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EGLE reopens public comment for Romulus hazardous waste facility permit

US Centers for Disease Control

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is re-opening the public comment period on a Romulus hazardous waste facility.

Republic Industrial and Energy Services is in the process of being relicensed for the above-ground portion of its site. The facility also has underground hazardous waste injection sites, which are jointly regulated by EGLE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

An initial public comment period for the above-ground operations ended with no comments submitted. But that was before a plan to bring in hazardous waste from the major East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment came to light.

The Romulus facility did accept some shipments from the derailment site, but that plan was ultimately scuttled after an outcry from elected officials and the public. But EGLE spokesman Hugh McDiarmid said it raised larger concerns about the facility.

“It became pretty clear to us that people were clamoring for more information about it, for more opportunity to comment on it, and this re-licensing was in process,” McDiarmid said. “So we heard those calls.”

The proposed permit does not expand the facility, and McDiarmid said it doesn’t allow Republic to bring in any additional types of hazardous waste.

According to EGLE, “the draft License authorizes the storage of up to 11,000 gallons of hazardous wastes in containers in the container storage area, up to 92,000 gallons of hazardous waste in rail tanker cars in the railcar storage and unloading area, and up to 240,670 gallons of hazardous waste in tanks. In addition, the draft License authorizes the treatment of up to 400,000 gallons per day of hazardous wastes in tanks.”

The agency has deemed Republic’s application “administratively complete and technically accurate.” And McDiarmid said that public comment should focus on the specifics of the permit and “technical and managerial oversight of the facility.”

“We can't deny a permit for this facility because it's unpopular, or because we had many more comments against it than for it,” McDiarmid said. “That can't factor into it under the law that we operate under.”

Nonetheless, McDiarmid acknowledged that the prospect of the East Palestine waste coming to the site put a larger spotlight on the facility and the issue of hazardous waste storage. Additionally, EGLE cited Republic for a number of environmental violations this past summer. McDiarmid said that EGLE and Republic have agreed to a consent order that includes a fine, and the violations “were promptly resolved to our satisfaction and they're [now] in compliance.”

But some Michigan elected officials think there are broader issues at stake. Michigan members of Congress Debbie Dingell and Shri Thanedar, both Democrats, will “hold a public forum on April 13th with EGLE, EPA, and other stakeholders to allow for a community discussion on hazardous waste disposal in Southeastern Michigan,” according to a release from Dingell’s office.

Dingell called extending the public comment period “the right thing to do,” and said that “recent events have demonstrated that there is an urgent need for further public discourse about how and where we dispose of toxic and hazardous waste.”

“The transport and storage of toxic materials requires constant vigilance, and communities deserve to be fully informed and have the opportunity to express their concerns before a final decision is made,” Dingell said.

The new public comment period starts April 3 and ends May 3. Comments can be submitted to BlayerR@Michigan.gov or EGLE, MMD, Hazardous Waste Section, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, MI 48909. According to EGLE, comments “must be postmarked no later than May 3, 2023, and include the writer’s name, address, and email; a concise statement of the basis for the comments; and the supporting relevant facts upon which the comments are based.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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