Why Detroit Could Be the Engine for the Green New Deal

The city exhibits all of the problems the framework is meant to heal.

frontline-detroit-rally-1.jpgThousands of people took to the streets of Detroit at the Frontline Detroit March and Rally on July 30, ahead of the Democratic presidential debate. Photo from The Aadizookaan

In Detroit, more than 8,000 residents live in what has been called one of the most polluted ZIP codes in the state. Located in the city’s southwest corner, 48217 is known for its persistently poor air quality, where hundreds suffer from asthma, cancer, and other related health issues. The surrounding area has 26 industrial sites whose greenhouse gas emissions are being monitored by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. And one of the largest polluters, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, whose processing plant is headquartered in 48217, has received several violations from the state’s environmental regulatory agency over the years.

Just last week, two contract workers were hospitalized after an oil vapor leak at Marathon. The leak, which produced a pungent smell, residents said, led to temporary road closures. And during a congressional field hearing this week on air and water quality issues and their adverse effects on communities of color, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), who grew up in Southwest Detroit, rebuked Marathon for its polluting history.

Calling them “corporate polluters,” Tlaib said the big oil company is unlikely to face any meaningful consequences. “They’ve just written off these leaks as a cost of doing business,” she said, while residents are “still searching for answers. “What was released? Is it safe to breathe the air?”

Other nearby communities also continue to be harmed by air pollution. In the Delray neighborhood, the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will increase air and noise pollution, experts say. The city’s housing swap program has offered to relocate the residents because of the construction. Also, Fiat Chrysler’s assembly plant expansion on the east side of the city is raising alarms that it will exacerbate the current air pollution.

And still, throughout the city, thousands of residents continue to battle water shutoffs, an ongoing process that five years ago left about 50,000 residents without running water. And this past school year, some schools had to restrict water use because of lead. About 70 miles north, the city of Flint, with a similar demographic of Detroit, has made national headlines over the past several years for the water crisis created when the state switched its water source to the toxic Flint River.

So when it was announced that the second round of the 2020 presidential debates would be held in Detroit, residents from Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities, environmental activists, union workers and lawmakers across the state came together to form Frontline Detroit Coalition. Their goal is to bring radical transformation to how the city functions, pivoting from reliance on fossil fuels, creating jobs rooted in a green, sustainable economy, and advocating for an equitable distribution of resources so that all Detroiters may thrive. The coalition is led by dozens of organizations, including the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, the Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, the Climate Justice Alliance, Soulardarity, We the People Michigan, and several others.

National media outlets covering the two-night event spotlighted one of the ground zeroes of the climate crisis in the United States, Detroit, whose urban infrastructure and economic development was based on auto-manufacturing and fossil fuel industry jobs. Thousands descended on downtown Detroit in July on the eve of both nights of the debates to bring attention to Detroit’s problems—environmental and otherwise. Frontline Detroit’s call was to Make Detroit the Engine of the Green New Deal, referencing the policy resolution introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), which seeks to address climate change and economic inequality. MORE

 

 

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