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.

Stefania and Mirek Czech
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Toledo voters have approved a charter amendment giving Lake Erie legal rights by a large margin, 9,867 to 6,211. 

Turnout in the special election, which also included a referendum on whether to keep the city's jail downtown, was 8.9% of registered voters.

The charter amendment purports to allow any city resident to sue to protect the lake.  

auto factory
Fiat Chrysler

Detroit got some very good news on Tuesday.

Fiat Chrysler says it plans to build a new assembly plant in Detroit, invest in five other Michigan plants, and hire 6,500 additional workers.

Michelle Krebs is an analyst with Autotrader. 

"Detroit hasn't seen a new assembly plant in a long time, decades," says Krebs, "so this is absolutely fabulous news for Detroit, for Michigan and for Fiat Chrysler and Jeep."

Fiat Chrysler says the nearly $4.5 billion expansion will help it meet growing demand for Jeep SUVs and RAM trucks. 

Jeffrey Sauger / Chevrolet

The United Auto Workers union is suing General Motors over its decision late last year to "unallocate" three plants in the U.S., one of them the Warren Transmission Plant in Michigan.

"Unallocate" means, according to GM, ending production of the plants' current products while not assigning new ones.

The union says it's a code word for closing, which is prohibited under the current four year contract.

Harley Shaiken is a labor expert at the University of California Berkeley.

DTE Energy

The Michigan Public Service Commission has approved changes to DTE Energy's MI Green Power plan, which lets customers subsidize renewable energy.  

The MI Green Power plan lets customers pay extra for the utility's renewable energy projects that go further than the state's 15% mandate. 

NOAA, GLERL

Toledo voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to decide the fate of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights referendum.

The referendum would amend Toledo's city charter to give the lake rights, including the right to exist and flourish, and allow any Toledo resident to legally advocate on its behalf.

Ford

Ford Motor Company says it has hired an outside firm to investigate an issue raised by employees about the company's analytical modeling that is part of the process for establishing fuel economy and emissions compliance.

The issue is highly technical. The company says it is investigating the employee concern regarding the "road load" specifications used during testing done on a machine called a dynamometer.

PFAS sites in Michigan
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

PFAS discharges from Kalamazoo's wastewater treatment plant are now under the state limit of 12 parts per trillion for surface water.

That's down from a high of about 53 parts per trillion last summer.

Van Etten Lake in Oscoda, Michigan
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

A number of environmental groups, Democratic politicians, and citizens who live in areas contaminated with PFAS are criticizing Thursday's PFAS Action Plan announcement by the U.S. EPA.

PFAS is a class of chemicals linked to health problems that's contaminating many drinking water systems.  

wikimedia

A new University of Michigan study finds that doctors frequently send discharged patients home with a prescription for risky antibiotics. That's even when the patients were taking less risky antibiotics in the hospital.

The study looked at people who were hospitalized for urinary tract infections or pneumonia.

The risky antibiotics include Ciprofloxacin (often just called Cipro), Leviquin and generic drugs ending in "floxacin."

Honda

Honda, Ford and Mazda are working against time to find owners of cars with potentially deadly Takata airbags.

These are old vehicles - made in 2001 to 2003, in Honda's case - with the very earliest versions of the defective air bags, known as "alpha" airbags.

Chris Martin of Honda says the propellant in the airbags becomes unstable over time when exposed to heat and humidity.

He says there's up to a 50% chance the airbags will explode in an accident.

Bridge and frozen river in Portland, MI
Courtesy of Jessica Dorsky

The city of Portland evacuated more residents as severe flooding from the Grand River got worse.

The town is about 25 miles northwest of Lansing.

About 50 people were evacuated Tuesday when ice and water began pouring over the banks along North Water Street.

MSU

The University of Michigan has established a commission on achieving carbon neutrality, to help fight climate change. 

But student activists say the process is already deeply flawed.  

Carbon neutrality means reducing carbon emissions as much as possible, and balancing what's left with actions like planting forests, which absorb carbon, or buying credits with renewable energy companies.

Wikicommons

John Dingell,  the longest-serving member of Congress in American history, died Thursday of cancer at age 92.

General Motors

It's been a couple days of good and bad news for General Motors employees.

GM announced Tuesday it's adding a thousand workers to build heavy duty trucks at its Flint Assembly plant. That's just as the automaker begins laying off 4,000 white collar workers, over the next two weeks.

Michael Mazengarb / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Circuit West, an experimental green energy development in Grand Rapids, now has an energy storage component.  

Circuit West is described by developers as "a 13-block hub of innovative electricity generation, distribution and storage and energy efficient building construction."

The storage is in the form of large cabinet-sized batteries that can store more than an hour's worth of the energy being produced by existing solar panels.

Roger Lin is with NEC Energy Solutions, which is providing the batteries for the pilot project with Consumers Energy.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Update: Thursday, January 31, 5:09 p.m.

Consumers Energy says residential customers can turn their thermostats back up after midnight on Thursday. The utility requests that people keep their thermostats at 65 degrees or below until midnight.

Original post: Thursday January 31, 7:20 a.m.  

Frigid temperatures across the Midwest are putting stress on the electric grid for Michigan and part or all of 14 other states.

MISO - the group which runs the electric grid for the region - declared a "maximum generation event" Wednesday.

That means electric demand is very high, so utilities are being asked to take a number of steps to conserve electricity - including urging customers to reduce their electricity usage.

Themostat set to 65 degrees.
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Update: Thursday, January 31 at 4:33 p.m.

Consumers Energy says customers should be able to dial up the thermostat if they want, beginning at 10:00 a.m. Friday.

Less frigid weather means less of a need to conserve natural gas after a Wednesday fire at a major gas compressor station.

But the utility still does not know what caused the fire.  An investigation continues.

Until the cause is known, Consumers Energy says it will not restart all three plants at the station.  Currently, it has one plant in operation.

CEME

Consumers Energy has agreed to stop giving money to non-profit political advocacy groups for two years, under the terms of a rate case settlement agreement with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

That's after the state's largest utility gave more than $43 million between 2014 and 2017 to a controversial dark money PAC to oppose issues and defeat political candidates it did not like.  

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The ACLU of Michigan claims Paw Paw Public Schools is maintaining a hostile environment that is hurting minority students. The group has filed a discrimination complaint against the district with the U.S. Department of Education.

Gerald R. Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids
Photo courtesy of the Gerald R Ford International Airport

The U.S. Justice Department says FBI agents arrested three men at Ford Airport in Grand Rapids Monday afternoon.

The government says one of them, Muse Abdikadir Muse (known as Muse Muse), was planning to fly from Grand Rapids to Somalia, allegedly to join ISIS.

For Rent sign
Kurt Bauschardt / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The city of Jackson is considering a new ordinance to protect tenants if their housing is declared unsafe.  

Officials say the city has been taking on the responsibility of finding and even sometimes paying for temporary housing for renters when inspectors declare their regular housing unsafe, in some instances to keep people from becoming homeless.

wikimedia

Kalamazoo is dealing with a rash of water main breaks due to the extremely cold temperatures.

Jeff Chamberlin, Kalamazoo Deputy City Manager, says if the ground around a main freezes, "the earth will actually shift and when that happens we'll get cracks or breaks in water mains occasionally."

Infiniti

People heading to the North American International Auto Show will be able to see some ready- or nearly -ready-to-buy cars, as well as concepts. 

Some of the concepts are electrics. Car companies say electrification is likely to significantly change how cars look both inside and outside.

Karim Habib is executive design director for Infiniti, which is showing a concept electric car, the QX Inspiration, at the show. 

He says electric cars don't have big engines in the front. That's because batteries, typically underneath, power the car.

Oil booms placed near shore during spill response drill in the Straits of Mackinac.
Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

The partial government shutdown has closed programs that monitor conditions in the Great Lakes. 

Eric Anderson is with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Anderson, who has been furloughed without pay, says normally, the laboratory runs a computer modeling program 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which monitors ice conditions and the movement of the swift currents in the Straits of Mackinac.

Wikimedia

Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen have announced a limited alliance.

As part of the alliance, Ford will develop and build medium-size pickups and commercial vans for the global market for both companies. The vehicles will be sold with either a Ford or Volkswagen brand name in South America, Africa, and Europe.

Volkswagen will develop and build a city van for both automakers.

NAIAS

It's the start of the 30th annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.

It's also the last time the show will be in January. The once can't-miss event is moving to the summer in 2020 with the hope of regaining some of its lost glory.

General Motors

General Motors CEO Mary Barra says the automaker is fully committed to a zero emissions future.  

Those vehicles of the  future are being developed using the profits from GM's gasoline-powered trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.

wikimedia

The partial government shutdown is making farmers in Michigan nervous. 

Local USDA offices are closed due to the shutdown, so a backlog of things like farm loan applications is growing.

Stock reports on crops also aren't being issued, so people in Michigan who trade grain commodities are operating without essential information.

Panasonic

Vehicle to Vehicle Communication, or V2V, is a potentially life-saving technology that allows cars to communicate with each other and with traffic signals and other road infrastructure to prevent accidents.

General Motors

The United Auto Workers is suing General Motors in federal district court, claiming the automaker is breaching its labor contract by using temporary workers to block plant transfers.  

The UAW says there are nearly 700 workers laid off from the Lordstown, Ohio Assembly Plant, and many have applied to transfer to the Fort Wayne, Indiana Assembly Plant, as is their right under the contract with GM. 

But the union's lawsuit claims GM is preventing those transfers by filling vacant jobs with temporary workers at Fort Wayne. 

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