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.“
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
The Collaborative is working to ensure that immigrants get access to the information and resources they need. Many didn’t find out about the water problems until recently, and are disenfranchised from the city’s normal water distribution system.
3) Donate water directly.
If you live in the Detroit area, you can bring bottled water to the Michigan United Office at 4405 Wesson Street between 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Donors in the Flint area can take water to St. Mary’s Church, 2500 North Franklin between 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM.
We’re going to need a strong team fighting for clean water and a just recovery all across the state.
5) Attend the Michigan United meeting in Flint.
Thursday, January 28th, at 6:00 PM at 1st Unitarian Universalist Church, 2474 South Ballenger Highway. We’ll be talking about what next steps we can take together to address the causes of the crisis and hold the politicians who caused it accountable. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to take part.
6) Speak out!
Do you know someone who has been impacted by the crisis? Michigan United is working with our partners to ensure that local families have their voices heard in the media. We’re looking for Flint residents, especially families with small children, that might be willing to tell their story to the press. We’ll provide training and support. Contact Erik Shelley at email@example.com.
Flint’s water problem wasn’t inevitable.
It’s happening because politicians acted with callous disregard for the lives of low-income families and communities of color. This is what happens when the legislature takes away the right of a community to vote for their own local leadership.
We’ll work hard to support the immediate needs of residents and hope you will too. But as we work for the long-haul, we need to be equally committed to fighting for a just recovery and to overturning the laws that caused this problem in the first place.