Tracy Samilton | Michigan Radio

Tracy Samilton

Energy and Transportation Reporter / Producer

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.

She took over the auto beat in January, 2009, just a few months before Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy.

Tracy’s reports can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio.

Her coverage of Michigan’s Detroit Three automakers has taken her as far as Germany, and China. Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature.

Master Sgt. David Eichaker / Air National Guard

COVID-19 vaccinations are moving slowly for the thousands of corrections officers and other staff in state prisons.

Health care workers in prisons have first priority, but in some counties, those vaccinations have just started. The rest of prison staff, including corrections officers, are next in line for scarce vaccines.

Chris Gautz is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He says only about half of the prison employees who took a survey said they would definitely or probably get the vaccine.

He hopes that will change.

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The merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and French-based Groupe PSA is now complete.

The new company will be called Stellantis, and be led by CEO Carlos Tavares and Board Chairman John Elkann.

Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Autotrader, says the merger is intended to help increase global sales, reduce costs, and invest in new technologies like electrification.

On April 25, 2014, Flint officials toasted each other as they flipped the switch to the Flint River.

Rich Baird, a former top advisor to Republican Governor Rick Snyder, has resigned his post as a regent of Eastern Michigan University, after being charged with four felonies by state prosecutors for his role in the Flint water crisis.

Baird is accused of perjury in an interview during the investigation into the crisis, extortion, for allegedly threatening investigators looking into the cause of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak during the crisis, obstruction of justice for allegedly attempting to influence and/or interfere with ongoing legal proceedings arising from the Flint water crisis; and misconduct in office, for improperly using state personnel and resources.


Robert Massey, the president of Oil Chem, Inc. in Flint, has pleaded guilty to a charge of violating the Clean Water Act.

Massey had a permit from the city of Flint to send treated oily liquids to a wastewater treatment plant, but he didn't have a permit to dump landfill leachate directly into Flint sewers.   

Landfill leachate is formed when water filters downward through a landfill, picking up dissolved materials and contaminants from decomposing trash.  Federal authorities say some of the leachate contained PCBs, chemicals known to be harmful to humans.

MDOS livestream / Youtube

The Michigan Department of State began an audit of the November election on Monday. 

Audits are performed after every election in Michigan, but state officials say this is a new form of audit and it is more rigorous than those relied on in the past.

Jonathan Brater is director of the state's Bureau of Elections. He oversaw the first stage of the audit in a livestream on Youtube, an event that was attended by several Republican and Democratic clerks. 

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Ford Motor Company is shutting down its three manufacturing plants in Brazil as part of a global cost cutting strategy that began in 2018. 

The cost-cutting is aiming to achieve an 8% EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) as well as greater free cash flow, in part to boost Ford's long-flagging stock price.

The shutdowns will result in the loss of about 5,000 jobs in Brazil.

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Organizers of the North American International Auto Show say they're calling it off this year. But there will be an outdoor replacement of sorts.

Organizers of the NAIAS decided in 2019 to move it to the summer, with the inaugural summer show to be held in June of 2020.  Then, the pandemic hit, and the June date for the show was postponed, and then postponed again. 

Now, the show will not happen in 2021 at all, at least not in its traditional setting of Detroit's TCF Center, formerly known as Cobo Center. 

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The owner of an oil processing company in Flint is accused of violating the Clean Water Act. 

Robert Massey faces a felony charge for allegedly telling employees to illegally dump contaminants into the city's sewer system.  

The U.S. Justice Department made the charges in a document called an "information," which is similar to a complaint, but is typically filed when it is expected that the defendant will plead guilty to the charges.

Ford Motor Company

AutoTrader estimates car companies will sell significantly more new vehicles in 2021 than they did in 2020, and, more of those vehicles could be electric.

Right now, only about 2% of total new car sales in the U.S. are EVs.  Analyst Michelle Krebs of AutoTrader says major car companies plan to boost the number of electric car models they offer. 

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The Michigan Supreme Court has sent a lawsuit over a 2018 ballot initiative law back to the Court of Appeals, saying the lawsuit should be dismissed.

That means the Republican-supported 2018 law to make it more difficult for citizens to mount petition drives in Michigan is probably not enforceable.

The law would have capped signatures on petitions from any one congressional district to 15%.

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Michigan lawmakers passed numerous bills in 2020 to make the state's justice system more fair and rational. The new laws are the result of a bipartisan criminal justice reform task force created by Governor Gretchen Whitmer last year.

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Analysts like Michelle Krebs of AutoTrader threw their 2020 U.S. new vehicle sales forecasts out the window when the pandemic struck the U.S.

Many were fearing the worst - a catastrophic plummet to sales similar to the worst years of the Great Recession. 

And indeed, in March and April, new vehicle sales did fall into the basement.

"But as quickly as they plummeted they started rising again," says Krebs.  "It's been remarkable how the consumer, the dealers and the auto manufacturers have been so  resilient and adaptable."

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Governor Gretchen Whitmer has commuted the sentences of four people serving extremely long sentences for non-violent crimes, including drug possession and distribution.

She says it's part of the effort to make the state's justice system smarter and more equitable.

In a statement, Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist said:

Fraser home falling into the sinkhole.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

It was Christmas Eve 2016, and Candice Miller was just days away from taking office after winning the race for Macomb County's public works commissioner, when a section of the interceptor sewer pipe collapsed on 15 Mile Road – causing a  sinkhole the size of a football field.

The interceptor is a massive sewer line that that carries the waste flushed by more than 500,000 people from nearly a dozen communities in Macomb County to Detroit's wastewater treatment plant.

Master Sgt. David Eichaker / Air National Guard

The state’s prisons have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 50% of Michigan’s prison inmates have been infected by the virus.

As inmate Debra McDaniel notes, "The United States wasn't even prepared for this, let alone a correctional facility."

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Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon has died after contracting COVID-19.

Napoleon was 65 years old.  He was admitted to the hospital on November 21, and died several weeks after being placed on a ventilator.

Napoleon was appointed sheriff in 2009, and he was elected to the position in 2012, and reelected every four years since then. 


Five years after the FBI began investigating corruption in the leadership ranks of the United Auto Workers union, the U.S. Justice Department and the union have agreed to a consent order that places the union under the oversight of an independent monitor.

The investigation began with charges against a former Fiat Chrysler official, and spread from there, ending with two former UAW presidents, Gary Jones and Dennis Williams, pleading guilty to embezzlement, among other crimes.

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Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley is urging the city council to approve a resolution approving a $20 million payment to the $641 million water crisis settlement.  

The council meets Monday evening to debate and potentially vote on a resolution approving the payment.

Neeley says people, including some on the city council, who think the overall settlement can be changed at this late date are wrong, so voting no on the insurance money just means the insurance money goes away.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take public comment through December 17 on Enbridge Energy's new permit application for a tunnel to encase a replacement section of Line 5, which runs through the Straits of Mackinac.

At the same time, there's a legal battle between Enbridge and the state of Michigan, after Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in November she's revoking Enbridge's easement for the pipeline.

Mike Shriberg is with the National Wildlife Foundation.

He says the pipeline threatens vulnerable waters held in the public trust.

One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.
Screen shot of a Ballard Marine inspection video / Enbridge Energy

The Michigan Public Service Commission has remanded what it calls a key issue in Enbridge’s bid to put a replacement section of the Line 5 pipeline in a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The agency says Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s November 13 revocation of the 1953 easement represents a significant change of facts in the case, and the administrative law judge overseeing the matter should reexamine the scope of the case.

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Five Michigan inmates died this past weekend of COVID-19, bringing the total number of inmate deaths statewide to 94.  

42% of state prisoners have now been infected with the coronavirus, and inmates and their loved ones say that shows the state is not keeping them safe during the pandemic.

They are calling on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to use her executive authority to commute the sentences of hundreds of inmates who are nearing the end of their minimum sentences, who also pose a low risk to the safety of the public.

Tingey Injury Law Firm / unsplash

The Michigan state Senate has passed several bills to make changes to the state's criminal justice system.

The bipartisan bills aim to prevent low income offenders from being trapped in a spiral of fines and jail time for what are often misdemeanor offenses.

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COVID-19 has been raging through two Michigan prisons in recent weeks, with large outbreaks in others.

Nearly three quarters of the inmates at Kinross Correctional have tested positive for COVID-19. The facility is located in Kincheloe, a town in the U.P.

Michigan Election Law

The Board of State Canvassers is scheduled to meet on Monday to certify the results of Michigan's November election.

The Board has a very limited role in elections, which is essentially to confirm the math from voting documents submitted by the Michigan Secretary of State, and certify the results, according to election experts.

Courtesy of Kate Madigan

Consumers Energy has reached a one percent cap on rooftop solar customers established by the state's energy law. 

The utility says it plans to ask the Michigan Public Service Commission to allow it to voluntarily increase the cap to two percent, so that additional customers will be able to get permits to install solar panels on their homes.

Environmental groups are pleased by the utility's plan, but they say reaching the one percent cap is a wakeup call. DTE Energy has not yet reached its one percent cap.

Steve Fecht / GM

General Motors says it is accelerating its development of electric vehicles, promising less expensive, longer-range electric vehicles within five years as its effort to become an all-electric car company continues.

GM says a pending breakthrough in battery chemistry will cut the price of its electric vehicles to near-parity with the cost of those powered by gasoline within five years.

The technology also will increase the range per charge to as high as 450 miles, with batteries that offer higher energy density at approximately 60% lower cost.

The South Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA) and Madison Heights meet in court May 17.
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A West Michigan Christian school is pursuing a federal appeal against a state order requiring masks and physical distancing. 

That's even though it shut down voluntarily last week.  

Ottawa County Public Health Department shut down Libertas Christian School on October 23,  after two teachers contracted COVID-19, and the school refused to cooperate with contact tracing, in addition to refusing to require students and teachers to wear masks. 

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The number of inmates in Michigan prisons testing positive for COVID-19 has more than doubled in just two weeks.

Currently, 2,790 inmates are considered active positive cases.  The number was about 1,200 two weeks ago. The largest number of cases are at Handlon, Brooks, and Central Michigan correctional facilities, with smaller outbreaks at the Bellamy, Egeler, Ionia and Newland facilities.

Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz says the dramatic spike reflects what is happening outside the prisons as well.

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Detroit is stepping up enforcement of COVID-19 protocols on city businesses, urging residents to call the health department if they see a business flouting the rules, such as not requiring employees and customers to wear masks or physically distance.

Mayor Mike Duggan says an inspector will go to that business immediately, and inspectors have been given the authority to issue a $1,000 fine or even shut the business down if necessary.


The Michigan High School Athletic Association has forced an Upper Peninsula varsity football team to forfeit tonight's game.

That's after Pickford Public Schools held an emergency meeting Thursday evening to release players from quarantine, so they could play in the  Friday night game that was scheduled against Indian Lakes Schools.  

Pickford Public Schools is in Chippewa County, which is experiencing a big outbreak of COVID-19.

The Pickford Panthers were State Champions last year in the 8 player 2nd division. This year they were in Division one.