Is DTE leading Southeast Michigan toward the revitalization of Woodward or Wall Street?
By Patrick Geans-Ali
Special to the Michigan Citizen
After seeing hundreds of protesters outside its Detroit corporate headquarters for last year’s annual shareholders meeting, the powers that be at DTE Energy, which was recently given a “Green Leader” award for large industry, saw fit to hold their 2013 shareholders meeting among the more friendly confines of Wall Street. This begs the question: Why is DTE, a quasi-public/private entity, increasingly unpopular among the struggling citizens of Michigan and increasingly popular among New York’s thriving financial sector?
Which way are they leading us?
Members of the Clean Energy Now Coalition asked those very questions by sending proxy shareholders to New York, while simultaneously holding a press conference outside DTE headquarters on May 2. During the report back from New York, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Organizer Brad Van Guilder revealed this. “Someone did actually ask about why they brought the meeting to New York City as opposed to meeting in Detroit, and they said specifically that it was in order to be able to talk to the large institutional investors that are based here in New York. They said quite frankly that they came to New York to talk to Wall Street.”
It’s telling that local rate payers and shareholders can’t seem to get the same attention from DTE.
DTE has reaped average gross incomes of approximately $3.5 billion over the last five years, so it’s a small wonder they are so attractive to the Wall Street crowd. In many ways, the energy giant fits the Wall Street profile of companies considered too big to fail, while enjoying guaranteed profit margins, generous tax breaks, lucrative governmental subsidies and cozy relationships at all levels of government.
DTE not only is guaranteed an 11 percent profit margin, it has also gotten a 13.8 percent increase in utility rates from customers over the last five years. Additionally, DTE has received $43 million for production tax credits in 2012 alone — $35 million of which was for chemically treated coal.
As if that wasn’t enough, DTE is also currently pushing to get access to billions more in subsidized costs toward building a third Fermi nuclear power plant in Monroe. Throw in the millions of dollars they stand to gain from a new round of tax breaks on new equipment purchases gifted to industry by Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the majority Republican state legislature.
No wonder Wall Street is rolling out the red carpet on such short notice. After all, nobody appreciates the looting of public treasuries these days like the Manhattan money traders.
Accompanying Van Guilder to New York to give voice to the concerns of local downriver residents was Douglas “G-Styles” Myers, who was recognized by the Downriver Community Development Corporation for his efforts with the FeedDaStreetz program toward making positive changes in his hometown of River Rouge. Myers questioned CEO Gerry Anderson about DTE’s lack of commitment toward improving the negative environmental and health impacts on residents surrounding DTE coal-fired power plants in River Rouge, Trenton and Belle River.
Anderson’s typical response was to deny there was a problem. However, the Sierra Club’s filing of a federal lawsuit in March for 1,499 self-reported violations of the Clean Air Act at all three facilities, the reports of coal ash spewed in April in Trenton, the uncovered storage of mounds of petroleum coke from the Marathon Petroleum tar sands oil refinery along the shores of the Detroit River and the recent study by University of Michigan professor Paul Mohai all suggest otherwise. Additionally, the Clean Air Task Force has found that these power plants collectively contribute to 267 deaths, 434 heart attacks and 4,180 asthma attacks each year.
At the 2012 DTE shareholders meeting, nearly 30 percent of shareholders voted for greater investments in clean energy to alleviate these negative health impacts and offset climate change. How did DTE respond? They spent $11 million to campaign against state ballot initiatives requiring just that. No doubt, the over 8,200 petition signatures from rate payers delivered to DTE headquarters on May 2 will get similar consideration.
Is that being a green leader? Maybe to those that think green in the context of money, but to those who think green in terms of environment, I don’t think so.