Considering the cumulative impacts of air pollution

Considering the cumulative impacts of air pollution

Breathing in Michigan has been noticeably more difficult this summer. Wildfire smoke drifting in from Canada has at times made air quality in Detroit and Grand Rapids the worst cities in the world. Some of us may have experienced a dry throat, or watery eyes, but for others with respiratory conditions, like asthma, the poor air quality can be deadly. 

But what if for some of us this is not just a freak occurrence? For some residents of Michigan, this type of air quality is an everyday reality. Pollution in Detroit’s industrial core has harmed residents for decades and regulators from both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) have left gaps in air pollution regulations, allowing polluters to operate unchecked.

The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts have had amazing impacts on reducing pollution since they were passed in 1970, saving an estimated 400,000 lives from premature death. However, the authority of these acts is limited to scope of the individual projects they are reviewing. 

An unfortunate fact is that corporate polluters leverage their financial resources to actually build regulatory fines they know they will incur into their budgets. For these corporations, violating clean air and water protections are a part of doing business. 

The crux of this problem lies in the fact that aggregate pollution of all of the industry is not considered when approving Clean Air and Clean Water Act permits. Here’s what that means: When a refinery, factory or other polluting source, seeks a permit from the EPA to operate, the scope of the analysis focuses on the impact of that entity alone. Meaning each individual factory may only have a marginal impact on air quality, but all of them added together create a toxic stew in the air that can be deadly for the communities around them.

To solve this issue, Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib has introduced the Cumulative Impacts Act, to take into account all of the existing pollution in an area before approving permits for more projects. This essential legislation would go a long way to addressing pollution that has primarily impacted low-income, and BIPOC communities that have historically faced the brunt of pollution. 

As Representative Tlaib notes, parts of the Detroit area are heavily impacted by corporate polluters like the Ford Rouge Complex, Cleveland Cliffs’ Dearborn Works steel mill, the Dearborn Industrial Generation power plant, the Marathon Refinery and more. These facilities are located near homes and schools where residents suffer from higher rates of asthma and cancers.

Addressing the cumulative impacts of pollution is essential to protecting public health and Michigan LCV is proud to endorse this legislation and will continue to work to ensure its passage. 

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