Just Transition: Let Detroit Breathe!

Against the Current, No. 195, July/August 2018

a talk by William Copeland

I’M SO GLAD to see so many people here. We know that many Detroiters that we talk to have work, child care, or other responsibilities and are unable to make it downtown for this press event. So for every person you see here, we have dozens more supporters.

Breathe Free Detroit is a campaign supported by a variety of groups and residents. Our goal is to help Detroiters win their right to breathe clean air. It doesn’t get much more basic than that and we see the role of responsible leaders to support such basic rights.

Previous speakers have touched upon some of what must happen for Mayor Mike Duggan to keep his commitment to put Detroit on clean, truly renewable energy by 2035. He must align himself with the 15,000 people who signed the petition calling for the incinerator to be shut down. He must work to end the blatant environmental racism of the incinerator.

Not only do Detroit families bear a disproportionate burden of waste disposal because Detroit is the site of the incinerator, but to add insult to injury, Detroiters pay more than their suburban neighbors to burn trash in this incinerator.

As has been noted, it’s not just the Mayor but the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) that’s giving the incinerator operators a discount on the fines they are supposed to pay for repeatedly and incessantly violating air quality standards. It’s not just MDEQ and the Mayor, but also the utility DTE Energy getting renewable energy credit from the incinerator — while Detroit families get poisoned air.

DTE must work to make the switch to truly renewable, truly safe energy. MDEQ needs to charge incinerator operators the full price for their violations to discourage those violations and the Mayor needs to fully commit to the protection of Detroit families’ right to clean air — and shut the incinerator down.

The campaign to shut down the incinerator has been a long one. It began while the incinerator was still on the drawing board. But we must win this fight because our health depends on it. And in planning for the victory, we must seek protections for the workers and the residents of the area. That’s called Just Transition.

The time to start planning for that is now. The corporation that makes a profit from the labor of the workers must find comparable work, wages and benefits for those workers, work that doesn’t harm people’s health. It’s only fair. After years of making profit for the owners, the workers deserve to be protected when the incinerator is closed down.

The same is true for the families who live near the incinerator. The pressures of gentrification can already be felt in the middle of city. Detroiters who stuck it out all these many years, helping to make our city what it is today, deserve to be protected from being priced out and otherwise thrown out of their homes once the incinerator closes and that part of the city becomes an even more desirable place to live.

This too is part of a Just Transition.

We, members of the Breathe Free Detroit campaign along with the 15,000 people who signed the petition, very much look forward to a day when workers and residents get protection and justice and Detroit families get environmental justice.

July/August 2018, ATC 195