County Commission opposes relaxed air pollution permits at Detroit refinery

Commissioner Raymond BashamThe Wayne County Commission adopted a resolution Jan. 21 opposing proposed changes to the air quality pollution permits for the Marathon Petroleum Co. refinery at 1300 S. Fort St. in Detroit.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is considering revising the refinery’s air pollution permits so Marathon can modernize the 85-year-old refinery to produce lower-sulfur gasoline that will meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Tier 3 fuel standard requirements, which will take effect in 2017.

The proposed changes are expected to increase the refinery’s emissions of sulfur dioxide by 22 tons per year and also allow the increase of other emissions, including various oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, small-particulate pollution and sulfuric acid.

Michigan’s only refinery is in the southwest Detroit, a heavily industrial area. The ZIP code, 48217, is considered the most polluted in the state.

“Those who live in 48217 – along with nearby communities – have paid a very heavy price for many years because they are low income and live in a heavily industrial area,” said Commissioner Raymond Basham (D-Taylor) who brought forth the resolution. “I drive on the Rouge River bridge over I-75 every day and have a panoramic view of the area. These residents have paid far too big a price for all the pollution, including from the refinery.

“The state of Michigan can choose to spare the residents of 48217 and nearby cities more pollution, and that is what it should choose. It is the right thing to do.”

Hundreds of residents who are opposed to the new permits expressed their displeasure during a public hearing Jan. 6 at River Rouge High School.

According to the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, southwest Detroit residents have suffered numerous health problems because of the heavy industry, including a 50 percent higher rate of asthma than the rest of the state. The pollution also has led to other health problems, including heart disease, strokes and cancer.

“The commission also calls on Wayne County’s state legislators to express their opposition to the proposed permits,” Basham said. “This doesn’t just affect 48217 – the pollution spills into many nearby cities like Melvindale, River Rouge, Ecorse and Dearborn. It affects far more than the 7,000 residents of 48217.”

The refinery produces up to 123,000 barrels a day and employs nearly 800 people.

Twelve other commissioners also voted to co-sponsor to resolution.