Windsor

Stop Detroit Marathon refinery emissions hike, LaSalle urges Ottawa

The community of LaSalle, Ont. is adding its name to a list of groups calling on the federal environment minister to block a proposal to increase emissions at an oil refinery in southwest Detroit.

'We have to make our voices heard'

LaSalle Coun. Sue Desjarlais speaks to reporters after council unanimously approved her motion to send a letter to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna about the Marathon oil refinery in Detroit. (CBC)

The community of LaSalle, Ont. is adding its name to a list of groups calling on the federal environment minister to block a proposal to increase emissions at an oil refinery in southwest Detroit.

LaSalle council unanimously passed a motion Tuesday night to send a letter to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna regarding the Marathon Petrolium Corp. oil refinery, even though it isn't clear what authority she would have in this case. 

Marathon's refinery is located about 6.5 kilometres inland from the Detroit River, and is situated across the river from LaSalle. It has a permit application before the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality asking to increase emissions of sulphur dioxide and other pollutants.

LaSalle deputy mayor Marc Bondy was a guest on Windsor Morning on Wednesday. You can listen to his interview below:

Town councillors in LaSalle are worried about a potential expansion of the Marathon refinery in Detroit, and they want the federal government to do something about it. We spoke to Deputy Mayor Marc Bondy. 6:12

Company officials say the change is needed to meet U.S. federal air pollution standards for gasoline. Michigan said its analysis finds emissions increases fall within allowable regulations.

"I'm very concerned about it," Desjarlais said.  "We need to go back to the State of Michigan [with the assistance of Windsor and the federal government] and say we're not going to put up with it.

"We've got enough junk in our air now, we need to work with the companies, but we don't need to give them permission to dump more contaminants in the air," she said.  

Oakwood Heights, a struggling Detroit neighbourhood near the Marathon Oil Corp. refinery has sulphur dioxide above recommended levels. (Alexander Panetta/Canadian Press)

The biggest increase in pollutants would be oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide, which would both increase by nearly 20 tonnes per year, according to Michigan's analysis.  

The area where the refinery is located already does not meet air quality regulations. But because the amount of new pollutants is considered below the state's significant emissions rate of nearly 37 tonnes per year, the proposal is not subject to a major review, according to documents provided by the state.

Critics on both sides of the border  

Desjarlais said she first heard about Marathon's proposal after reading reports in the local media. Other jurisdictions, including the Town of Tecumseh and Essex County Council have drafted similar resolutions.

"We've all got to work together to get it stopped," Desjarlais said.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has also been an outspoken critic.

"No permit should be issued that doesn't require Marathon to make an equal offset of sulphur dioxide content for anything that happens to install this equipment," he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

"There cannot be any increase of pollutants as a result of this. I urge the MDEQ to deny this permit and I don't want there to be any question about our commitment," Duggan said.

Public consultation over

The State of Michigan held public consultations in southwest Detroit in early January. Even though that period is now over, Desjarlais said she's hoping Michigan could be pressured to deny Marathon's request.

"I don't know what the protocol is going to be," she said. "I just know it's something where we have to make our voices heard and say, 'It's not acceptable.'"     

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