- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

The Detroit News. April 9, 2016

UAW traded jobs for short-term gain.

UAW President Dennis Williams called the recent announcement that Ford Motor Co. is investing $1.6 billion and 2,800 jobs in a new Mexico plant a “disappointment” and “very troubling.” But it’s disingenuous for him to complain the jobs are moving south rather than growing in Detroit.

Williams and the union knew they were sacrificing jobs and future investments from Detroit’s Big Three in the United States when they pushed for a fatter contract with the automotive companies last fall. They sacrificed long-term growth, which could have included expanding small car production here, for immediate gains.

Even the union’s relative current stability, rooted in confidence they’ll continue to make high-profit, popular trucks and SUVs in the United States, could be threatened in the near future.

But Ford’s announcement is no surprise; it’s reality setting in. The company has made it perfectly clear it can’t make money on small cars if they’re built in the U.S. It would cost Ford about five times as much to have UAW workers make the cars rather than use labor in Mexico.

The union knows that because it actually worked with the auto companies during 2008 and 2009 to retain some small car production here. UAW members accepted the two-tier wage structure to lower labor costs and keep those jobs in the country.

General Motors, for example, started making small cars at its Lake Orion plant, and Ford expanded production of the popular Focus in Wayne. Those agreements were crucial to the auto industry’s booming recovery.

Without the tiered wage structure, Ford doesn’t have much of a choice where it manufactures small cars, despite Williams’ belief that they should be made in the U.S.

It doesn’t hurt that Mexico has created a relatively inviting atmosphere for business by improving its workforce, manufacturing quality levels, and signing free trade agreements over the past several decades.

But Williams has threatened the longevity and health of his union in other ways, notably by abandoning the noble idea he touted to solve the union’s growing healthcare problem. Costs continue to increase, and will more so with Obamacare’s coming so-called Cadillac taxes. Williams claimed it was a priority to create a structure to manage the healthcare issue, but abandoned it at the bargaining table.

These choices the union made knowingly will likely backfire should gas prices rise again and large vehicle production - sales of which have been record-setting over the past year - slows.

Then those jobs the UAW now relies on will be at risk.

It’s a long bet the UAW has made, and Ford’s announcement indicates the union will suffer more job loss in the future. But it shouldn’t feign surprise and disappointment when realities of the global market once again become more powerful than its ballooning contract demands.___

Traverse City Record-Eagle. April 10, 2016

Crisis highlights need for more water testing.

Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by it and humans could not survive without it, but surprisingly little is known about what’s in water flowing from taps across the U.S.

If there’s one difficult lesson the nation learned from the Flint water crisis, it’s that ignorance is not bliss.

This week, while politicians and bureaucrats continue their decline into a blaze of finger pointing, the Associated Press released stacks of government testing data collected since 2013 from both public and private water systems nationwide that shows elevated lead levels were detected in more than 1,400 locales.

The quest for “who knew what and when?” in Flint triggered many to ask “what do we know about our own water?”

The answer: not enough.

Most of those systems highlighted in the data likely pump clear, fresh-looking water that wouldn’t evoke a community outcry like the yellow-tinged, odorous flow that triggered concern from residents in Flint.

Testing results are dispersed according to state and federal regulations to people whose water originates in those systems. The samples are collected at both distribution facilities and at a fraction of taps served by such systems.

But it’s what doesn’t appear in those data tables that highlights both the need for more uniform and comprehensive testing requirements and a significant dose of personal responsibility on the part of homeowners to protect their families.

The reports outline how there is no requirement that schools and child care centers - places packed with those most vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning - conduct regular water tests. And the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who draw their water from wells shoulder all responsibility for knowing what’s in their water.

Moreover, results published from places where regular test data is available can provide false security.

The AP reports that operators of community water systems are required to test water once each year - more often if elevated lead levels are detected - and they are considered out of compliance if more than 10 percent of samples return showing contamination.

Those same rules require operators test samples from as few as five taps, depending on the size of the system.

It’s a game of statistical roulette playing out nationwide.

Experts are quick to point out that lead levels can vary wildly from tap to tap within a single water system because of variations in plumbing and infrastructure from street to street, house to house and even within a single home. That variability creates a near impossible task for water system operators whose job is to provide clean drinking water to customers.

Test results posted by Traverse City’s public works department from 2014 show no samples taken that year exceeded standards. But results from tests conducted three years earlier show two samples exceeded “acceptable levels.”

Information published with the city’s test results states the city “cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components.”

Operators could declare water safe based on sampling results, yet one home or even a single tap within a system - because of lead contained in plumbing fixtures - could flow contaminated water while others do not.

Therein lies the problem facing water utility officials and homeowners alike - a sample is only as good as the tap from which it flows.___

Detroit Free Press. April 7, 2016

Battle over Detroit air quality won - but not the war.

An oil refinery in Detroit wanted to increase the amount of the pollutant sulfur dioxide it releases each year. Residents - with help from the City of Detroit and Wayne County - pushed back.

Now, the Marathon Petroleum refinery in southwest Detroit has agreed to amend its permit request, promising a 20% net reduction in annual sulfur dioxide emissions.

It’s a victory for Detroiters. Not just because Marathon - one of 10 polluting plants in that ZIP code - changed its plans. But because Detroit changed the narrative. Detroiters objected to the toxic soup they’re expected to breathe - and this time, they were heard.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had been poised to approve Marathon’s request to increase the amount of sulfur dioxide it emits - something the refinery said was necessary to meet new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency low-sulfur gasoline standards - but MDEQ approval wasn’t even necessary, the agency revealed in January; the terms of Marathon’s existing permit allow it to dramatically increase its sulfur dioxide output without new permissions

Residents objected, as they’ve done before, to little avail. But this time, something changed. When the state’s public comment period wasn’t sufficient, the Detroit City Council hosted another meeting to allow residents to voice their concerns; Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans lent their voices to the cause. Abdul El-Sayed, the dynamic new executive director of the city’s health department, spoke up, as well.

And Marathon’s plans changed.

A battle won, but not the war.

Residents of southwest Detroit live in Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code. The Marathon refinery is just one of 10 major southwest Detroit plants that spew tons of toxic chemicals into the air each year - for the most part, in line with state and federal standards.

In part, that’s because in granting permits, the MDEQ evaluates each plant in isolation. That’s short-sighted. Residents breathe in a mixture of each plant’s emissions, and the permitting approval process should reflect that. The MDEQ, as a task force appointed to investigate the Flint water crisis noted, must refocus itself as an agency focused first on protecting human health.

And yet, the polluting plants in southwest Detroit (in some cases, facilities that predate residences in that area) produce products most of us rely on. Controlling pollution has to be set against the backdrop of the economic and practical importance of the products those plants produce.

But Detroiters’ health should be the first priority.

And so the air quality in southwest Detroit still requires immediate, urgent action. Detroiters who live in the plant’s ZIP code have unacceptably high rates of asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disease - among the highest rates in the state.

“It doesn’t solve a quarter of the problems folks in southwest Detroit face, but it is a really promising next step,” El-Sayed said. “I hope this is the first step of a much longer walk toward environmental justice in Detroit.”

We hope so, too.___

Petoskey News-Review. April 8, 2016

Poverty is here.

“Less pay to live by the bay.”

Not only is this a popular saying, it has become true for many who live in Northern Michigan.

But, the many people who accept less pay, often live far from the bay.

In the recent Kids Count survey nearly one in four children in Michigan lives in poverty.

Emmet and Charlevoix counties’ poverty rates increased by 3.5 percent between 2006 and 2014 and 4.5 percent respectively.

In a 2014 study by the United Way titled ALICE (an acronym which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) both Emmet and Charlevoix counties have 38 percent of their households living at or below the ALICE threshold. Which means these households have adults who work but still can’t meet basic needs.

According to a study by the Census Bureau the median income for 18 to 34 year olds in Emmet County is at $31,430 and $25,622 in Charlevoix County. Both of these figures are lower than the median income in 1980 which was at $32,568 for Emmet County and $33,632 in Charlevoix County.

All of statistics and studies mentioned above have been written about in articles the News-Review published during the course of a couple years. Yet, the subject of poverty in this community is often discussed in a way where people deny it’s a problem. Or, they’re quick to judge and comment on the “Entitled people who don’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

We ask to take a closer at these issues.

Yes, we want to project the image we’re a beautiful, welcoming area to the people who fuel our largest industry; tourism.

But, we don’t want to neglect the people who are at the base of the tourism industry; the servers, retail workers, cashiers, bartenders, hotel maids, and more. Somehow, it often seems the needs of these people aren’t met.

It’s easy to ignore poverty when you don’t struggle to get a ride to your shift at a restaurant. It’s easy to ignore poverty when your kid or grandkid have full bellies after every meal. It’s easy to ignore poverty when you can afford your mortgage (or second) every month.

If the leaders and decision makers in Northern Michigan continue to ignore the needs of these people they might not have anyone who can afford to live by the bay.___

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