Flint Residents React as Ajax Asphalt Plant Commences Operations

Flint, Michigan – A controversial asphalt plant in Flint has recently begun operating, causing concern among local residents and environmental groups. Despite allegations of environmental racism and legal challenges, Michigan regulators granted a final permit to Ajax, allowing the plant to emit harmful chemicals. This decision has sparked outrage in the predominantly Black neighborhood where the plant is located and has raised questions about the state’s commitment to public health and environmental justice.

A Community in Distress

The Ajax plant is situated in Flint’s only majority Black census tract, adjacent to two public housing developments that house approximately 400 families. The already burdened community, which has been grappling with chronic health problems stemming from the 2014 Flint water crisis, now faces the additional threat of industrial pollution. It is worth noting that the same agency responsible for addressing the lead poisoning crisis in Flint years ago, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), approved the construction of the Ajax plant.

A Legal Battle for Environmental Justice

Last week, Earthjustice and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center represented community groups in an attempt to have EGLE revoke the Ajax permit. They argued that the agency violated the Clean Air Act and the state’s air quality rules by underestimating the plant’s potential emissions and relying on data from air monitors located far from the site. Disturbingly, emails uncovered during the trial revealed that EGLE staff prioritized “customer service” for polluting companies over public health and air quality concerns. In 2021 alone, EGLE approved 97% of the permit applications it received, raising serious questions about the agency’s commitment to environmental protection.

Further reading:  Does Your Jade Plant Shed Leaves? Discover the Reasons

Fighting for Justice and Accountability

Community groups have taken action to hold EGLE accountable for its failures. They filed a Title VI civil rights complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address the cumulative impact of pollution on both the Ajax plant and the wider state. Additionally, they partnered with the National Housing Law Project to file a Title VI civil rights complaint with Housing and Urban Development (HUD), challenging Genesee Township’s pattern of racial discrimination. While these complaints are currently under review, community members remain resolute in their fight for justice.

Voices of Resilience

Community leaders and activists have been vocal in their opposition to the Ajax plant and have expressed their concerns over its impact on public health and the environment.

  • Reverend Monica M. Villarreal of Michigan United remarked, “Once again, EGLE shows complete disregard for the people of Flint. It is astounding that Ajax is testing its operational capacity while the plant’s permits are being challenged in court. The well-being of our community and the environment should be their top priority.”
  • Nayyirah Shariff, director of Flint Rising, declared, “This is precisely what we fought so hard to prevent. We have mobilized our community through various means, hoping to protect our health and the future of our children. We refuse to give up now.”
  • Ted Zahrfeld, board chair of the St. Francis Prayer Center, expressed his frustration, saying, “We have seen how long it took for action to be taken on previous discriminatory permits. We will not allow our community to be sacrificed once again.”
  • Mona Munroe-Younis, executive director of the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, emphasized, “The price we pay for asphalt in Michigan should not come at the cost of more cancer, asthma, and respiratory illnesses. EGLE’s prioritization of industry profits over clean air is shameful.”
Further reading:  Stunning Trees With Red Leaves: A Colorful Addition to Your Yard

The attorneys representing the community groups also issued powerful statements:

  • John Petoskey, associate attorney at Earthjustice, warned, “Once this plant begins operations, community members cannot simply un-breathe harmful and illegal emissions. This facility is causing irreparable harm to this vulnerable community.”
  • Nick Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, called for a change in environmental permitting practices, saying, “If we fail to consider the cumulative impacts of various polluting facilities, we will perpetuate racist patterns of environmental injustice.”
  • Kate Walz, associate director of Litigation at the National Housing Law Project, highlighted the economic consequences, stating, “Apart from the detrimental health effects, the plant’s operations will further erode the wealth that families have worked hard to build. Sacrificing the health and wealth of Black and Latinx communities for corporate gain is unacceptable.”

Amidst the disappointment and frustration, community members and their allies continue to rally for justice and environmental equity. Their determination serves as a reminder that the fight for a healthier and more equitable future is far from over.

Ajax Asphalt Plant

Embedded video:

Watch the video

To stay updated on the situation, visit the Ames Farm Center.