The Metro Detroit region rightfully takes pride in its numerous contributions to our state and nation; from automotive excellence and Motown, to the organized labor movement and becoming an example of industrial strength. Unfortunately, its contributions are not all good. Two dubious distinctions we carry are a source of great concern: the quality of our air and the health of the people breathing it.
Southeast Michigan has one of the worst air quality ratings in the nation, and some of the highest asthma rates to match, because for decades, corporations have polluted our air and compromised the health of our community members, while receiving generous tax credits from the state. As residents of a region built on manufacturing, we must challenge ourselves to move away from the mindset that serving as industry leaders and protecting public health are mutually exclusive options for Michigan. We have evolved, and the conversation must evolve along with us.
Thousands of hardworking residents are able to put food on the table and sustain a roof over their head in Metro Detroit because of our strong manufacturing opportunities. However, their jobs do not insulate them from also feeling the effects of poor air quality based on the actions of their employers. Likewise, the companies cutting corners to pollute our air through their increased emissions — all while receiving state tax credits — are not insulated from their own actions, either. Poor air quality and increased health issues for workers costs companies more in the long run — missed work, decreased productivity and long-term employee care begin to compound due to the health issues workers and their families develop. If we’re going to continue to act as industrial leaders nationally, companies operating in Metro Detroit need to consider the comprehensive impact of their actions, including impact on their own bottom-line.
Last month, my Democratic colleagues and I introduced an air quality package of bills to strengthen the permitting process for emissions while promoting transparency and accountability between businesses and the communities in which they operate. Now we’re joining with our brothers and sisters in labor, and allies in the fight for environmental justice, to call on businesses to take the dual concerns of the physical AND economic health of everyday Michigan residents seriously. We understand that to achieve comprehensive, sustainable success, we need to focus on legislative options that recognize that both population and economic health are on the line, and that they’re inextricable. Businesses that rely on Michigan labor — and receive Michigan tax dollars — need to put the health and safety of the people of our state first, because their success depends on it. A sick workforce is an absent one, and mismanaged tax credits can easily disappear.
It is possible to have real discussions about achieving success for Michigan businesses, their hardworking employees and our communities, but we must all be committed to doing our part. Unfortunately, many of these businesses have demonstrated that we cannot trust them to come to the table on their own, despite the enormous tax credits they continue to rake in while polluting our air and moving jobs out of state at the drop of a hat. If Michigan is going to sustain these companies, then they have an obligation to return that favor and invest their growth back into our state’s greatest resource: our people.