Electric cars

As electric cars clean the roads, neighbors of auto factories still hit by pollution

This article is co-published by Energy News Network and Planet Detroit with support from the Race and Justice Reporting Initiative at the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University.

While electric vehicles are better for the environment, the factories that produce them might not be. A new report wants everyone – especially car manufacturers and policy makers – to think about how the production of “green” cars can still harm disadvantaged communities.

The report – Driving towards environmental justice and health: challenges, opportunities and tools for a just transition of electric vehicles (eV) – is led by the consultancy firm Empowering a Green Environment and Economy (EGE2). EGE2’s mission is to “work with institutions that make decisions that impact communities of color by helping them collect data to make the best decisions that do not harm those communities that often face injustice. policies, ”according to company founder Dr Jalonne. White-Newsome.

Aligning with the timeline of Stellantis’ plant in eastern Detroit to expand to produce low-emission Jeep vehicles and with GM’s announcement to reopen their Hamtramck plant – now Factory zero – for the production of electric vehicles, the report highlights the best practices to be implemented by the leaders in the districts which have and continue to bear the costs of producing vehicles in their backyards.

Uncovering the historic injustice of the automotive industry, examining current issues in the sector, incorporating studies and lessons learned from other regions facing environmental injustices, and examining the strategies to be implemented by automakers and executives then as they move towards a greener approach, White -Newsome hoped to capture “the intersection of environmental health and justice in manufacturing within the [electric vehicle] transition, ”she said.

Although the study focuses on various areas of the Midwest region, it particularly highlights Stellantis and the impact of the facility on the surrounding community.

The recent expansion of the Mack assembly plant has provided more than 3,000 additional jobs and the production of low-emission vehicles. However, since its expansion and involvement in the Detroit Community Benefits Agreement process, residents and others in the affected area have been wondering who the transition is really benefiting from.

“Yes, it’s about jobs, but it’s also about making sure that the physical environment and the people who have to live in it don’t deteriorate after this transition,” White-Newsome said.

While Stellantis has pledged $ 1 million in neighborhood projects such as stormwater management and pollinator gardens, neighbors say the project ignore the more urgent problem of air pollution.

Auto factory received numerous air quality violation notices recently, with residents complaining of a bad smell in the surrounding community. Following the violations, the state launched a new website tracked air quality issues at Stellantis factories across Michigan.

Emissions from manufacturing plants are inevitable, even when transitioning to electric vehicle production. White-Newsome and his team wanted to explore best practices to mitigate this harm as much as possible. The report offers tools such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Review Tool (EJSCREEN) for a preliminary impact assessment while also suggesting more inclusive participation that centers the voices of the affected community.

The consulting firm interviewed executives and people working in the affected area of ​​auto manufacturing facilities to effectively collect qualitative data to support their research.

“We have been dealing with dust and health issues for the past three years and now we are dealing with things unseen. No one can tell us exactly what we are breathing. … It’s a joke, ”said resident Robert Shobe.

Overall, White-Newsome said, it’s not enough for automakers to declare a greener approach by increasing production of electric vehicles. This will take more into consideration a human-centered approach to production efforts and, even more, a transition from coal-fired power plants.

“Until we start to change the source of our energy, the benefits that could come from electric vehicles might not really be realized, especially for the communities that live near and on the fence of coal factories. “White-Newsome said.

The report concludes with recommendations for policy change with scopes including transparency, community benefit agreements, and equitable incentive programs for electric vehicles.

In addition to the report, White-Newsome urged consideration of battery production and the communities affected by it and its disposal.

“How we mine the materials to build these batteries is something that we have to start questioning, and then also where the batteries will end up,” she said. “As we think of batteries once they are no longer usable and where that waste usually ends up, which often is found in hazardous waste sites called Superfund sites if they are big enough. These are typically, again, located in low income communities and communities of color. “

As the world moves forward on tackling climate change while continuing to fight for human rights, White-Newsome said the report shows there is still work to be done.

“This is why this report emphasizes the basic environmental concerns that exist in these communities. “

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct incorrect references to the last name of Dr Jalonne White-Newsome.

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