Say Hello to Erin Mette, the Center's 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow!

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center is excited to announce that in September 2018 it will welcome Erin Mette, who will join the Center as an Equal Justice Works fellow. Erin’s fellowship project will focus on protecting children in Detroit and Flint from home-based environmental health hazards by providing legal counseling and representation to affected families and advocating for policy that addresses the root causes of this unique environmental justice issue.

For too many residents in environmental justice communities, their home is a hazard to their health. Home-based environmental health hazards include lead paint on the walls of older homes and a lack of access to clean drinking water due to lead contamination and water service shutoffs. Many of these homes that contain environmental health hazards are the homes of children, who are especially vulnerable to the life-long health impacts that these hazards cause. Additionally, these hazards disproportionately affect children in low-income communities of color, whose voices have typically been excluded from the process of creating and enforcing the standards meant to prevent such harms. The families impacted by home-based environmental health hazards overwhelmingly lack access to legal services to help them address these issues. Through her Equal Justice Works fellowship, Erin will provide a wide variety of direct legal services to families confronting home-based environmental health hazards to ensure that those families are being adequately protected from such hazards.

Erin’s Equal Justice Works fellowship is for a term of two years and is sponsored by Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP and an anonymous donor. Equal Justice Works is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to creating a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice. Each year, it provides funding to a limited number of applicants that have proposed innovative public interest law projects that seek to address pressing legal issues around the country through a highly competitive and rigorous process. Erin is the Center’s second Equal Justice Works fellow. The Center’s current staff attorney, Nick Leonard, initially joined the organization in 2014 through an Equal Justice Works fellowship.

Erin Mette is a 2018 graduate of Wayne Law and also holds a Master of Science from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment as well as a Bachelor of Arts from Kalamazoo College. During her time at Wayne Law, she was a student in the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic. 

After public hearing CMS Energy withdraws application to expand power plant across from Salina Elementary School

Dearborn Industrial Generation, owned by CMS Energy, has withdrawn its application to install an additional 263 megawatt combustion turbine generator at its natural gas-fired power plant located across from Salina Elementary School at 2400 Miller Road in Dearborn, Michigan. The expansion was estimated to result in significant increases in a number of air pollutants, including 416 tons per year of nitrogen oxides, 913 tons per year of carbon monoxide, and 167 tons per year of volatile organic compounds.

The power plant is located within 700 feet of Salina Elementary, and is nearby a community with a large immigrant population. It is located in close proximity to other major sources of air pollution, including AK Steel and the Ford Rouge Complex. At the public hearing, community residents expressed concerns about the potential health impacts that would result from allowing more air pollution to be emitted close to an elementary school in a neighborhood that already suffers from poor air quality. Many asserted that allowing a facility to increase its air pollution in a predominantly immigrant community would amount to an environmental injustice. 

Early on, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center identified the proposed expansion as a potential environmental justice issue. While the MDEQ initially proposed a 30-day public comment period in October, the Center identified that none of the public notice and comment documents provided by the MDEQ were available in Arabic despite 40% of residents in the community having limited English proficiency. Based on concerns raised by the Center that residents would not be able to effectively participate in the public comment process, the MDEQ extended the public comment period by two months and translated some of its public participation documents into Arabic. “When DEQ considers applications for facilities that will be located in areas where there is a significant minority or low income or non-native English speaking population, it must adhere to basic environmental justice principles,” said Oday Salim, Executive Director and Managing Attorney of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. He  added “Providing 30 days of public comment with no real local outreach and no translation into Arabic and other relevant languages was inexcusable. Thank goodness the Southend Dearborn community was brave and resilient enough to make their voices heard.”

The Center worked with several residents and organizations to develop lengthy written comments in opposition to the proposed expansion. With the assistance of students from the Wayne State University Law School Transnational Environmental Law Clinic, the Center identified several legal issues regarding the proposed expansion and presented those concerns to the MDEQ. “The Clean Air Act requires that major modifications at major air pollution sources such as this facility install the best available control technology to control emissions and preserve air quality in the area. We identified other similar facilities that used more effective pollution control technology” said Nick Leonard, Staff Attorney of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

All people, especially children, should be able to breathe freely in the places that they live, work, go to school, and play -- no matter their race, national origin, or income level. Moving forward, DEQ needs to learn from this experience and improve its permitting approach in environmental justice communities.

SAVE THE DATE!

4TH ANNUAL BLUE WATER BASH
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 6:30-10PM
TONY V'S (5756 Cass Ave Detroit, MI)

Our 4th Annual Blue Water Bash is coming up! At the Bash, we get to thank the communities we work with & our clients, our staff & board, the students & interns who devote their time to our cause, and our funders & collaborators.

We also recognize the value of journalism to our work and the work of other environmental professionals by presenting our Excellence in Environmental Journalism award. This year, we are celebrating the contributions of Anna Clark. Anna has written numerous articles about the Flint water crisis and is currently writing a book about the subject. She has written about the continuous evolution of Detroit and other Michigan cities. And she is a tireless advocate of journalism as an institution. You can find her work here.

Please join us. There will be food, refreshments, and great tunes. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased beforehand online with a credit card, or at the event with cash or check.