Flint residents sue state agency for approving air-polluting asphalt plant

The Ajax plant will dump lead and other air pollutants in a community still reeling from lead poisoning


Erin Fitzgerald, efitzgerald@earthjustice.org

Today, local groups, represented by Earthjustice and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, sued Michigan’s environmental agency for approving a polluting hot-mix asphalt plant near public housing, in a low-income Black neighborhood. The lawsuit alleges that the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, or EGLE, justified permitting the Ajax asphalt plant by relying on inappropriate air quality data from 50 miles away and includes inconsistencies regarding how much material the plant will be allowed to process — among other problems.

The asphalt plant, which will emit a plethora of air contaminants — including sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and lead — will operate less than 1,600 feet from public housing that is already overwhelmed by high levels of air pollution, including particulate matter from nearby industrial activity. The Township and the state allowed the asphalt plant despite objections from residents, the City of Flint, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“EGLE has never seen a permit that it did not like. For months community members, and even EPA, said a toxic asphalt plant has no place in Genesee Township,” said Nayyirah Shariff, director, Flint Rising. “EGLE consistently puts companies over communities. Hopefully, the court will center the health of our community and not validate EGLE’s rubber stamping of corporate interests.”

The lawsuit comes some two months after Flint Rising, Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, and the St. Francis Prayer Center filed a civil rights complaint with HUD. These groups also filed a civil rights complaint with the EPA in October.

“Allowing this toxic plant in our neighborhood is a continuation of the racist systems that shape people’s lives in Flint and Genesee Township,” said Mona Munroe-Younis, executive director, Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint. “Our community deserves clean air and water. Instead, we are repeatedly given industrial pollution. This asphalt plant adds to the disproportionate burden on our community.”

The asphalt plant got the final permit it needed from EGLE in November. Flint groups say that neither EGLE nor Genesee Township properly analyzed the detrimental effects the asphalt plant will have on the community. Nearly 3,000 people live within a mile of the plant.

“It is immoral that EGLE and the Township are allowing yet another polluting plant in a neighborhood that is still recovering from lead poisoning,” said Deborah Hawley, director, St. Francis Prayer Center. “This community cannot and should not take more chemical pollution.”

“What EGLE has done here is clearly environmental racism. It is shocking that an agency that is expected to protect communities from pollution is, instead, the one that is spearheading environmental pollution by granting permits for activities like the Ajax asphalt plant that will harm our community,” said Eric Ini, director, Environmental and Climate Justice, Michigan United.

“The systematic racism has been afflicting the people’s health for nearly 20 years. The wood-burning power plant, another nearby facility, has already caused many people to suffer and die from asthma. There is no consideration of the health and well-being of the communities of Flint and Mt. Morris, in Genesee Township,” added Bishop Bernadel Jefferson, Citizens Advocate United Together to Inform Organized New Direction (C.A.U.T.I.O.N.).

Quotes from the legal team:

“Everything about this permitting process is questionable: from using air monitoring data from 50 miles away to ignoring objections from community groups and federal agencies,” said Earthjustice attorney Debbie Chizewer. “EGLE cannot justify its decision to bring another facility to any community, especially not one already impacted by lead poisoning and air pollution.”

“We believe there were serious flaws to EGLE’s permitting process which jeopardizes the health of people who live near the plant, who are predominantly people of color and lower income,” said Nick Leonard, executive director, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. “The issuance of this permit is a clear environmental justice issue.”

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice represent Flint Rising, the Environmental Transformation Movement, the St. Francis Prayer Center, Michigan United, and C.A.U.T.I.O.N which are members of the Stop Ajax Coalition. The Stop Ajax Coalition is a group of local and state-wide organizations formed to protest environmental injustice in Flint. The Stop Ajax Coalition also includes R. L . Jones Community Outreach Center Campus, Greater Holy Temple Church, Michigan Poor People’s Campaign, and local residents from Flint and Genesee Township.

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