Dearborn Industrial Generation, owned by CMS Energy, has withdrawn its application to install an additional 263 megawatt combustion turbine generator at its natural gas-fired power plant located across from Salina Elementary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.