Tracy Samilton | Michigan Radio
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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.

Map of 1,4-dioxane plume in Ann Arbor.
Scio Residents for Safe Water

A circuit court judge has scheduled new hearings for May that will likely result in more aggressive cleanup of a source of pollution in Washtenaw County.

The case involves a plume of contamination from Gelman Sciences that's been spreading in the groundwater for decades.  

Michigan recently dramatically lowered the standard for 1,4 dioxane in groundwater.  That's the chemical in the plume spreading in the Ann Arbor and Scio Township areas. 

Stellantis

U.S. automakers are seeing a ripple effect of production line slow-downs and shut-downs due to the ongoing computer chip shortage.

Autotrader Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs says a major reason for the shortage is because automakers canceled orders when the pandemic began last year, as production lines were shut down initially.

She says the companies did not expect demand for vehicles to surge back so quickly.

Now, they're at the back of the line, as chip suppliers fill orders for other high-demand goods, like i-Phones, laptops, and video games.

ITC

MISO, the agency that manages Michigan's electric grid, says it's planning for a better interstate transmission system.

Experts say that's good news for helping to clean up the state's electricity.  

MISO manages and ensure reliable electricity for its entire grid, which includes Michigan, 16 other states, and the Canadian province of Manitoba.  

University of Michigan near Rackham and Michigan League
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

As more and more Michiganders - and out-of-state students - become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, the University of Michigan is planning to have students return to campus for the fall semester, with residence halls filled at nearly 80% in September, and most classes being held in person.

Students and other fans will also be able to attend Michigan athletic events, so long as public health guidance allows.

Master Sgt. David Eichaker / Air National Guard

So far during the pandemic, more than 62% of Michigan's 40,886 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

138 prisoners have died of the infection.

It shouldn't have happened, says Tony Gant, President of the Jackson chapter of Nation Outside, an advocacy organization for Michigan inmates.

David Schultz / unsplash

The pandemic may have given a lot of Michiganders cabin fever.

Jason Fleming is a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.

He says nights spent at state campgrounds between October and February were up about 40% from the same time period last year.

"You know, the reality is, people want to get outdoors, they want to get out of their house," says Fleming.

Hennie Stander / unsplash

Mashiyat Rashid, the man who orchestrated a nightmarish Medicare fraud scheme in Michigan and Ohio, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

The scheme involved coercing patients at Tri County Wellness Group's clinics to submit to medically unnecessary and sometimes horribly painful back injections in order to get prescriptions for opioids. 

Some of the patients were genuinely suffering from pain, and some were addicts. According to testimony at Rashid's trial, some of the patients could be heard screaming during the procedures, which were described by a former Tri County employee as "barbaric," and some suffered injuries, including open holes in their backs.

DONFIORE / ADOBE STOCK

The city of Detroit's health department is investigating a large COVID-19 outbreak at the Whole Foods store.

Twenty-three of the store's 196 workers have tested positive so far.

Denise Fair is Detroit's Chief Public Health Officer. She calls the outbreak "outrageous," and says it raises questions about Whole Foods' internal practices.

Georg Arthur Pflueger / Unsplash

Nursing home aides and home care aides could see a two dollar an hour reduction in their pay on Sunday.

That's when a pay increase approved during the pandemic expires.

Robert White has two sons with disabilities who need home aides for the tasks of daily life.

He says the aides aren't paid much anyway, and losing the pay increase could increase turnover.

DTE Energy

DTE Energy and state regulators have asked the Court of Appeals to reconsider a decision affecting a permit for the utility's new gas plant.

The company is building a billion gas plant in St. Clair County.

Nick Leonard is the executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. He says the Court of Appeals rightly decided that state regulators ignored their own permitting process.

religious cross hanging on side of building with lights behind it
ehrlif / Adobe Stock

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights watchdog, says it has identified 25 hate groups in the state of Michigan for its 2020 annual "Hate Map" report.

Among those groups is the Christ the King Reformed Church in Charlotte, Michigan.

people signing petitions
Fraitag.de / Adobe Stock

Pro-voting rights groups are suing to try to strike down a 2018 law they argue makes it harder to gather signatures for a citizen petition drive.

Lonnie Scott is head of Progress Michigan. The group supports an initiative to limit the political influence of lobbyists, and another initiative to change Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to include the Legislature and governor.

Another group that's suing wants to require public disclosure of donations to political campaigns. The  Michigan League of Women Voters has also joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff.

Homeless man
SamPac / creative commons


Groups across Michigan that provide emergency shelter are bracing for a rough two weeks.

Temperatures some nights could plunge to near or below zero, and COVID-19 restrictions will make it even more difficult than usual to keep people safe in life-threatening cold. 

Faith Fowler runs Cass Community Social Services in Detroit, which typically has about 150 people being sheltered overnight.  She says that number can easily double in single digit cold snaps. 

Cadillac

General Motors has joined a growing list of global auto companies that have had to pause or slow production of a number of their vehicles due to a shortage of computer chips.

The chips, often made in Taiwan, control many of the functions of a modern car, including starting the engine, the infotainment system, electronic steering and electronic braking.

ITC Michigan

Updated 2:07 p.m. 02/04/2021

The Natural Resources Defense Council says the Midwest energy grid operator known as MISO hasn't planned enough interstate transmission lines.

MISO manages the system of utilities and transmission lines that operate in a wide region, from Manitoba, Canada to Louisiana.

Jordi Vich Navarro / unsplash

Some financial relief is on the way for about 545,000 people in Michigan whose unemployment benefits abruptly ceased in December. 

The state of Michigan says it has now completed updates to its unemployment claims website to accommodate the additional federal aid. 

Unsplash

The Michigan Supreme Court hopes a new initiative called "Justice for All" will make it easier for people to handle their own cases in civil court, if they can't afford an attorney.

Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra is chair of a new commission that will make recommendations.

He says one needed change is cultural, because judges and attorneys in civil courts don't always treat people without lawyers with dignity and respect.

Yolanda Sun / unsplash

General Motors says it is setting a science-based target of carbon neutrality by 2040.

The automaker says the vast majority of its cars, SUVs and pickups will be zero emission vehicles by 2035, and its global manufacturing sites will rely 100% on renewable energy by that year as well. GM expects to have its U.S. manufacturing sites using only renewable energy even sooner, by 2030.

The automaker is following in the footsteps of VW and Ford, says Sam Abuelsamid, Principal Analyst for Guidehouse Insights, but going further than those companies' targets of carbon neutrality by 2050.

judge's hammer on top of $100 bills
Yingko / Adobe Stock

Fiat Chrysler has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to violate the federal Labor Management Relations Act, also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, and pay a $30 million fine, for bribing United Auto Workers officials.

The company has also agreed to the appointment of a compliance monitor for three years.

Prison bars
powelli / Creative Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A for-profit prison in a rural county in Michigan is expected to close when its contract expires at the end of September, 2022.

That's after President Joe Biden issued an executive order ending federal contracts with private prison companies. 

North Lake Correctional Facility near the Village of Baldwin in Lake County houses about 1,500 non-US citizen inmates convicted of federal crimes. It's run by the for-profit company GEO Group.

Scio Residents for Safe Water

Gelman Sciences wants a Washtenaw County judge to pause court proceedings in the 1-4 dioxane pollution cleanup case.

Gelman is responsible for a plume of contaminated groundwater that's been spreading in the Ann Arbor area for at least 37 years.  

A DDOT bus in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

President Joe Biden's long-time reliance on Amtrak to get between his home and work in Washington, D.C is well-known.

And Pete Buttigieg, the man Biden has nominated for U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary, says he hopes to carve out $1.5 billion for public transit across the U.S.

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick
Michigan Radio

Outgoing President Donald Trump has commuted the prison sentence of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has served about seven years of a 28-year sentence for corruption.

A White House statement said that prominent members of the Detroit community had supported Kilpatrick’s commutation and noted, “During his incarceration, Mr. Kilpatrick has taught public speaking classes and has led Bible Study groups with his fellow inmates.”

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.

wikimedia commons

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.
WNEM-TV

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.

unsplash

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. 

Wikimedia commons

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.

Calm Vistas / wikimedia commons

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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