Supreme Court Reversal & Air Pollution Report Card

  • Some of the major sources of air pollution are power plants, factories, and cars and trucks. (Photo courtesy of the DOE)

This week, the Michigan Supreme Court’s conservative majority reversed a major decision that allowed Michigan citizens to sue the state over pollution concerns.

In December, the high court ruled that state agencies that issue permits that result in harm can be named in a citizen suit. At the time, there was a liberal majority in the Court.

The office of Attorney General Bill Schuette asked the Court to rehear the case.

The newly conservative Court did that this week… and with an order reversed the December ruling.

Nick Schroeck is the executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

“What the Court did is it basically potentially rolled back a layer of environmental protection by calling into question whether or not the state can be liable for its permitting decisions. So if the state permits something that goes on to harm the environment, arguably the state should be liable if they made a bad decision. And what the Court did is they’ve kinda called that into question.”

Schroeck says he expects this new decision will be challenged.

A related Environment Report story

The State of the Air report

More about particle pollution


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This is the Environment Report.

The American Lung Association released its State of the Air Report this week.

More than a dozen Michigan cities made the list of the most polluted cities in the country for ozone pollution – also known as smog – and particle pollution – also called soot. The major sources of this pollution are factories and power plants… and our cars and trucks and even our lawnmowers.

Shelly Kiser is the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Michigan, and she joins me now to talk about this.

So your report has three separate lists of the most polluted cities. There’s a list for ozone pollution, or smog. Then there are lists for year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution. What’s the difference between these three types of pollution?

SK: So ozone is created in the atmosphere with a couple chemicals that need heat and light, so it’s usually something we see in the summer. It increases your risk of early death, you’re more likely to have asthma attacks. Particle pollution, on the other hand, is what we think of as soot, so it’s tiny pieces of something that can blow in the wind, and they are so tiny that they can go way down in the deepest part of your lungs and really wreak havoc there. It increases your risk of death during high levels over a short period of time, or at low levels over a long period of time.

RW: Which Michigan cities have the most polluted air?

SK: The highest on the list of anyone from Michigan was the Detroit Metropolitan area. And it was ranked 17th for year-round particle pollution. For ozone, there were a number of cities that ranked in the top 100, for instance, Grand Rapids was tied for 43rd worst ozone pollution in the country.

RW: There is some good news in your report. Many Michigan communities have improved air quality over previous years and some Michigan cities actually made the list of the cleanest cities in the country. What’d you find there?

SK: The cleanest cities for particle pollution were the greater Lansing area. And also in Saginaw. We’re making progress and air pollution is being reduced gradually over time, but we’ve got a ways to go.

RW: Your report calls for tighter regulations on coal-burning power plants and tailpipe emissions from cars. What else can we do?

SK: Some of the things we can do are make sure our cars are tuned up and running well. I know everyone loves the fire pits, but they do contribute to particle pollution. We can do our mowing of our lawns in the evening because in the morning if you do it or during the day, then it’s more likely to react with the sunlight and create ozone. So those are all things we can do to reduce our pollution levels.

RW: Shelly Kiser is the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Michigan. Thank you for your time!

SK: Thank you for having me.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.