Coal Plants Retiring with Millions of Dollars Flowing to Environmental Justice Communities

Agreement between Sierra Club and DTE Energy will provide $2.7 million for projects to improve communities in River Rouge, Ecorse, and Detroit


Shannon Fisk, Earthjustice, (215) 327-9922

Renner Barsella, Sierra Club

As the result of a settlement agreement secured by the Sierra Club and Earthjustice in a Clean Air Act enforcement case, DTE Energy is giving a combined $2.7 million to ten community-based environmental justice projects in River Rouge, Ecorse, and the 48217 zip code aimed at improving public health and reducing environmental impacts. The projects were chosen by a five-member Community Environmental Action Committee of experts and leaders from the three communities including Sierra Club-recommend experts Dr. Dolores Leonard, a retired educator and long-term community advocate in 48217, and Dr. Paul Mohai, a professor and a founder of the environmental justice program at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. The Sierra Club-DTE settlement agreement required that DTE form the committee with three community members residing in Ecorse, River Rouge, or the 48217 to identify projects, and that the projects would seek to maximize public health and environmental benefits in those communities.

“The settlement agreement was a ten-year effort on the part of the Sierra Club and Earthjustice. A long fight that will protect the health of the children now and as they mature into adulthood in River Rouge, Ecorse, and 48217” said Dr. Dolores Leonard, member of the Community Environmental Action Committee and long-term environmental justice advocate in 48217. “We worked relentlessly last year to line up community-led projects that would improve people’s lives in the tri-cities. These ten projects represent a broad, diverse, and game-changing collection of programs that will improve public health and mitigate pollution such as providing filtered water fountains, medical supplies, and air cleaning systems in community centers and schools.”

The ten projects funded include:

  • 48217: $30,000 for asbestos and water pipe remediation at Pine Grove Church; $424,608 for a health clinic, including asthma and obesity medical resources, as well as a support person dedicated to community asthma at Mark Twain School.
  • Ecorse: $60,000 for replacing electrical and flooring at the Ecorse Senior Center; $548,000 for two programs dedicated to repairing and upgrading multiple Ecorse parks; $76,000 for twenty new filtered drinking water fountains and four filtered water bottle filler stations spread between four schools.
  • River Rouge: $830,500 for a new air filtration system at Ann Visger Prep Academy, where over 30% of students are asthmatic; $238,610 for a City of River Rouge fitness park.
  • In all three communities: $500,000 for establishing the First Alzheimer’s Park in the US, as well as a green market and green job training + employment placement for 40 residents through the Tri-City Community Development Corp’s Eden Park Community Green Space initiative; $15,000 for the “It Takes a Village” program which makes medical staff and health experts directly accessible to students and their families to help educate and provide supplies like air filtration equipment and backpacks.

“Our agreement is delivering cleaner air and public health benefits to Michigan’s most disproportionately polluted communities,” said Rhonda Anderson, regional organizing manager and longtime environmental justice leader for the Sierra Club. “We aren’t out of the woods yet, but after decades of pollution, racism, and systemic oppression, we’re breathing a little easier with the River Rouge coal plant shuttered once and for all. These community projects and clean buses will significantly improve the quality of life for me and my neighbors throughout the tri-cities. This settlement is groundbreaking and serves as a model for what environmental justice solutions should look like.”

The settlement also required DTE to spend $5.5 million to replace diesel public transit and school buses with electric-powered buses and install the corresponding charging infrastructure. For transit bus replacements, DTE is spending $3.45 million for SMART routes 125, 140, 160, 200, and 830, each of which primarily serves Ecorse, River Rouge, and Trenton. For the school bus replacements, DTE will spend $1.53 million, supplemented by $600,000 from Dean Transportation, the private company that provides bus services to the Trenton Public School District and which will own the new electric buses.

Lastly, the settlement required DTE to retire the River Rouge, Trenton Channel, and St. Clair coal plants by 2023. In particular, the River Rouge plant retired in 2021 and that closure is delivering major health benefits to these same communities where the environmental justice projects are being funded. Combined, these three plants annually emit more than seven million tons of climate polluting carbon dioxide, 22,000 tons of harmful sulfur dioxide, and 8,000 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxides. The retiring coal plants lack modern pollution controls and are located in areas of Michigan that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated as “failing to meet federal air quality standards” for sulfur dioxide and ozone. Several frontline communities near these plants have a long history of enduring the impacts of heavy industrial pollution.

“DTE’s agreement to retire these coal plants and fund projects to benefit the frontline communities that have borne the brunt of the pollution from their operation is a step toward correcting decades of environmental injustices,” said Shannon Fisk, Earthjustice managing attorney who litigated the matter on behalf of Sierra Club. “It is critical that DTE also ramps up clean energy investments to replace these plants, and provide a just economic transition for the employees and communities that have relied on these plants for the past forty years.”

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