Black residents advocate for fairness in Marathon home purchase program
After four years of effort, residents of Michigan’s 48217 ZIP code, the most polluted area in the state, have secured a meeting with officials from the Marathon Petroleum Corporation (NYSE: MPC). Michigan United environmental justice organizer and 48217 resident Emma Lockridge spoke to shareholders in Findlay, Ohio when she raised the issue of toxic emissions impacting residents in homes surrounding its refinery in Southwest Detroit.
“I want to applaud Marathon for taking responsibility for the impact of its refinery expansion in 2007 and giving so many nearby residents relief by purchasing their homes,” Lockridge said during the comment period at the end of the shareholder meeting. “Sadly, the previous Marathon buyouts fell short. I am one of many people who still live near the facility and we are still impacted by these same emissions. We need to meet to find some kind of relief.”
Her appeal came after years of trying to meet with Marathon CEO, Gary R. Heminger. Last year, Lockridge and her neighbors enlisted the support of Michigan State Representatives Stephanie Chang, Fred Durhall III, Detroit Councilmember Raquel Castenada-Lopez and Wayne County Commissioner Ilona Varga to secure a meeting. Nonetheless, refinery officials refused their request to discuss a buyout program.
Yesterday, during the annual stockholder meeting, Lockridge addressed Heminger while protesters lined the streets chanting “Buy Our Homes! Expand the Zone!”
“These horrible refinery odors enter my home. It is unbearable,” said long-time resident Anthony Parker. “Living so close to the refinery severely impacts my property value which makes it hard to move away from the polluted air.”
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.