Opinion: Michiganders deserve transparency about how DTE Energy does its business

Michigan’s largest utility is making financial and political decisions behind closed doors that put our health and safety at risk. It’s about time that officials in Lansing hold this corporation accountable.

Feb 16, 2023 at 12:45 pm
click to enlarge A DTE Energy facility in Michigan. - Shutterstock
A DTE Energy facility in Michigan.

DTE Energy is leaving us in the dark. Many of us in Michigan pay our heating bills to this corporation, yet they may be engaging in some pretty shady business. I’m not just talking about their plans to raise rates for you and me so they can continue to make record profits. Nor am I talking about their efforts to slow down renewable energy production. I want to talk about how DTE Energy was part of a scheme to eliminate necessary public health precautions amid the worst of the COVID pandemic.

Michiganders deserve transparency about how our state’s largest utility does its business. What’s clear is that people at DTE Energy are making financial and political decisions behind closed doors that put our health and safety at risk, and it’s about time that officials in Lansing hold this corporation accountable.

A report in The Guardian found that a nonprofit associated with DTE Energy executives called Michigan Energy First (MEF) pumped more than half a million dollars into an entity called Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility (MCFR). MCFR in turn was the main funder of Unlock Michigan, which fought Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her administration’s public health officials over their work to keep us safe and healthy when COVID was ravaging through the state. So, it seems likely that this DTE Energy-associated group was indirectly funding this effort to undermine public health.

Through aiding these COVID denialists, DTE Energy’s allies found themselves in company with extremist right-wing interests. Another group called Stand Up Michigan (SUM) worked to gather signatures on behalf of Unlock Michigan, who was later found to be collecting signatures illegally. Shockingly, SUM’s executive director fundraised for January 6 insurrectionists. Despite Unlock Michigan’s dangerous connections to fraudulent signature collectors and insurrectionists, DTE decisionmakers still supported their overall efforts. That’s even as COVID denialist rhetoric, which took place in context of increased threats against the governor, grew more intense.

On top of DTE Energy’s connections to COVID conspiracy theorists who attacked Gov. Whitmer, this corporation is taking advantage of Michiganders, especially those who are low-income. Compared to our Midwestern neighbors, Michigan pays the highest electric rates. What’s even more problematic is that Michigan continues to rank poorly among all 50 states for customer outages, all while their dirty power plants spew carbon dioxide into our air, contributing to the climate crisis. Michiganders can’t trust a company that turns its backs on us, and we deserve better.

The path we’re on will continue to allow unaccountable energy corporations to make political contributions out of the public eye with life-or-death consequences, and DTE Energy will continue to use their influence and power while we don’t have any say. We have the power to chart a different, better path forward.

We should demand better. This year in the Michigan Legislature, we have a real opportunity to expose DTE Energy’s misdeeds, tamp down corporate influence, and create energy infrastructure that works for everyone. Our elected officials in Lansing must investigate DTE’s behavior and the Michigan Public Service Commission should launch an investigation into their political giving. But at the very minimum, Michigan needs elected officials who reject DTE’s meddling in extremism and conspiracy theories. After all, the company we pay utility bills to each month to keep us warm should do its job, and that’s making our service better — not working with conspiracy theorists.

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