkok (pop. 8.21 million), Shanghai (pop. 24.21 million) and Mumbai (pop. 18.41 million) will see much more land imperiled than previously thought.

Overall, the paper projects that 150 million people are living on land that will be underwater by 2050.

Sea walls and other protections may be able to shelter some of these people in place, but these areas would still experience periodic flooding as has happened in New Orleans.

Over all, the research shows that countries should start preparing now for more citizens to relocate internally, according to Dina Ionesco of the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental group that coordinates action on migrants and development.

Solutions & Bright Spots

Stop in and check out Arts & Scraps pop-up series at Norwest Gallery of Art in Grandmont Rosedale! Details >>>
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November 20 | Michigan Sustainability Conference | Lansing >>>

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