Michigan Activist Fights to Keep Asphalt Plant From Opening In City Already Beleaguered With Environmental Issues

Flint residents push back against a plan to open an asphalt plant calling the plan "environmental racism."

A Flint, Mich., native is fighting to prevent another environmental injustice from happening in his hometown. Quincy Murphy is a member of Flint's city council and is pushing back to prevent an asphalt plant from opening and contributing to already poor air quality conditions.

According to Bridge MI, Murphy is part of a group called the Coalition to Stop Ajax Asphalt Plant which says that the area in Genesee County, where Flint is situated and where the new facility would go, is already home to the Genesee Power Station, a wood-fired power plant, and a scrap metal facility that the state of Michigan has deemed a source of excessive air pollution.

Murphy was unimpressed by the recent rollout of an app called the Michigan Environmental Justice Mapping and Screening Tool. The mapping tool tracks concentrations of health problems like high blood lead levels, as well poverty levels, racial makeup and age using census data. Murphy was not surprised when the app showed that he and his neighbors are at high risk of suffering from asthma, high lead levels and heart disease.

Flint was the site of the nation's largest water crisis in 2014 when it was discovered that the town had been poisoned with high levels of lead in its water. The crisis led to years of illnesses and deaths among residents and resulted in a more than $600 million settlement from the state of Michigan and other parties. While the crisis reportedly ended in 2019--it has had lasting effects. Residents have only been able to apply for a portion of the settlement since January 2022, nearly a decade after the crisis began.

When elected in 2019, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vowed to address Michigan’s environmental issues like water quality, climate change and environmental justice. The app is part of her campaign promise. However, Murphy and other activists say it doesn't go far enough.

“It’s smoke and mirrors to pacify us and respond to the complaints they have been receiving on environmental justice issues,” Murphy said. “I’m not convinced that this tool will resolve these issues or stop communities like us from fighting against these permits.”

Environmental activists would like to see the data from the app used to impact the granting of permits to prevent ongoing environmental racism.

“Information is only as good as the better outcomes it leads to,” Nick Leonard, director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center told BridgeMI “We want a clear and transparent way for how this information will further environmental justice and better the outcomes of communities of color.”

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