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.

person writing on paper
LucasTheExperience / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered the Board of State Canvassers to certify a petition that would repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act.

That's the act Governor Gretchen Whitmer relied on to declare an extended state of emergency during the pandemic.

Fred Wszolek is a spokesman for Unlock Michigan, the group that gathered the petition signatures.

He said the court rightly told the Board of State Canvassers it didn't have the authority to investigate the manner in which a petition drive is conducted.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Chanting, "We can't wait," survivors of catastrophic auto accidents, their families, and friends gathered Wednesday to call on state legislators to take action to prevent deep cuts to payments to their long-term care providers.

Bills to prevent the cuts (HB 4486 and SB 314) have been languishing in committees in the state House and Senate, with no hearings scheduled before elected leaders leave Lansing for summer recess. The 45% cuts will be imposed on July 1 as part of Michigan's new auto insurance law.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

A potential second tragedy is looming for Michigan auto accident survivors with brain and spinal cord injuries. 

On July 1, Michigan's new auto insurance law makes deep cuts in payments to providers of long-term care for these and future survivors. Many care providers are expected to close by then, or not long after. And in many cases, alternate care is simply unavailable. That could leave hundreds of people, especially those dependent on ventilator support, facing severe consequences -- including a heightened risk of death. 

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Updated 06/07/21 12:21 pm 

A potential second tragedy is looming for Michigan auto accident survivors with brain and spinal cord injuries. 

On July 1, Michigan's new auto insurance law makes deep cuts in payments to providers of long-term care for these and future survivors. Many care providers are expected to close by then, or not long after. And in many cases, alternate care is simply unavailable. That could leave hundreds of people, especially those dependent on ventilator support, facing severe consequences -- including a heightened risk of death. 

gravel mining
Adobe Stock

The Michigan Senate has overwhelmingly approved bills to strip local governments of authority to issue gravel mine permits.

The bills would give permitting authority to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.  In the vast majority of cases, EGLE would be required to issue the permits even if local governments and residents oppose new mines.

Women's prison
Michigan Department of Corrections

State Senator Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) has introduced a bill to create a committee overseeing conditions at the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti.

At a press conference to introduce SB 487, Geiss said there are serious issues with sanitation, overcrowding, and access to timely medical care at the state's only women's prison.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Gilbert Poole was in his early 20s when he was wrongly convicted of murder, based on misleading and faulty evidence, and defense counsel mistakes.

The trial relied on testimony from a key witness who could not recall details about when the crime occured, as well as bite mark analysis from a dentist associated with other wrongful convictions. Such bite mark analysis is now considered unscientific.

faucet running water
Marina Shemesh / Public Domain

The city of Muskegon is resuming shutoffs for failure to pay water bills this week, after a statewide pandemic moratorium expired at the end of March.

About 300 to 400 homes are in the first queue for the service shutoffs, a utility spokeswoman said.

Officials in Saginaw say the city will resume water shutoffs on June 15. The city is urging residents facing a shutoff to call 2-1-1 or the state emergency relief fund to get financial help for paying the back due amounts.

Pascal Meier / Unsplash

Pedestrian deaths from car crashes spiked nearly 20% in Michigan last year, according to preliminary data from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The Association's Russ Martin said people drove much less in 2020 due to the pandemic. But the crisis seemed to worsen drivers' behavior, with more speeding and distracted driving.

"Whatever happened in the pandemic has caused an unexpected increase in the number of people killed," said Martin. "Not just pedestrians but all kinds of crashes. And so we in the safety community of course find this very shocking, but also very remarkable, and we need to figure out how can we address this in the future."

U.S. Postal Service retirees in front of post office
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) has introduced a bill to strengthen the United States Postal Service.

The agency has struggled for years. Performance especially suffered upon the appointment of Louis DeJoy as postmaster general in the final year of the Trump administration, say observers.

Peters says Americans depend on the post office for more than delivering and receiving first-class mail.

Wind turbine
Tim Wang / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The University of Michigan has adopted a plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2040.

Net zero means the combination of reducing the burning of fossil fuels with actions to remove carbon dioxide from the environment, such as re-forestation, or sequestering carbon in geologic formations.

Drew Horning is special advisor to U of M President Mark Schlissel for carbon neutrality strategy. 

He says by 2025, the University plans to get all its outside purchased electricity from carbon dioxide-free sources like wind.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Some companies that provide rehabilitation services for people catastrophically injured in car accidents are planning to shut their doors as of July 1.

That's when a 45% cut in medical reimbursements that was included in the 2019 changes to Michigan's auto insurance law takes effect.

A farm with a wind turbine
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Republicans have introduced a new bill in the state Senate to stop what wind-rich communities are calling a "bait and switch" by utilities.

Rick Sundquist is an attorney with Clark Hill. He represents a coalition of local governments in Huron, Gratiot, and Isabella counties, where Michigan's wind parks are located.

Sundquist says communities that agreed to let wind parks in did so based on a depreciation table established by the Michigan Tax Commission. The table told them how much tax revenue they'd get from the wind parks over the years of their natural lifespan.

gravel mining
Adobe Stock

Supporters and opponents of bills to remove local control over gravel mines testified at a hearing in the state Senate Thursday.

The bills would have the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy approve or deny permits, instead of villages, townships and cities.  

The sponsor of the bills, Democratic Senator Jim Ananich, admitted there were no gravel mines in his district. He also said he had not met with township officials while the bill was being drafted. 

A cell phone with the apps Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pulled up
dole777 / Unsplash

Some stories, there's just not a lot of gray area.

A few months ago, I was driving behind a vehicle that kept lurching from one side of the lane to the other. It was pretty bad. I thought the driver was drunk.

Finally, I passed the car, and I saw that the motorist was driving with one hand on the wheel, whilst her other hand held a cell phone aloft, the better to conduct a Facetime chat.  

She was driving about 70 miles an hour down the highway. Yikes. Not good.

Sarah Sutherlin and Carmela Palamara
Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press

Advocates say they're still confident that a $2.25 pay increase for direct care workers will be included in next year's budget.

That's even though the state House Appropriations Committee did not approve an amendment for the pay increase on Wednesday.

Direct care workers take care of Michigan's most vulnerable adults, who are elderly or have disabilities or mental illness, often in the adults' homes.

Robert Stein is with the Michigan Assisted Living Association. He says many people could lose their caregivers if the pay bump doesn't stay in place.

Courtesy of Kate Madigan

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy say they want significant changes made to a rooftop solar bill.  

The bill would let any homeowner with solar panels get reimbursed for the excess energy they put on the grid. Right now, the cap is set at only 1%.  Consumers Energy has already reached that cap.

Bill sponsor Greg Markkenan says he's not surprised the utilities oppose the bill. He's a Republican who represents the 110th House District in the U.P.  Markkenan says the rooftop solar industry creates good-paying jobs.

3D rendering of coronavirus
donfiore / Adobe Stock

Sudden onset diabetes. Heart, lung, and kidney disorders. “Foggy brain,” and other neurological problems.  Muscle weakness, fatigue, and skin rashes.

These are just some of the almost bewildering array of long-term complications that some people develop after getting COVID-19.

Michigan Medicine has added two new multi-disciplinary clinics to treat adults and children with such complications. These patients are often referred to as COVID-19 “long haulers.”

Excellacare Care Provider Sarah Sutherlin helps her client Carmela Palamara, 92, of Brownstown stand up to stretch her legs after the two color and play a game of UNO at Palamara's home on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press

Updated:  05/07/2021

Misty Evans stands in her client Ric’s living room in Midland, helping him pick out a record to play on the turntable.

Sarah Sutherlin and Carmela Palamara
Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press


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.

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