The writer, a Los Angeles freelancer and former Detroit News business reporter, blogs at Starkman Approved. This column first appeared on his blog.
By Eric Starkman
There are two kinds of environmentalists: The genuine sort who are uncompromising in their opposition to all harm inflicted on the planet and the electric vehicles sort who tout the value of zero emissions and care not one iota about the environmental damage caused by the mining of metals and minerals to produce EVs.
Friends of the Earth is an example of a genuine environmentalist activist group. The nonprofit was among the dozens of non-government organizations (NGOs) that signed an open letter to Elon Musk urging Tesla’s CEO not to invest in Indonesia’s nickel industry because of environmental concerns. This Wired story provides some insight into the environmental destruction being inflicted in Indonesia by mostly China-based companies that control the mining and refining of nickel in that country.
“Labor exploitation, economic injustices, and environmental degradation are undermining the socio-ecological transformation promised by electric vehicles,” Pius Ginting, coauthor of a report by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation think tank on the industry, has warned. “The public needs to know the reality of what’s happening.”
Ford Motor Co. is an example of a phony baloney company professing concern for the environment. Reading the sustainability commitment claims on the Dearborn, MI- based company’s website one might mistakenly conclude that environmental protection is Ford’s overriding concern.
Here’s the unvarnished truth about Ford. The company last year realized more than $158 billion in revenues selling mostly shoddily made, gas guzzling, climate destroying SUVs and trucks. The company dreams about one day being an EV manufacturer, but at the moment it’s a bit player slated to lose billions as it figures out how to manufacture electric vehicles without them catching fire, losing power, and other issues. If EVs are indeed the future, it’s far from certain that Ford will survive an expected industry shakeout.
What is certain is that Ford’s EV efforts thus far allegedly haven’t been good for the environment. A Bloomberg investigative report published in February traced much of the aluminum in Ford’s electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck to a refinery in Brazil accused of sickening thousands of people.
Despite the pleas from NGOs to stay out of Indonesia, Ford last month announced it was partnering with a China-based company to mine nickel in that country. Lisa Drake, vice president for EV Industrialization, crowed the deal would make EVs “more accessible” and would “better protect” people and the planet. Drake didn’t provide one example of how Ford and its China partner would improve existing Indonesian practices.
As for the “trust” Ford professes to engender in its communities, let me share the latest as to what’s going on in rural Marshall, MI, where Ford, with the full support of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, is literally attempting to bulldoze its way into a region where it isn’t welcome to build an environmentally hazardous electric battery plant on fertile farmland in partnership with a Communist China-based company.
Whitmer spearheaded $1.7 billion in government subsidies and other goodies so Ford can build its battery plant on a 1,900-acre megasite and supposedly create a measly 2,500 jobs paying on average less than $42,000 a year. The secrecy on how Ford’s battery site in Marshall was assembled is cause for alarm, as are the paucity of critical details about its operation.
Thirteen Michigan lawmakers signed confidentiality agreements preventing them from disclosing details of potential development projects before approving a $1 billion incentive plan for the state’s increasingly controversial Michigan Economic Development Corp. Whitmer says her lips must remain sealed because she is covered by a separate nondisclosure agreement signed on behalf of a handful of people in the administration who might be privy to details about the potential developments.
“(The NDAs) should be seen as a major red flag for working people across this state who care about accountable government,” warned Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan. “Michigan needs more transparency, not less. If our lawmakers can’t bring in jobs without shady backroom deals that have to be shielded from the public, then are these deals even good for our state?”
Michigan consistently ranks at the bottom of surveys measuring legislative transparency and ethics.
Despite all the secrecy, backroom dealing, and conflicts alleged by Marshall residents who as best I can tell overwhelmingly disapprove of the battery plant, Ford appears to have hit an unexpected snag.
The property where Ford wants to build its battery plant is zoned for light manufacturing, although it’s occupied by historic farms and homes. The Joint Planning Commission, representing the city of Marshall and Marshall Township, last Tuesday night voted 4-2 against a rezoning petition, determining that it didn’t meet the necessary conditions required to rezone the land for heavy manufacturing.
Area residents maintain that the commissioners who voted in favor of the rezoning have conflicts of interest. Regardless, there was a majority ruling against the rezoning. The Joint Commission is comprised of six officials appointed by the city council and township board.
Marshall’s City Council is scheduled to meet Monday, May 1, at 7 pm to review the rezoning application, but Jim Durian, CEO of the Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance (MAEDA), is on record saying it doesn’t matter how Marshall’s elected officials choose to vote.
“No matter what they choose, the project will move forward,” Jim Durian, CEO of MAEDA, told Bridge News, a nonpartisan news service that runs circles around Michigan’s major dailies.
Durian is clearly confident his organization can ride roughshod over local elected officials. MAEDA has already shredded hundreds of old-growth trees, posting footage online showing them being destroyed to the music, “Takin’ Care of Business.” Tons of gravel and broken concrete have been dumped on fertile farmland.
The arrogance has only fueled more anger, and Marshall residents are loaded for bear.
A protest was held Saturday where former Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who also chaired the House Intelligence Committee, addressed the group, and warned about encroaching Chinese influence in America. Another protest is planned Monday night in advance of Marshall’s City Council meeting. A notice sent about the protest warned there were rumors that MAEDA was planning to pack the council room with outsiders.
In the interim, Marshall residents are scrambling to find out more details about Ford’s battery plant. It is already known that Marshall’s city water supply is inadequate to meet the plant’s gargantuan consumption of water, which sources say will necessitate a line from Ford’s plant to the large casino midway between Marshall and Battle Creek. The casino gets its water from Battle Creek. It’s not certain how Ford will dispose of water potentially contaminated by the manufacturing of lithium batteries.
Residents living near GM’s electric battery plant under construction on farmland near Lansing were advised to test their water twice a year for contamination after the site goes live.
In other significant Michigan development, the state’s Department of Natural Resources voted to reject an application from the Michigan National Guard to more than double the size of its Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training facility because of environmental concerns. Michigan’s National Guard sought the expansion to upgrade its capabilities in cyber and electronic warfare training.
National Guard officials repeatedly assured that the activities would be low impact, but the proposal was widely opposed by surrounding local governments, residents, and conservation groups, concerned about noise and potential impacts to local wildlife and nearby waterways.
According to former Representative Hoekstra, who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands in the Trump Administration, and Michigan Rep. John Moolenaar, who represents Michigan’s Second District, Michigan National Guard has trained military partners from Taiwan to prepare for possible Communist China aggression. Yet Whitmer has spearheaded Michigan taxpayer dollars to support a battery plant that will be owned outright by a China-based company and one that will be paid royalties on Ford’s battery plant production.
The National Guard reimburses Michigan for costs known as “payments in lieu of taxes,” that Michigan taxpayers would otherwise pay to reimburse local governments for lost property tax opportunities on public lands, Bridge News previously reported. Ford lacks that sense of civic responsibility.
I can find no record of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources expressing any environmental concerns about Ford’s lithium battery plant.
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