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Stellantis to pay fine for air quality violations at Detroit assembly plant

Stellantis Mack Assembly
Courtesy of Stellantis
/
A view of the paint shop at Stellantis’ Detroit Assembly Complex – Mack plant. Michigan environmental regulators say the company failed to properly treat fumes coming out of the paint facility.

The state of Michigan has finalized a consent agreement with Stellantis over air quality violations at a factory in Detroit where the company makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The factory site had long been an engine plant for Chrysler. The company now known as Stellantis announced a multibillion dollar investment in Detroit in 2019 and converted the factory to build SUVs.

It was hailed as an economic win for the Motor City, but just two years later, the state issued a notice saying the new plan violated federal and state air quality laws.

The problem was in the paint department. Instead of sending fumes to what’s called a “regenerative thermal oxidizer,” or RTO, to be cleaned, the fumes just got piped straight outside.

Now, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has fined the company $136,832 for the violation. It's also requiring Stellantis to install a new RTO system and have it up and running no later than June 30, 2023.

The agreement also requires Stellantis to install a new system at nearby Southeastern High School that can manage the school building's energy use, and improve air quality. The requirement is part of what's known as a "Supplemental Environmental Project," which is included in the consent order signed by both the company and the state. The company is required to spend at least $147,000 on that project.

All combined, the requirements mean Stellantis will have to pay no less than $283,832 to settle the issue with the state.

A number of residents told the state the enforcement didn’t go far enough.

“EGLE has grounds to shut FCA down,” read one anonymous comment posted by the department in its report on the consent agreement. Stellantis was formerly known as FCA, or Fiat Chrysler America. “FCA should not be able to continue the production of vehicles until the repairs are completed,” the comment continued.

Other commenters noted that the consent agreement didn’t take environmental justice into account. The fine imposed on Stellantis will be paid to the state of Michigan, not to local residents in the neighborhood near the plant. Detroit is a majority-Black city, and residents near the plant suffer most as a result of air pollution, a number of commenters argued.

EGLE said in its response that it would review its policies on getting resident input for future decisions about supplemental environmental projects following violations.

This story has been corrected to reflect that some of the costs Stellantis is required to pay are in the form of a fine, and some come as a result of the required supplemental environmental project. It also clarifies that EGLE said it would review its policies on gathering input for supplemental environmental projects, not consent agreements more generally. The previous version also stated that Stellantis would be required to install its new RTO within 90 days. Stellantis is required to conduct removal efficiency testing of the existing RTO within 90 days, but it has until June 30, 2023 to have the new RTO up and running.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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