Environmental groups reach settlement on Detroit incinerator 

By: - December 17, 2021 2:16 pm

Detroit Renewable Power facility in Detroit | Ken Coleman photo

Two environmental organizations that had planned to sue Detroit Renewable Power after air emissions violations at a city incinerator said they have reached a $10,000 settlement agreement with Detroit Renewable Power (DRP). 

Ecology Center and Environment Michigan informed DRP in January 2019 of their intention to file a suit under the federal Clean Air Act. However, in March of that year, DRP announced the permanent closure of the incinerator.

A call to Detroit Renewable Power was not returned.

“It was important for us to make sure local residents that lived with the odor and air pollution the incinerator generated get some direct remedy,” said Kathryn Savoie, Ecology Center’s Detroit community health director. “We’re hopeful the $10,000 donation to Arboretum Detroit will support the community in healing the environmental harms they have been subjected to.”

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Arboretum Detroit is a nonprofit organization that has focused on planting trees in the Poletown neighborhood to the east of the former incinerator site. 

“Arboretum Detroit grew out of Poletown residents planting trees as a way to cope with the air pollution coming from the Detroit incinerator,” said Andrew Kemp, Arboretum Detroit president. “This donation will allow us to plant an oxygen park to remind us all that breathing fresh, clean air is a human right and that sometimes we have to fight for it and grow it.”

DRP committed to cease operations and shutter the incinerator in previous settlement agreements with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). Those commitments were confirmed in its settlement agreement with the environmental organizations, whose settlement also requires the company to pay the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, which served as counsel for the environmental groups, $10,000 in attorney fees. The environmental groups were represented by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and the National Environmental Law Center. The attorneys and their clients decided to donate the $10,000 in attorney fees to Arboretum Detroit.

“We believed that it was essential for residents to receive something due to the longstanding harm they suffered and to further environmental justice,” said Nick Leonard, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center executive director. “We all agreed that the least we could do was donate the attorney fees we received in connection with this case to Arboretum Detroit.”

The facility located in the central section of Detroit has a long history of emissions violations. A state-imposed fine paid by DRP went to the state general fund, as required by law, and not to the community. The late state Rep. Isaac Robinson, who lived in the area, hailed the 2019 closure.

“This is a victory for families and seniors in District 4 who had to endure dangerous odors for years and shows what a broad coalition of residents can accomplish,” the Detroit Democrat said at the time. “No one should have to live under a cloud of burnt trash. This is an opportunity to focus on job creation and renewable energy without putting our residents’ health at risk. It is important that we work together to assist those working in the plant to find new employment.”

Robinson died of suspected COVID-19 complications in 2020. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.