There are spatial, racial inequities built into who benefits, and who bears the burdens, of our outdated energy system.
In 2019, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition and University of Michigan researchers Drs. Gronlund, Reames, and Schulz conducted a Health Impact Assessment of the DTE Energy service area. They examined the current distributions of energy burden (affordability), residential energy efficiency, and of the health impacts of pollution and extreme heat exposure — and future distribution of pollution exposure, based on the energy generation scenarios DTE considered in its Integrated Resource Plan.
The findings? Across the board,
They showed that high household energy burdens, low residential energy efficiency, and extreme heat exposure, are concentrated in the same census tracts which are more highly exposed to DTE air pollution, and more likely to be Black, People of Color, and low- to moderate-income.Nick Leonard
Map 1 shows the distribution of People of Color — primarily non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic residents of the Detroit Metropolitan Area. Then we see a map of “cumulative vulnerability,” a measure of economic and age-related vulnerability of the population living in each census tract to the adverse health effects of exposure to pollutants. Finally, we see a measure of electricity consumption.
Together this suggests that areas of the tri-county area who consume the least energy are also those who are particularly vulnerable to the adverse health effects of the pollutants that are generated by production of that energy. The maps below indicate that those areas also tend to experience some of the highest levels of exposure to air pollutants that are generated by DTE.
Electricity has many health benefits. One of the ways that people benefit from electricity is to cool their homes with air conditioning during extreme heat events. Unfortunately, air conditioning is an example of how the health benefits of electricity are not equally distributed, and annual health costs per person associated with extreme heat are higher in areas with less residential air conditioning availability. This is a map of the health costs associated with deaths and hospitalizations during extreme heat by census tract. These risks are estimated using a model of air conditioning prevalence along with results from epidemiologic studies of mortality and hospitalization rates during extreme heat events.
We can see from this map that, on average, annual health costs per person vary from less than a dollar to around $40. These costs are greater in Wayne County and in the City of Detroit, with high vulnerability in the older homes on the Lower East Side and in Northwest Detroit. Though the estimated mortality and hospitalization costs are small, this can also be regarded as a map of where suffering in summer heat is greater.
Using emissions estimates for 2018-2019 provided by DTE Energy, researchers modeled where those emissions travel to and their chemical transformations. This map shows the areas with greater exposure to DTE air pollution–Eastern Wayne County, and Southern Oakland and Macomb counties.
If we zoom out, we can see that the pollution exposure across the DTE service area, or Eastern Michigan, is concentrated mainly in the tri-county area, which will be the focus of this presentation, but also in proximity to the plants in East China, MI, where the St. Clair and Belle River coal plants are located.
We can estimate, from decades of epidemiologic research, how smaller doses of air pollution can increase the risk of a variety of health outcomes, including asthma exacerbations, emergency department visits and hospitalizations, heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, and death due to cardiovascular, respiratory, and lung cancer causes. We calculated these estimates using standard EPA methods, namely the BenMAP software, assigned dollar values to those health care costs and deaths, and added them all together. If we put a dollar value on the health care costs and mortality, the health costs from DTE power plant air pollution sum to $302 million annually across the tri-county area. Across census tracts, if every census tract had the same age distribution, health costs would range from $27 per person to $115 per person annually.