Column: AG Schuette must protect clean air

Abdullah Hammoud

In the wake of the Flint water crisis and ongoing concerns over air pollution, particularly here in southeast Michigan, one would expect our state government to have an enhanced focus on ensuring the health and safety of Michigan residents.

Unfortunately, a recent “closed door” agreement between the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the Michigan Strategic Fund Board (SFB) and the company AK Steel flies in the face of that assumption. A decision to award AK Steel over $20 million in tax breaks circumvented the entire legislative process, required no common sense steps to reduce harmful air emission from the Dearborn Works plant, and, most importantly, left Dearborn residents asking “why?”

AK Steel’s Dearborn Works facility is in the south end of Dearborn and I can assure you that my residents are deeply concerned with this facility’s long history of air quality violations. I recall canvassing this part of town and coming across an elderly man who asked that I not forget about the people living in that community, who are forced to breathe polluted air.

With that top of mind, and along with a bipartisan group of my colleagues, we are asking Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to review how these tax credits were awarded and decide whether any laws were broken in the process.

Like many of my fellow legislators, I believe that AK Steel should reasonably make a commitment to improve air quality, reduce violations, and make further assurances to the community it serves. When I approached AK Steel and asked that they put pen to paper, and show a commitment to a better quality of life for its employees and for the residents in the surrounding areas, I was quick to receive a resounding “sorry, no can do.”

Despite improvements since the facility came under new ownership in 2014, AK Steel’s Dearborn site is still out of compliance with state and federal air quality standards. The Department of Environmental Quality notified AK Steel of 33 violations in 2016 and issued its most recent violation notice in February 2017. The plant’s main pollution control technology is from 1964; five years before we landed on the moon. Yet, AK Steel continues to use this outdated machinery that is unable to match the pollution control levels of new technology.

Now, I am all in favor of attracting and retaining businesses in all areas of the state, and AK Steel continues to provide good-paying jobs here in Dearborn. However, I believe it is reasonable for a company that wants to receive a major tax break from the State of Michigan to comply with our air quality protections or be willing to commit to clear, actionable steps that will bring it into compliance.

Clean air is a necessity for a healthy life. Instead of rewarding companies that violate our air quality protections, we should incentivize these facilities to improve their operations by coming into full compliance with the law. Michigan can and must do better to protect the clean air depended upon by every resident of our state.

Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, represents Michigan’s 15th House district.