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EGLE gets public pushback on proposed consent order for Detroit Stellantis plant

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Sarah Cwiek
/
Michigan Radio
A park adjacent to the Stellantis plant on Detroit's east side was part of a community benefits package.

State environmental regulators shared plans to deal with ongoing violations at a Detroit auto plant at a public hearing on Wednesday night.

The Stellantis Mack Avenue facility on the city’s east side has racked up six violations in less than two years of operations, for nuisance odors and improperly-installed pollution control ductwork.

The draft consent order calls for Stellantis to pay $62,863 in fines. It would also require them to do about $212,000 in supplementary projects, including installing a new energy system in a nearby high school and planting trees in a community park.

The company has also agreed to install another regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO), a piece of pollution control equipment meant to cut down on strong industrial odors. Residents in the area have complained that the odors are causing physical symptoms including breathing problems, nausea, and headaches.

“I think it [the RTO] will definitely offer a real benefit to the community in terms of reducing emissions, reducing the potential for odors to be out there,” said Bob Byrnes, and inspector with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). Byrnes said construction on that would begin within ten days from the signing of the consent order, but requires its own permitting process.

Some residents who attended the virtual public hearing were critical of how EGLE has handled the plant’s repeat violations. They’re calling for more action and more concrete demands, including timelines for installing the RTO, and funds for home repairs and voluntary relocation from the neighborhood.

Resident Rhonda Theus called the Stellantis plant an example of “environmental racism against Black people, pure and simple.” She said community members can’t wait any longer for new pollution controls. “The requirement to have them mitigate this needs to be immediate and it should not be tied to anything else,” Theus said. “It should be a priority in and of itself, because the health of the residents of this community [is] at stake.”

Resident Robert Shobe was also underwhelmed by EGLE’s response. “I understand that you guys have some policies, procedures that you must follow,” he said. “But it's amazing to me how quick you guys are to tell us what's not possible, as opposed to working in the direction of doing what would be better for the people.”

EGLE’s Jennifer Dixon sympathized with residents’ sentiment, but said the agency is constrained in terms of enforcement actions. “Our rules and regulations do not allow us to shut a company down,” she said. “They just don't. And that can sometimes be as frustrating for us. And we know it’s frustrating for you all.” Dixon added that it’s not possible for the state to revoke any tax incentives that Stellantis received because of its environmental violations.

In a statement, Stellantis said that it’s “pleased” with the draft consent agreement, and “eager to see the benefits” that its supplemental projects “will bring to the community.” The company said it filed an application for a permit for the new RTO in May, but construction timelines depend on how quickly the consent order is finalized.

The draft consent order is open for public comment until November 2. EGLE is also in the midst of doing further air quality testing around the plant, after a batch of air samples collected over the summer spoiled due to accidental overheating. It’s unclear when results of the new round of testing will be available, but EGLE pledged to share them with the public as soon as they are.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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