State reopens public comments on license renewal for Romulus waste site

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

State environmental regulators will re-open the public comment period for a license renewal request from Republic Industrial and Energy Services' hazardous waste facility in Romulus, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy confirmed Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, announced the extended public comment period in a Thursday release. Dingell and Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Shri Thanedar, D-Detroit, wrote a letter to EGLE on March 17 urging the state department to expand opportunities for people to weigh in about the facility's operations.

"This is the right thing to do to be transparent, hear community concerns, and ensure that the residents who are most directly affected by the storage of hazardous waste in their neighborhoods have their voices heard," Dingell said in a statement. "The transport and storage of toxic materials requires constant vigilance, and communities deserve to be fully informed and have the opportunity to express their concerns before a final decision is made."

Instructions for participating in the extended public comment period will be released next week, EGLE spokesman Hugh McDiarmid said.

The state of Michigan is reopening a public comment period on the license renewal of Republic Industrial and Energy Services' hazardous waste facility in Romulus.

The Republic facility on Citrin Drive in Romulus has been under renewed scrutiny since local politicians learned it was one of two Michigan facilities to accept hazardous waste from the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Metro Detroit's elected leaders were not notified of the waste's transport through or its disposal in their jurisdictions until after it had taken place. They have asked EGLE for more communication about hazardous waste movements, although neither EGLE nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency require hazardous waste haulers to notify them of individual shipments of waste.

The Romulus facility has been unpopular with its host since its beginning, Romulus Director of Community Safety and Development Kevin Krause previously told The Detroit News. Krause said it was the city's "worst-case scenario" for the facility to dispose of highly toxic waste like that released in East Palestine.

The injection wells also have a history of scrutiny from regulators, who ordered a previous owner to close them from 2006-11 because of violations including a cracked injection pipe that allowed hazardous material to escape.

The facility is licensed to store and treat hazardous waste above ground. The wastewater is imported by railcars, tanker trucks and containers; it contains corrosive and toxic contaminants including heavy metals, EGLE documents show.

After the waste is treated above ground, it is injected into a pair of deep wells on the site. Those wells are licensed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The facility applied for a 10-year license renewal of its above-ground operations on April 28, 2021. EGLE is reviewing that application. The department's original round of public commenting ended Feb. 16.

The facility is listed as a "significant noncomplier" with federal hazardous waste law on the EPA's online enforcement database. EGLE, which conducts the inspections, said Republic has fixed the problems and is considered in compliance. The parties are working on an administrative consent order.

Dingell said the congressional delegation also will host a public forum on April 13 with EGLE, the EPA and others to talk about the "urgent need for further public discourse about how and where we dispose of toxic and hazardous waste."