Gov. Snyder’s decision to halt a plan to reduce carbon pollution is a major step backward when it comes to protecting clean air and the health of Michigan’s most vulnerable communities.
The governor has clearly failed to learn from important lessons in Flint and across our state about protecting public health, and his failure to lead the way on clean energy demonstrates once again that public health is not a priority of his administration.
According to the NAACP report “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,” Michigan has five coal plants that received a failing Environmental Justice performance grade based on their impact on low-income communities and communities of color.
Currently, nearly half of all Americans live in areas where the air is unsafe to breathe, according to the American Lung Association. Here in Detroit, pollution from coal-burning power plants threatens public health and increases instances of asthma and other respiratory problems. We see firsthand the daily effects of severe air pollution. These are not abstract issues that might occur in the distant future; these are impacts we see today. Asthma rates in Michigan are 25 percent higher than the national average, an alarming statistic exacerbated by the poor air quality in our state. The health care costs associated with pollution from Michigan's nine oldest coal-fired power plants top $1 billion every year.
Additionally, the impacts of air pollution disproportionately affect low-income and minority families. Data from the Michigan Department of Community Health shows that African-American children in particular are a shocking four times more likely to die from asthma-related health problems than other groups. According to a 2012 report by Environmental Health & Engineering, African Americans make up 75 percent of emergency room visits for asthma in Michigan.
Many states have taken the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan as an opportunity to extend their community engagement process and Michigan should do the same. In fact, the court’s decision would allow the state to extend and strengthen its stakeholder process to ensure that community engagement is robust and meaningful. A robust public engagement process that includes environmental justice communities is critical to shaping a strong and equitable plan for Michigan’s clean energy future.
The Michigan Environmental Justice Clean Power Plan Working Group — a coalition that includes the Sierra Club, Ecology Center, East Michigan Environmental Action Council and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center — has been working to ensure that our state implementation plan is equitable and meets the needs of communities most impacted by air pollution and climate change. We expect a plan that promotes health, economic opportunity and a robust and meaningful stakeholder engagement process.
Rather than dragging its feet, the state must embrace this opportunity to reduce carbon pollution, make kids healthier and create a better economic future for Detroit and all of Michigan. Michigan residents should be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water — no matter where they live.
Kimberly Hill Knott, director of policy for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, and William Copeland, climate justice director for East Michigan Environmental Action Council, are members of the Michigan Environmental Justice Clean Power Plan Working Group.