United States Congressional Field Hearing Held in Detroit
Congress Members Rashida Tlaib and Harley Rouda speak with reporters following the Congressional Hearing in Detroit.
September 26, 2019
U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, along with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI), Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Environment, convened a field hearing in Detroit on September 16 at the Kemeny Recreation Center in Detroit. The hearing began at 2:00 p.m. and featured a gymnasium packed with residents eager to hear subcommittee member and witness testimony.
The hearing was titled, "Environmental Injustice: Exploring Inequities in Air and Water Quality in Michigan." Its purpose was to examine air and water pollution in Michigan, focusing on Detroit and Flint, and on the disparate impacts of pollution on low-income communities and communities of color.
Witnesses were Community Advocate Dr. Dolores Leonard, Flint Rising Director Nayyirah Shariff, Dr. Paul Mohai of the University of Michigan (U of M) School for Environment and Sustainability, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center Director Nick Leonard, and Emma Lockridge of the organization Michigan United.
Witness testimony reported and explored the negative health effects of living in heavily polluted areas, and recounted community efforts to hold industry and elected officials accountable for past and current actions. Testimony lasted for one hour and was followed by a 45-minute question and answer period featuring questions from the audience answered by committee members and the witness panel.
In opening remarks, the congressman emphasized that access to clean air and water is a right every American should enjoy. "I'm talking about the right to feel safe when we walk outside or turn on our faucets," Rouda said. "Safe from air pollutants that make us cough or gag, that give us emphysema and aggravate our asthma; safe from ingesting toxic chemicals and bacteria that jeopardize our children's brain development and weaken their immune systems." He said that this safety ought never to be dependent on where we live, our skin color, our income bracket, or party affiliation.
In her opening remarks, the congresswoman said, "We hear testimony from so many experts in D.C., but often what's missing is that connection to lived experience, so we're here today in Michigan's most polluted but resilient zip code to hear from a family of environmental warriors who have fought for our public health in the streets, in the legislature, and in the courts," Tlaib said. "I took my fellow Congressional members on a toxic tour this morning because I want them to smell what our community smells, and feel what our community feels."
U of M's Mohai referred to his nearly 30 years of conducting research at the state and national levels, investigating environmental inequality and disparity. He cited research which indicates corporate polluters who put the public's health at risk are almost always located in zip codes containing low-income communities and communities of color.
Lockridge, who lives near the Marathon refinery, relayed her experiences of awakening in the middle of the night, coughing and unable to breathe in the presence of a chemical odor. "These are the emissions that we have experienced, an ongoing presence in our home from Marathon Petroleum Corporation," she said. She explained her efforts of obtaining masks from the doctor's office and hiding under her pillow and blankets each night behind closed windows. "This is no way to live," she added.
Along with Lockridge, Leonard and Shariff shared their own experiences of how pollution has had long-term, sometimes fatal, health effects on themselves, their families and neighbors, labeling the situation as "environmental racism."
Nick Leonard, an environmental attorney, testified that in order for communities to hold corporations and government accountable for pollution and its consequences, federal laws must be changed and enforced, adding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must begin administering its regulations prohibiting activities which have a disparate impact on low-income communities and communities of color.
In closing comments, Tlaib encouraged environmental activists and residents to continue their efforts to make change and hold polluters accountable. She pledged to continue to fight the closure of local EPA Offices which are necessary to monitoring air and water quality and addressing environmental emergencies.
Rouda pledged to use his podium and microphone as a member of the U.S. Congress to shine a light on the issues affecting the country, signifying his obligation to bring awareness to the environmental issues here in Michigan.
For more information on this issue, contact Rep. Rashida Tlaib at http://www.tlaib.house.gov or contact the 13th Congressional Neighborhood Service Center in River Rouge at 313-203-7540 or the center in Inkster at 313-938-2380.