Category Archives: Environment

Detroiters pray for release from Marathon refinery pollution

Vigil held in hope that God touch the heart of CEO to treat residents fairly

Under blustery, grey skies Thursday evening, the faithful gathered outside the Marathon Petroleum Corporation refinery in Southwest Detroit to pray for a release for those who live in the polluted conditions around the plant. As the chimney stacks of the coker belched smoke and flames that filled the night sky, area clergy delivered a message similar to Moses’: Let my people go.

“Opening my windows when it is warm outside is not an option for me,“ said lifetime resident John Atkins. “The refinery air smells horrible.  Marathon should buy my home so I can enjoy the rest of my years.“

In 2012, the refinery underwent a $2.2 billion expansion. Marathon purchased the homes in the predominantly white neighborhood of Oakwood Heights. But despite the cries of the people, the corporation has refused to treat their black neighbors as fairly as they did their white neighbors.

Emma Lockridge, the Michigan United environmental justice organizer that spearheaded the vigil, almost didn’t go, having struggled all week with breathing issues. Lockridge went to the doctor with respiratory distress after filming a flaring incident at the refinery.

During the prayers, residents held white crosses that said ‘Exodus’ on the front with the names of friends and family impacted by the air pollution on the back. “We pray Marathon CEO Gary R. Heminger will act in a just manner and purchase our homes,“ Lockridge said. “It would be the righteous thing to do.“

Capitol Day 2017 features grassroots protests around Lansing

Activists demand support for teachers,
clean air for residents of 48217

Senate Majority Leader, Arlan Mekhoff found his office filled with protesters opposed to his plan to take away teachers’ pensions in Michigan. Representatives of Michigan United say the move would not only deter good teachers from coming to the state but students would also suffer a shortage of professionals able to deal with childhood behavior issues and an increase in criminalization of it.

Bazsa Miller credits quality teachers for pushing him to succeed. “I came to a point in my life where I had to choose between success and failure “ said Miller. “My teachers were there to make sure I made the right choice at a time when I couldn’t see the path myself.”

“Teachers have an important influence over children of single family homes.” says Arthur Howard who graduated from 9th grade to juvenile detention to adult prison by the age of 16. They are not just educators,” said Howard. “They are character makers.”

When they left the Capitol building, the crowd of hundreds moved on to the nearby offices of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) where they held a rally outside accusing the watchdog of giving Marathon Petroleum permission to spew toxic pollution into their neighborhood near the refinery in Southwest Detroit.

Wendy Kyles grew up in the 48217 neighborhood, the most polluted in the state. She watched her mother suffer from a cirrhotic liver even though she never drank alcohol and ultimately die of lung cancer even though she never smoked cigarettes. “Countless MDEQ rubber stamp hearings merely let us know what atrocities are on the way.” Kyles was hopeful in 2010 when Marathon announced they would offer relief to their “neighbors”. But sadly her optimism was misplaced. “Imagine my OUTRAGE to learn that they were only buying out the handful of white people who comprised 48217. Our black subdivision, squarely situated in front of and downwind of their facility, was curiously and conveniently left out of that process. We weren’t considered their neighbors;”

“We’re Here to Stay!”

Detroit’s immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ and Communities of Color honor Dr. King with a message of defiance and unity

Hundreds of people from across Southeast Michigan gathered at UAW Local 600 Saturday afternoon to honor Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. in a show of unity across lines of color, gender, ethnicity, religion and immigration status. Michigan United joined the United Auto Workers and community based groups in a mass call to action to defend the rights of immigrants, refugees, communities of color and the members of the LGBTQ community. In addition to the King holiday, groups cited the well documented rise in hate crimes in Michigan since the presidential election as inspiration for the event.

“We have no doubt that Reverend King would be pushing us to stand with people who are under attack because of their immigration status, the color of their skin or who they love,” said Michigan United member, Reverend Samuel Johnson of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. “Mobilizations like this are crucial to show that the majority of people will not tolerate hate crimes and attacks. The fight to keep immigrant families together is connected to the fight to keep all families safe.”

The Congress of Communities, Chadsey Condon Community Association, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights worked with members of the LGBTQ community to host the event. The intersection of struggles and resistance was at the heart of the gathering.

“Some victories such as marriage equality or the Deferred action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which protects immigrants brought here as children are recent,” said Seydi Sarr, General Secretary of the Senegalese Association. “Some, such as the 1960s civil rights legislation are decades old. We stand to defend them all. We fight to keep immigrant families together here in the US, for refugee families fleeing violence to be safe here. We must defend human and civil rights won for the LGBTQ community and people of color. We can win if we see that all these struggles are connected.”

“No event, not even a presidential election will stop us from standing up and fighting for human and civil rights,” said Sergio Martinez, Michigan United board member. “As Gay man who has benefited from DACA and advances in LGBTQ rights, I refuse to go backward just as Dr. King and those who fought with him resisted the backlash against civil rights laws. Those of us fighting for justice are the majority. Making that clear with gatherings like this will push us toward victory.”

Immigrant families at risk if Trump keeps promises

Don’t despair. Organize!

Join Michigan United and our partners as we work to resist deportations.

Michigan Sanctuary Movement 

Are you or your congregation interested in providing sanctuary for immigrants in danger of deportation? CLICK HERE  to become part of the statewide movement to protect immigrant families.

 Michigan United statewide strategy summit-December 10th

We have a lot of work to do, and we need to get organized. Please cjoin our statewide strategy summit, co-sponsored with the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center. CLICK HERE to be part of the discussion on how we can resist the deportations, support families, and develop strategies for how we can stand up for justice and dignity for all. 

Strategy Summit

Saturday, December 10
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Trinity Lutheran Church
1400 W. Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Civil Rights, Faith Groups Stand Together Against Post-Election Hate Incidents

Detail Plans to Resist Deportations

More than a dozen civil rights and faith groups stood together at Central United Methodist Church Monday to condemn a recent spate of racist incidents and to declare their intention to work together to protect their families and communities in the coming years.
sam_8680“The election is over, but that doesn’t mean we have to quietly accept the policies of a Trump Administration,” said Sergio Martinez, Michigan United board member. “We’re not going to give an inch to mass deportations. Our community is organized like never before to defend our families. We’re going to resist Donald Trump’s immigration plans, and we need your help.”
Speakers outlined specific plans for family defense:
  • Michigan United will host a town hall and know-your-rights meeting on Saturday, November 19th, at Noon, at their offices, 4405 Wesson in Detroit. Legal support will be on hand for immigrant families wondering about their options.
  • The Michigan Immigrants Rights Center is calling for pro-bono attorneys to volunteer to defend immigrant families in deportation. Volunteer attorneys will be trained in the basics of immigration law. Contact Susan Reed—susanree@michiganimmigrant.org
  • Volunteers who are not attorneys but would like to learn how to get credentialed to represent immigrants in deportation cases can join our Family Defense team. Contact Susan Reed or Michigan United legal director Diego Bonesatti, diego@miunited.org
  • Congregations who are interested in learning how to provide sanctuary to immigrant families in imminent threat of deportation, contact Rev. Jack Eggleston of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, j.eggleston@semisynod.com
  • Survivors of anti-Muslim hate crimes or bias incidents can report them to the Council on American Islamic Relations, www.cairmichigan.org248.529.2247
  • To help promote tolerance, diversity and educate your community, contact Take on Hate at ACCESS, Asha Noor, anoor@accesscommunity.org or Welcoming Michigan, Christine Sauve, csauve@michiganimmigrant.org
Participants in the event included Michigan United, the Michigan Immigrants’ Rights Center, Asian Pacific Islander Americans – Vote Michigan, ACCESS, ACLU – Michigan, National Lawyers Guild, Methodist Coalition for Social Action, Council on American Islamic Relations – Michigan, Latino Family Services, the Muslim Community Council, the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, the National Lawyers Guild, Voces Community Center, and State Representative Stephanie Chang.

“PICTURING POLLUTION: From The Hole” to Highlight Toxic Pollution Poisoning Detroit’s Boynton Community

Photo exhibit documents exposure to dangerous emissions from Marathon Petroleum refinery

The photography exhibit  “PICTURING POLLUTION: From The Hole” by environmental justice activist Emma Lockridge graphically illustrates the horror of living near Marathon Petroleum Corporation, a tar sands refining facility.   Public viewing begins 10AM Sunday, November 13  during and after service then again from 4PM to 8PM  on Monday at Trinity-St Mark’s United Church of Christ, 9315 Fort St. W., Detroit 48209.

Referred to as “The Hole” by locals because it dead ends the 48217 Boynton subdivision, it is an area overwhelmed by pollution with housing values that border on worthless due to its proximity to the refinery.  

Residents are still troubled by a homeowner buyout package offered to the predominantly white Oakwood Heights subdivision by the refinery that did not include the black community.

Marathon said “it’s the right thing to do” when it offered buyout packages to Oakwood Heights residents stating they lived on “an island” surrounded by polluters, but has steadfastly refused to consider a conversation with black residents stuck on the same toxic turf.

sam_8603The photo exhibit “PICTURING POLLUTION: From the Hole” is designed to draw attention to the dire air quality situation impacting 48217 residents and garner support for an exodus.   Lockridge was invited to show her photographs by Rev. George Bozanich of Trinity St Mark’s United Church of Christ after she did a presentation in his church at an environmental forum.  The exhibit is co-sponsored by Michigan United where Lockridge is an interim environmental justice organizer.

Residents in Southwest Detroit neighborhood struggle to escape pollution

By Lauren Podell
WDIV Detroit, November 10, 2016

Residents live near Marathon oil refinery

DETROIT – A woman living near the Marathon oil refinery has been working for years to bring attention to what she and her neighbors are forced to go through.

Emma Lockridge said she has wanted to move out of her home for years, but pollution has wiped out her house’s value, leaving her with no choice but to stay. She’s hoping pictures of the pollution will raise awareness of the issue.

Lockridge’s neighborhood has thick smoke in the air. Protestors trying to get their voices heard, and there is pollution everywhere. She said she feels trapped on Deacon Street in southwest Detroit, a community also known as “The Hole,” thanks to its proximity to the Marathon petroleum plant.

“We can’t stay. We can’t leave,” Lockridge said.

She said the people who lived in Oakwood Heights on the other side of the refinery were able to leave after Marathon bought them out. Oakwood Heights is now a green space and garden. It acts as a 100-acre buffer between the refinery and neighborhoods, but it doesn’t include Lockridge’s.

“Well, we don’t currently have any other plans,” she said.

With no buyout plan in site, Lockridge hopes pictures of pollution will show how desperate the residents are for help.

Marathon officials said recent tests show they are only responsible for 2 percent of the emissions in that industrial area, and that over several years, they’ve reduced emissions by 70 percent.

Detroit 48217 residents take Marathon Petroleum to court over bad air

Refinery files motion to toss out class action lawsuit

Residents of Detroit’s Boynton subdivision  in the  48217 zip code are anxiously awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox who will decide in two weeks if they can proceed with their class action lawsuit against Marathon Petroleum Corporation. The suit was filed on behalf of beleaguered residents who live downwind of the refinery and  seeks relief from the impact of refinery emissions and other quality of life issues. They are represented by a team of environmental attorneys from Washington, New York, Troy and Detroit.

The suit claims that petroleum production is adversely affecting the homeowners’ use and enjoyment of their property. Attorney Chris Nidel, of Nidel Law, says the refinery’s toxic emissions wake residents in the middle of the night. Residents also have coped with plant explosions and odors that emanate from the millions of gallons of wastewater that pass through their subdivision’s sewer. Refinery emissions consists of sulfur dioxide, benzene and other chemicals.  Attorneys are seeking damages expected to run into the tens of millions of dollars.

“Listening to the Marathon attorney minimize and challenge the impact of the refinery on our community made me sad and angry,” says Michigan United environmental justice organizer Emma Lockridge, who is also a resident in the community. “It’s unethical for Marathon to deny and ignore the impact of their refinery that blanket our community with toxins. Sometimes it smells so bad, I have to sleep in a surgical mask.”

The lawsuit was filed in February of this year.  The Court is currently considering how or whether to apply the statute of limitations.

Michigan United Goes Door to Door Seeking Racial, Economic Justice

Voters engaged on crucial issues months before historic election

Dozens of Michigan United members in Detroit and Kalamazoo spent Saturday morning directly engaging voters on two of the most crucial issues of the upcoming presidential election: racial and economic justice. It  was part of a “National Doorstep Convention” for racial and economic justice. The outreach effort was prompted by extremist rhetoric from the presidential campaign and violence against people of color and other marginalized communities.

“Bigotry is real. Mexicans and Muslims have been vilified on the campaign trail and people of color have been poisoned and imprisoned for profit. We can’t stand by and watch this happen,” said Shaina Smith. “We have a moral obligation to engage with people to confront these issues, to work toward a society where we are all safe and welcome. That is what this canvass is about.”

IMG_5507

Canvassers had no scripts just a general outline. This allowed them to have more open conversations about what is really on the minds of voters.

“We want to have honest conversations about what it means to live in a country with people of all colors, ethnicities, nationalities and religions. We are going door to door to put those issues out in the open” said LaTifah VanHorn.  “Communities of color face more environmental hazards like the expansion the US Ecology hazardous waste site on Detroit’s Eastside. Black and brown people are disproportionately locked up and then even after serving time, returning citizens are prevented from getting work. The reality of struggles on the ground and the divisive campaign rhetoric means we all need to step up.”

Grassroots environmental groups meet with state officials to keep toxins out of water, air

Disposal company wants to expand operation near Hamtramck, Gov. Snyder delays CPP

The Coalition to Oppose the Expansion protested outside state offices in Detroit Thursday and demanded a meeting with officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to discuss the impact of a toxic waste disposal company on the safety of Detroit’s water system and the need for a Clean Power Plan (CPP) to improve air quality. US Ecology is seeking permission to expand its operation while activists want the opposite.

Photo Credit: Shanna Merola
Photo Credit: Shanna Merola

A contingent from the group went inside and delivered their demands to a representative of the MDEQ:

  • Stop the 10-fold expansion of this hazardous waste plant.
  • Stop dumping toxic and radioactive waste and contaminating Detroit’s water.
  • Continue forward with the CPP state implementation process and support Michigan efforts to move forward with the Clean Power Plan (CPP.)
  • Conduct public input hearings in communities across the state that are most impacted by carbon pollution to hear how this pollution impacts our daily lives.

“We are coming together to let the state of Michigan and MDEQ know that they have completely failed us on all fronts.” Said Valerie Jean of the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCATS). “We’re demanding that they deny the permit for the expansion of US Ecology and stop poisoning Detroit!”

US Ecology transports, treats, and disposes of radioactive, chemical and hazardous waste such as PCB. Liquid waste, containing arsenic, cadmium, cyanide, lead is then dumped into the Detroit public sewerage system. The company wants ramp up output and increase their storage capacity from 64,000 gallons of hazardous waste to 666,000 gallons. But expansion of the plant on Georgia street has raised safety questions among some of those who live in the area. The facility is located within a mile of a number of schools, houses of worship, a hospital and a senior center.

Meanwhile in 48217, the state’s most polluted zip code, the Marathon refinery continues to expose residents to toxins that cause a wide variety of health problems.  When President Obama decided to issue rules for energy production that would address such problems, Governor Snyder said Michigan would come up with its own CPP rules.  But when the Federal plan was challenged in court, Snyder halted the process here.

“Our communities are being poisoned and for too long big energy companies have profited from the destruction. They’ve left communities like Detroit with dirty air, poisoned water and dangerous, dead-end jobs.” said Michigan United’s Emma Lockridge, a resident in 48217 “It’s time for MDEQ’s rubber stamp to dry up. We need them to put the people and the planet over profits and corporate polluters.”