Protesters stop pet coke trucks
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Six protestors locked arms on the morning of June 24 and turned back trucks arriving at the riverfront to dump the waste created from refining of Canadian tar sands.
Since November, the black hills of toxic petroleum coke — pet coke — have been growing. When spring came, neighbors opened their windows and the evidence of the pollution appeared, coating floors, furniture and, many fear, lungs.
“We’re saying life in the city is valuable and we’re willing to fight for it,” said Yusef Shakur, community activist and District 5 Council candidate who addressed the protestors.
D-CATS (Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands) organized the protest. They started Sunday afternoon with a rally in Clark Park. Then approximately 50 people marched to the foot of 14th Street, where the line of black hills begin and go west along the banks of the Detroit River. Sunday, the group set up a camp and spent the night. Monday morning, they blocked the trucks attempting to bring in more of the pet coke. Three days later, the protestors remained and the trucks had not returned.
The protest attracted a variety of residents with a unified vision of a clean riverfront and city.
Jarrett Schalaff, 26, who moved to the city four years ago from Pontiac, said, “Put people and the planet before profit and power.”
A Northend resident, who did not want to be identified, said she came when she heard about what was being dumped. “I have children. We like to swim, we like to fish and enjoy clean water. I’m here to take a stand for that.”
It’s a global issue that affects everyone, said a father carrying his five-month old baby girl. The least he could do, he said, was to support the people putting their freedom on the line.
The Detroit Police were present. Inspector Nick Kyriacou, Central District, said the protestors did not have a right to do what they were doing, — blocking the entrance to a business and a public street. He said the police were trying to mediate instead of arrest.
State Rep. Rashida Talib addressed both the rally Sunday and the group Monday morning. At both events she stressed that Mayor Dave Bing had the power to stop the toxic dumping. Bing’s office did not reply to this paper’s request for comment.
The pet coke piled on the banks of the Detroit River is the waste left after the Marathon Refinery processes the tar sands oil carried through pipelines from Alberta Canada to the Marathon Refinery in southwest Detroit. The toxic pet coke cannot be legally burned in large quantities in the United States. The Koch Brothers, famous for their right wing political activity, and operating as Koch Minerals LLC, rent land from fellow billionaire Manuel “Matty” Maroun to store the pet coke. It is then loaded on ships for sale in Asia.
DTE Energy has a permit to burn some pet coke at its Monroe plant.
D-CATS is affiliated with MI-CATS, the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, which held simultaneous protests on the west side of the state.
Michigan’s proximity to Canada accounts in part for the existence and planned expansion of pipelines and tar sands refining. The pollution from the 2010 Enbridge Energy Partners’ pipeline rupture in the Kalamazoo River remains. Over a million gallons of oil flowed into the river near Marshall. The EPA reported last October — two years later — that Enbridge needed to dredge an additional 100 acres of the river since the original dredging did not get all of the heavy oil. It sinks, but is mobile, moving around it can re-pollute the river.
In writing about the dangers of pet coke, Dr. John P. Tiefenbacher, Texas State University, wonders why companies and governments are not putting their efforts into developing sustainable energy rather than building more pipelines. As bad as pet coke is for air and water quality, Tiefenbacher says the “greater concern ought to probably be placed on the long-term and global impacts of new commitments to fossil-fuel energy production in this age of global climate change.”