Rep. Rashida Tlaib Takes on Marathon Petroleum in Local Congressional Hearing on Pollution

Rep. Tlaib and Rep. Harley Rouda held a local hearing in southwest Detroit on the effects of industrial pollution.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-California) heard testimonials from a five-member panel of environmental experts and advocates on the state’s air quality and water issues during a congressional field hearing yesterday afternoon.

Tlaib reprimanded Marathon Petroleum for last week’s oil vapor leak that led to hospitalizations of two of its workers.

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Marathon “has been cited by the state of Michigan at least 13 times in the past six years for violations of its air permit and Clean Air Act,” Tlaib said. These are “toxic chemicals that are known to cause respiratory illnesses, cancer and birth defects. We literally had toxic gas leaks from Marathon last week, as you all know, which caused them to evacuate the plant but not our neighborhoods.” 

Marathon’s oil vapor leak was the second incident this year that has raised alarm around the processing plant’s operations. In February, a “rotten-egg” odor was emitted from the refinery. City officials and Marathon said last week that the leak did not pose a public health threat. 

Eleanore Catolico
Eleanore Catolico

“Whenever Marathon has a chemical release, the company releases a statement that always states the public may not be concerned if there was no health harm,” Dr. Dolores Leonard, an environmental advocate, said.  “Never do they discuss the psychological stress the citizens living in the area endure.”

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) is currently investigating last week’s incident for any violations. EGLE is also monitoring air emissions from 26 industrial sites surrounding southwest Detroit, according to their air quality monitoring report released in the spring. A coalition of environmental organizations have sent a letter to the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to open a federal investigation against Marathon.

A greenhouse gas inventory of Detroit’s citywide emissions published in 2014 by the University of Michigan found that Marathon and another industrial facility was responsible for 3 percent of total city wide emissions.  

The panel also addressed how Flint residents continue to rely on bottled water five years after the Flint water crisis, the high asthma and cancer rates in the 48217 zip code and the absence of federal law and lack of funding to address the ongoing issues with water affordability.

Tlaib is also working on securing a new federal EPA office in Wayne County, after the Grosse Ile office moved to Ann Arbor in late August. The EPA office houses an emergency response team. The Congresswoman will also be proposing legislation called the Justice for All Civil Rights Act which would expand civil rights protections to include those impacted by environmental pollution.



  • Eleanore Catolico
    Eleanore Catolico is Civic Reporter with 101.9 WDET, covering local affairs with the Detroit Documenters program. She enjoys techno.