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WIN! Windsor-Essex chapter celebrates new Detroit ordinance on petroleum coke

The Council of Canadians and Detroit-based environmental justice allies gathered in Detroit in October 2015 to learn from each other and to strategize for wins like this one!

The Council of Canadians Windsor-Essex chapter began speaking out against petroleum coke being stored near the Detroit River in early 2013.

The Chronicle-Herald has explained, “Owned by Koch Carbon, a company controlled by the industrialists Charles and David Koch, [petroleum coke] is a byproduct of processing heavy bitumen piped from the tar sands in Alberta to a Detroit refinery. Most petroleum coke, often referred to in the oil industry as pet coke, is used as inexpensive fuel in countries like China, India and Mexico with relatively loose emissions controls.”

In March 2013, the Windsor Square reported, “The local chapter president of the Council of Canadians, Doug Hayes, said, ‘People only talk about tar sands emissions. They don’t talk about other problems like this.’”

In June of that year, the chapter participated in a ‘pots and pans joint action’ with people in Detroit to protest against the pet coke stored by the river. The chapter and its ally Windsor on Watch gathered at Cameron and Riverside Drive West in Windsor to make some noise against the tar sands by-product endangering the river. At that time, Blackburn News reported, “A protest of roughly 70 people in Windsor want to see the pet coke piles on the U.S. side of the Detroit River gone. The rally at the riverfront made the point that the piles of tar sands by-product are a health threat.”

That July, the Toronto Star reported, “The massive cloud of dust sweeping across the Detroit River was thick and black. Within seconds of spotting it, [Windsor-Essex chapter activist] Randy Emerson knew, with a sinking feeling, exactly what it was. ‘Is that the pet coke?’ Emerson, who captured stunning YouTube footage of the cloud on his cellphone at the Windsor waterfront asked his wife. ‘Oh my God’, he concluded. ‘Yep — that’s pet coke.’ ‘Pet coke shouldn’t be stored on a riverfront, that’s for sure. It should be in a building’, he said of the byproduct of Alberta heavy crude, which is used as a cheap replacement for coal.”

In October 2015, Hayes, Emerson, and Council of Canadians Board members, staff and allies joined a community tour led by our Detroit-based ally Michelle Martinez where we learned more about the issue.

And now The Detroit News has reported, “City Council on Tuesday [October 31] approved a long-debated ordinance crafted to regulate the handling of petroleum coke and other bulk solid materials to protect the health of Detroit residents. The new rules come several years after an uproar over 30-foot piles of pet coke — a byproduct of petroleum refining at the refinery in southwest Detroit — were stored by a company along the Detroit River, blowing onto the water and neighboring properties. The law will govern how materials can be stored and transported to prohibit excessive dust, including loading and unloading of pet coke and asphalt millings.”

Hayes tells us, “Our chapter sent an e-mail to Mayor Mike Duggan and two health and safety councillors as per a request from Michelle. She told us she would mention our letter in her presentation to city council. I hope it helped.”

Duggan voted yes to the ordinance in the 7-2 city council vote.

Martinez writes, “It’s not often that we have a victory in environmental justice, but we won thanks to all the amazing work from community members, and a historic coming together of all the communities of southwest Detroit and District 6. We won historic protections for human and environmental protection against pet coke and other toxic bulk materials! From Alberta Canada to Detroit Michigan we are saying no to more toxic industry dumping their waste on the land, in the water and poisoning our communities right to breathe.”

Among the allies she thanks is The Council of Canadians.

We remain committed to working with our Michigan-based allies to protect the land, air and water, notably the Great Lakes, to uphold the right to water (and stop water disconnections), and to oppose Nestle bottled-water takings.