Detroit neighborhood in court to hold industrial polluter accountable

Residents of River Rouge want the court to stop a DTE Energy subsidiary from emitting sulfur dioxide and other toxic substances from its Aug Island plant

click to enlarge DTE Energy's EES Coke facility is located on Zug Island, between River Rouge and Detroit, in an area that fails to meet federal standards for sulfur dioxide in the air. - Notorious4life, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Notorious4life, Wikimedia Creative Commons
DTE Energy's EES Coke facility is located on Zug Island, between River Rouge and Detroit, in an area that fails to meet federal standards for sulfur dioxide in the air.

Members of a Detroit-area community are intervening in an Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit against a DTE Energy subsidiary charged with dumping harmful pollutants into their community.

Residents of River Rouge want the court to stop EES Coke from emitting sulfur dioxide and other toxic substances from its plant, and compensate local residents for the harm it has caused.

Theresa Landrum, a community organizer in River Rouge, said EES Coke has profited for decades while making people sick.

"We have suffered egregiously from the emissions from surrounding factories," Landrum contended. "Our community is overburdened with asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease. Anything that's connected to health issues can be traced back to industries in my community."

The motion was filed by the Sierra Club and joined by Earthjustice and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. When the original suit was filed in June, DTE Energy responded, claiming EES Coke complies with all relevant regulations governing its operations.

Landrum pointed out the community has seen antipollution lawsuits before, but the victims are usually left out of the settlement.

"When industries have been fined for a violation, they either get to have a consent agreement or negotiate the fine down," Landrum noted. "And when the fine is negotiated, it is split between regulatory agencies like EGLE and EPA. Nothing comes back to the community."

EGLE is the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

Landrum added it is frustrating even when polluters are caught and prosecuted, they are often let off with a "slap on the wrist."

"They need to take charge and use the power that they have to be more protective of human life," Landrum asserted. "They have the power. What are they using with it? They're siding with business many, many times. We need that loophole stopped, and we need to look at who's being impacted by the egregious acts of these companies."

The EPA wants the court to force the plant to bring its emissions within legal limits, offset the health and environmental harm it has caused, and pay fines for each day it is out of compliance.

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