MPSC sends DTE Energy ‘back to the drawing board’

February 21, 2020 | CO2 2020/2019 413.53 / 410.46 ppm <<

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MPSC sends DTE Energy ‘back to the drawing board’

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) has recommended “substantial changes” to DTE Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The IRP—which determines how the company will supply power in the short and long-term—has been criticized for a lack of emphasis on renewable energy among other issues.

A statement from the MPSC says the agency has

sent DTE Electric back to the drawing board on its plans for how it would generate electricity over the next 15 years, citing a lack of competitive bidding and other problems identified by stakeholders and MPSC Staff through the IRP process.

Renewable energy advocates are still processing exactly what this ruling means, but it seems like a significant development for those opposed to the IRP. Sally Talberg—one of three members of the MPSC—says, “We appreciate the unprecedented amount of public participation generated by the interest in this case, a clear indication that Michiganders are becoming more engaged in helping to shape Michigan’s energy future.”

Is Michigan breaking its own lead rule?

Planet Detroit’s Brian Allnutt delves into why Michigan’s Department of Great Lakes Environment and Energy (EGLE) appears to be backpedaling on enforcement of its own lead rule, even as it promotes it nationally.


Riverfront ordinance looks to protect Detroit residents and waterways

Environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition have developed a new riverfront ordinance to address concerns in response to collapse of the contaminated Detroit Bulk Storage site in November.

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda Lopez introduced the ordinance to the Detroit City Council on Tuesday. Among the proposed changes under the new ordinance are:

  • A waterfront operation certificate to address businesses like Detroit Bulk Storage who was operating without a permit.

  • Baseline environmental assessments to evaluate contamination and other risks on the waterfront.

  • Inspection of waterfront properties to ensure proper maintenance and prevent seawall collapses.

  • Duty to maintain and repair requirements to ensure property owners are performing maintenance to protect waterways.

  • Duty to notify requirements to make sure public officials learn of problems immediately (not a week later).

  • Emergency management protocols for water that would require immediate water tests, public notice and other actions when drinking water is threatened.

  • Penalties and enforcement to hold polluters and those who fail to notify authorities to account. Money collected would go to a Public Health Fund.

  • Citizen enforcement provisions to empower residents to assist in enforcing the ordinance.

  • Setback requirements that mandate companies like Detroit Bulk Storage keep materials 150 feet from shore.

A number of news outlets picked up this story, with nearly all officials and community members speaking out in support of the ordinance. Gregg Ward, the operator of the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry who discovered the collapse, told Crain’s

Most owners are good stewards of the Great Lakes and they want a responsible operation…This ordinance helps establish standards of operation ... Those with older docks, they're going to operate at a higher standard. Which is as it should be.

Detroit water shutoffs in the national spotlight

The conversation around Detroit’s water shutoffs continued this week with Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department penning an editorial in the Detroit Free Press touting the department’s efforts to reduce shutoffs, but adding,

What we can’t support — and we believe most of our customers and Detroiters will agree — is to allow water and sewer services to go unpaid by ending the ability to use service interruptions as a collection tool of last resort.

According to Brown, ending shutoffs would pass on the costs to other customers, increasing “an average bill of $75 per month to more than $300”.

The broader social costs of water shutoffs go unmentioned in the editorial. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had other thoughts:

Sanders drew attention to a Bridge Magazine piece chronicling the struggles of 56-year-old Litha Atkins who has managed without water service since April. She is one of 141,000 Detroiters who have had their water interrupted since 2014. Atkin’s limited Social Security income isn’t enough to make up for back taxes on her house and a $6300 bill from the water department. Bridge reports that there were also issues with the water bill itself, including a broken water meter.

Atkins's story is not unique. Mark Fancher, an attorney with the ACLU says that the water department presumes

(T)hat when someone gets their water shut off it’s because of a one-time financial problem, and once they get help, they can get back on the tap. The problem is most people can’t afford bills, period, because the bills are simply too high.

The Detroit City Council is preparing to ask Governor Gretchen Whitmer to declare the shutoffs a public health crisis and institute a temporary moratorium. Bridge compiled a list of resources that could help those dealing with shutoffs.

Another Line 5 project begins construction in Port Huron

The anxiety-inducing Enbridge Line 5 project in the Straits of Mackinac gets all the attention, but closer to home, Metro Detroiters have their own section of Line 5 to worry about. This past week, work began on the pipeline running under the St. Clair River between Michigan and Canada. The intention is to bury the pipeline deeper, protecting it from disturbances and to contain any leaked oil. Michigan Radio points out that a similar project was carried out on Enbridge Line 6B nine years ago, seemingly without a hitch. They also remind us it was another section of that pipeline that ruptured in 2010, creating one of the largest oil spills in the nation’s history.

Artists call FCA mural project ‘artwashing’

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ call for muralists to paint a wall on the perimeter of the expanded facility on Detroit’s East Side met with a spirited refusal by a long list of Detroit Artists including Olaymai Dabls and Vito Valdez. “We refuse to participate in the mural project unless the city and FCA meet the neighbors' demands addressing damage to their health and homes,” the signed statement reads. Among the issues with the FCA expansion are an air quality plan that the state has deemed insufficient.

Bill looks to reduce toxic waste in Detroit

In response to the US Ecology Expansion on Detroit’s eastside and the discovery of other potentially contaminated sites, state lawmaker Isaac Robinson is introducing a bill to halt the expansion of toxic waste facilities in the area. Robinson says he has “discovered four or five other buildings with toxic waste containers, one of them is on a residential block." US Ecology released a statement saying the facility allows them “to continue to provide vital waste management services to customers… This includes sites such as the one discovered on Miller Road, the “green ooze” on I-696, and many other sites across the state including those communities struggling with PFAS contamination.” 


High water discussions continue in the Great Lakes

Author Dr. Peter Annin gave an overview of damage caused by rising Great Lakes water levels as record highs follow years of low water:

Some scientists believe a more complicated dynamic is at work: a warming climate that will continue to cause extreme fluctuations in weather and water levels, threatening havoc for lakeside homeowners, towns and cities, tourism and shipping.

The article mentions efforts to compensate property owners for relocating away from the water in Quebec and, conversely, New York State’s attempt to armor the shoreline on Lake Ontario.

Meanwhile, over at MLive, reporter Cheyna Roth and WDET’s Jake Neher give another perspective, describing how high lake levels also impact residents away from the shoreline. Impacts can include wastewater infiltration into drinking water intakes and inland flooding. Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Huron are all expected to be at record levels through May.

Michigan wants your garbage

Michigan may only be 36th in the nation for K-12 education (or 32nd when it comes to median household income), but when it comes to taking other people’s crap, we are very, very good.

Michigan’s Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy reports that not only did we increase our waste by 8.5% in 2019 over 2018, but we also received plenty of bonus trash; with 22 % of Michigan’s waste coming from Canada, Ohio, and Wisconsin.


Methane: A new study seems to give the lie to what has become a common talking point, namely that natural gas can be used as a “bridge fuel” to transition to clean energy. Scientists believe they have underestimated methane leakage from gas and oil wells by upwards of 40%. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is roughly 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.


Can ‘good old-fashioned peer pressure’ help solve climate change?

WDET’s Stephen Henderson spoke this week with economist and author Robert Frank on how peer pressure might help motivate individuals to take action on climate change.

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