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Detroit's incinerator is in trouble - but not enough, according to some

The Detroit incinerator
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
The Detroit incinerator

Detroit’s incinerator is in hot water with state regulators again, but many people think the proposed punishment lets it off the hook too easily.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality cited the state’s largest incinerator for a number of violations in 2015 and 2016. The “waste-to-energy” facility provides power to sections of the city’s core.

Those violations included violating emissions limits for sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter. The agency says the incinerator also failed to monitor emissions properly.

The state has reached a consent agreement with the incinerator over some of those violations. The facility agrees to improved monitoring and new start-up/shutdown procedures, as well as fines for future violations.

MDEQ spokeswoman Melody Kindraka says the agency “takes any violation of the law very seriously.”

But, “A negotiated settlement is actually the quickest way to bring the company into compliance, and still allow the MDEQ opportunities to penalize them in the future,” Kindraka added. “Without a negotiated settlement, we’d have to go through a much longer court process.”

But most of the dozens of people who spoke at a public hearing on the proposed consent agreement Wednesday night thought the $149,000 penalty imposed on the incinerator’s operators, Detroit Renewal Power, isn’t big enough to deter future violations.

Katie Hearn was one of many speakers who pointed out the high rates of asthma near the incinerator.

“The fact that residents must suffer, while the operators of the incinerator merely receive a slap on the wrist, is unforgivable, and most certainly is unforgettable,” Hearn said.

Hearn and other community members said they want DRP to pay larger fines for all their assessed violations. Many said this agreement is another example of MDEQ treating polluters with kid gloves, and favoring business interests over public health.

“While the Violation Notices cited Detroit Renewable Power for 19 distinct air emission violation incidents, the proposed consent order only addresses six,” says a letter to the MDEQ written on behalf of the Michigan Environmental Council and Zero Waste Detroit.

The incinerator is also currently under a state consent order for odor violations.

For its part, DRP calls the penalty “fair, sufficient and 100% supported by MDEQ precedent.”

It also noted that the company hasn’t been cited for any emissions violations since April 2016, and blamed the monitoring violations on “technical deficiencies.”

MDEQ officials say they'll take public comment into consideration before signing off on the consent order.

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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