Putting protection back in the EPA - WNEM TV 5


Putting protection back in the EPA

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It's a major employer in Mid-Michigan, providing hundreds of jobs and pumping millions into the economy.

However, it's also been cited time and time again for violating clean air and water standards.

Some fear it could end up causing the next public health crisis.

Jim and Nancy Easterly are fuming. They said it's because of something in the air.

"The smell is so bad I don't even want to invite people over to my home anymore," Nancy Easterly said.

The Easterlys are talking about a foul odor that blankets their Monitor Township neighborhood. The stench is coming from the Michigan Sugar factory, but Jim Easterly said there is nothing sweet about the runaround he and his neighbors are getting.

"Nobody is doing anything to help us," he said.

Michigan Sugar is a cooperative of farmers. It profits from taking sugar beats and turning them into sugar. The company has been around longer than most residents, but one local official said there were three complaints of odor in 2009 and nearly 800 last year.

"When we have 800 residents complaining about the odor, that is a serious problem," said Terry Miller, Monitor Township trustee.

Miller said residents are getting a raw deal, complaining for years and getting very little action from the federal and state regulators who take their complaints. They issue violations and collect fines, but have done nothing to fix the smell.

"The wheels of environmental justice move incredibly slow, too slow," Miller said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency confirmed hundreds of violations were issued to Michigan Sugar for being out of compliance with both the Clear Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

The state Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates odors which are considered a public nuisance, said they have limited enforcement powers.

The TV5 I-Team discovered all of the violations have been handed over to the state Attorney General's Office.

Miller and Easterly both said, not only has Michigan Sugar failed to do anything about its overwhelming odor issues, they now fear Monitor Township could become the next public health crisis, similar to what's happening in Flint.

Miller said while the problems are much different, the agencies that dropped the ball in Flint are the same with Michigan Sugar - the EPA and the DEQ.

"Citizens have to get involved in the process and they have to scream about this sort of thing," Miller said.

The I-Team reached out to Michigan Sugar to get their side of the story. They referred TV5 to their website. TV5's research showed as the company grows there could be a significant cost to upgrades needed to control the odor.

In the meantime, for the Easterlys and others, property values are a huge concern and quality of life matters even more. They feel their future in Monitor Township is like the odor, up in the air.

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