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HomeColumns, Opinions & Misc.The air we breathe - don’t test, don’t tell

The air we breathe – don’t test, don’t tell

Growing up in Grand Rapids, I personally witnessed industrial waste trickling out of factory pipes into the Grand River and recall some referring to it as the “Grand Sewer”. After many decades of pollution, we learned that toxic bottom sediments accumulated and poured directly into Lake Michigan. Public health experts warn us about limiting the consumption of fish from these waters because these poisons have found their way into the flesh of aquatic life, limiting their value as safe food sources.

Something similar may be happening with our air quality, and we are using nearly $3M in taxpayer resources to subsidize the Grayling Generating Station (GGS) power plant near Grayling, just next door to beautiful Higgins Lake.

Currently, there are nine “biomass fuel generators” in Michigan. This phrase seems to make contaminated air sound more palatable to the public, but they are simply waste incinerators. They burn wood waste in combination with “tire derived fuel” which is a buzz phrase for old tires, making up around 10% of what they incinerate. They sell this un-green electricity to Consumers Energy. In 2018 alone, for example, the GGS incinerated 277,890.46 tons of waste wood and 2,412.45 tons of tire waste. This program was put in place by the Michigan legislature years back due to intense special interests lobbying efforts.

To quote Grayling Generating Station’s most recent, required annual communication with the Michigan Public Services Commission (PSC), they are “not subject to the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standard 40 CFR Part 63.” The citizens of the region therefore lack useful information about how much mercury and other toxins are being emitted in their stack plume on Four Mile Road. Waste tire burning emits unsafe amounts of cadmium, mercury, and arsenic. Operators of these biomass power plants are not required to comprehensively test, record, and report this information but once every five years. Good grief!

This GGS letter to the PSC goes on to assert that they are in compliance with federal regulations, because they are exempt from them! We all have a right to know what is going up in smoke in Grayling and what we are all being exposed to. This is beginning to smell like the Grand River problem or the fire-fighting foam mess that has already contaminated Grayling’s ground water.

Because of failures in testing and reporting emissions required under their operating permit, in 2022 the Grayling Generating Station was fined $43,000 and placed under a consent order for five years with the condition that they will pay $2000/per day per violation if additional compliance variances occur.

In the interests of community health and environmental risks, we all need to know what’s coming out of the smokestack there. We shouldn’t be subsidizing these operations with taxpayer charity.

Phillip Robinson

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