Tlaib at hearing on federal environmental protections: ‘The system is broken’ 

By: - August 26, 2022 6:52 am

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) | Ken Coleman

Richard Shobe lives near a Stellantis assembly plant on Detroit’s lower east side that he said continually gives off foul odor.

“The psychological impact of not knowing what you are being exposed to, and to have others telling you that you are safe, but you have neighbors who are getting sick is really tough and mentally draining,” said Shobe during his testimony before a U.S. House committee meeting held in Detroit on Thursday. 

Like a bell, he has continually sounded off on what he calls routine environmental policy errors by the Fortune 500 entity formerly known as Fiat Chrysler. During the three-hour hearing held at Wayne County Community College District, he said he called the city of Detroit and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy multiple times. 

The congressional three-hour field hearing in the Motor City was designed to lift up concerns about environmental pollution, particularly in urban areas.

Shobe and other residents filed a federal civil rights complaint in 2021 against state environmental regulators. They argued that racial discrimination for allowing the automaker to increase air emissions in America’s largest Black city where one in every three residents live in poverty, according to federal guidelines. 

Richard Shobe | Ken Coleman

U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), a member of the subcommittee, held the field hearing about multiple threats of pollution to frontline communities.

“We wanted to have this hearing to hear from the residents about what’s going on with the [Stellantis] plant and the pollution,” said Khanna. “I saw the plant and I smelled the pollution. It’s unconscionable.” 

Tlaib talked about environmental pollution issues in her district and the federal government response.

“The system is broken,” said Tlaib. 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) attended the hearing, as did state Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit), the Democratic nominee for the 13th Congressional District. 

Pamela McGhee, another Detroit resident since the 1940s, testified about pollution from the Detroit Renewable Power incinerator facility that operated in the city’s central area for years before political officials like Mayor Mike Duggan, the late State Rep. Issac Robinson (D-Detroit) and others forced it to close in 2019.  

“My concern is the generation of people,” said McGhee. “We’ve had new people come into our neighborhoods, and they are starting to see the effects. This is a medical thing.” 

Mothballed Detroit incinerator to be demolished this year

During the last five years of its operation, the incinerator exceeded pollution emission standards more than 750 times, according to state environmental records.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) permitting processes under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts currently fail to consider these cumulative impacts on health and the environment, Tlaib and Khanna argued. Tlaib has called for “mandatory consideration of cumulative impacts in all permitting and for EPA standards that would require the rejection of applications that would cause harm to communities.”

Tlaib has continually raised the issue during her time serving in both the Legislature and Congress. Residents’ concerns have ranged from petroleum plant emissions to local utility water and sewerage shut-offs are significant. She hosted a similar field hearing in Detroit in 2019. 

“Our current environmental permitting and enforcement systems are sacrificing Black, Brown, immigrant and low-income communities, working-class communities for profit to corporate polluters,” said Tlaib. “We have an urgent duty to build new systems, you all, to place our health and environment first.” 


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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history 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.