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New DTE gas plant on Ford property sparks concerns

DTE energy in Detroit
Ian Freimuth
flickr user
The DTE Energy campus as viewed from the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit.

DTE Energy wants to put a new natural gas planton the grounds of a Ford Motor Company research facility in Dearborn.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality held a public hearing about it Tuesday night.

Ford will shut down some boilers it currently uses to power the research facility. DTE will take over providing that power with the new plant, and provide additional energy it generates to the electrical grid.

Environmental activists and neighbors worry that state regulators aren’t putting enough pollution controls on the project.

They say the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality should put stricter limits on emissions, given that the plant is near residential neighborhoods and close to several schools and a hospital.

It’s also close to heavy industry, and in a non-attainment area for National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for sulfur dioxide and ozone.

MDEQ Air Quality Supervisor Mary Ann Dolehanty says that like all polluters, the plant’s emissions must meet public health standards. “And we did evaluate that in this case, and in this particular case they are complying with those health standards,” she said.

Dolehanty says while DTE’s proposed permit would allow emissions higher than what Ford is currently emitting, it represents a decrease from what Ford is actually allowed to emit. “That overall will show a decrease, from what is allowed to emit currently, to what is allowed to emit into the future,” she said.

MDEQ says DTE is taking voluntary measures to keep emissions levels below what the law calls a “major” polluter. That means the plant won’t have to take additional pollution control measures.

Nick Leonard, an attorney with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, says critics just want MDEQ to follow its own rules when it comes to regulating a specific type of pollutants called volatile organic compounds.

“Really what we want is just the best available control technologies,” Leonard said. “That’s what’s required under Michigan rules. And there are better available control technologies that are currently being used by pretty much the exact same type of facilities.”

The public comment period for the plant’s permit also closed Tuesday. MDEQ says it will review all comments provided during the comment period and public hearing, but unless those comments address technical aspects of problems with the proposed permit, it plans to sign off on the facility’s permit as-is.

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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