Column: Trump’s environmental rollbacks put Michiganders at risk at the worst time

June 8, 2020 11:12 am

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In the middle of a pandemic, doing everything possible to protect public health should be our leaders’ priority. But instead, the President Trump administration has stopped enforcing the clean air and water safeguards that protect us from sickening pollution.

The costs are already mounting. Recently, one of the dirtiest facilities in the Detroit area — the Marathon Petroleum refinery — announced it is skipping emissions inspections, meaning they could pump more pollution in our air without any controls or oversight.

Given the findings that exposure to pollution increases the risk of COVID-19, Marathon’s announcement is even more frightening as we’ve learned that Wayne County has already suffered from more COVID-19 related deaths than almost any other county.

It’s unacceptable that families in Michigan who are struggling to make ends meet and stay healthy during the COVID-19 crisis now have to worry about more toxins in our air and water coming from power plants and refineries in our neighborhoods.

Thankfully, Attorney General Dana Nessel and eight other attorneys general have sued the Trump administration over its non-enforcement policy that lacks all transparency and accountability. But while that case is being considered, the administration is masking critical information so that we have no idea how and where polluters are getting a free pass. Marathon could just be the tip of the iceberg.

The decision to stop enforcing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safeguards could not come at a worse possible time — but it isn’t a huge surprise. Trump has already rolled back almost 100 public health and environmental safeguards during his time in office, including throwing out the Clean Water Rule that protected streams, rivers and wetlands providing drinking water for 1.4 million Michiganders.

Access to clean water is an issue that hits close to home for all of us in Michigan, and especially in Flint. We’ve been waiting for years for clean water — but instead of investing here, the Trump administration’s decision to stop enforcing EPA safeguards could create another water crisis, putting all of us at risk at exactly the worst time.

Allowing more pollution during COVID-19 is a recipe for disaster — especially for our most vulnerable communities. In a recent study by Harvard, researchers confirmed that people in areas with higher levels of pollution are more likely to die from the virus.

This means Michigan families living paycheck-to-paycheck and dealing with pollution in their backyards are already at a grave risk that Trump just exacerbated. Low-income communities and communities of color already shoulder a disproportionate burden of pollution — just look at Flint. Now, the few safeguards in place are being pushed aside just to benefit a handful of corporate polluting executives.

It’s not just Flint that knows what environmental injustice feels like. Families in Detroit have been dealing with polluting facilities like Marathon in their neighborhoods for decades. Last year, residents spoke out about a leak at that refinery that pumped oil vapor into the air thousands of people breathe. That’s part of the reason the area has been designated as the most polluted ZIP code in Michigan. Now the Marathon refinery admitted to missing their emissions control checks. If one facility has already eased up, it is likely that others are too, polluting with impunity and without transparency.

We deserve to know when there is more pollution in our air and water, so we can do our best to take care of our families, friends, and neighbors — especially during this crisis. Obscuring the truth about the pollution that is clouding our air and water is adding insult to injury.

No information about the lack of enforcement in Michigan has been made publicly available to us, and the Trump administration has not even provided an estimated date for when this lack of enforcement will end. We do not need any more Marathons. That is why it is time for the EPA and the state of Michigan to tell the public what facilities are passing legal pollution thresholds now, before it is too late.

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Candice Mushatt
Candice Mushatt

Candice Mushatt is a former Public Information Officer for the City of Flint, Legislative Aide in the Michigan House of Representatives, and lifelong Flint resident.