Thursday, May 19, 2011

Specific concerns about the bridge in Detroit

This post is a continuation of yesterday's post, which was inspired by comments from Matthew. I will address some specific concerns he had about another post from a few days ago. But before that, I want to mention the specific reasons why the bridge is being built.

Many of you probably know that the Ambassador Bridge, owned by Matty Maroun, is the largest trade crossing in the US. This bridge is privately owned, and the monies from the crossings go directly to Maroun's Detroit International Bridge Company. The State has basically been missing out on money for the longest time; the Ambassador Bridge is basically a monopoly. Therefore, they've decided to have their own bridge. On looking at the environmental impact statement (EIS) made by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the reasons for the new bridge are to:
  • provide safe, efficient, and secure movement of people and goods across the U.S.-Canadian border in the Detroit River area to support the economies of Michigan, Ontario, Canada and the United States
  • support the mobility needs of national and civil defense to protect the homeland
  • provide new border-crossing capacity to meet increased long-term demand
  • improve system connectivity to enhance the seamless flow of people and goods
  • improve operations and processing capability in accommodating the flow of people and goods 
  • provide reasonable and secure crossing options in the event of incidents, maintenance, congestion, or other disruptions
Given these reasons, I will address Matthew's specific concerns...

Yes, the bridge will undoubtedly cause more local air pollution, this is true of all development not just the bridge. 
This is an interesting point of contention. There are various perspectives. One is that Delray has been a heavily industrial area - cement, paper, steel, coal, waste water, oil refining, etc. - for many decades, and zoning laws have allowed industry to move in right next to residences. Now, the bridge can do one of two things for industry - by taking up a one hundred and sixty acre footprint, there are that many fewer acres left to fill industry in. This is the position taken by MDOT. So maybe some air pollution is being mitigated? Whoe knows. On the other hand, industry may want to be closer to the bridge, given that there will be easier access to Canada. This is the position of Southwest Detroit Business Association. This may increase air pollution in the area. My position is that people should not be living in Delray at all, and while localised air pollution many be diffused because of the bridge, the cumulative and global impacts of the pollution cannot be neglected.

You suggest, but have not shown, that not building the bridge will be better for the environment overall. Not building the bridge may mean that the net number of miles that goods are transported is increased, which would mean each of your concerns would be amplified not reduced (i.e. it seems unlikely that the alternative is mostly local production of goods). 
I looked into this, and MDOT does a wonderful job at skirting these issues. In the detailed EIS statement, MDOT says, 

"...With respect to global warming, to date no national standards have been established regarding greenhouse gases, nor has EPA established criteria or thresholds for greenhouse gas emissions. But, on April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al. that the USEPA does have authority under the Clean Air Act to establish motor vehicle emissions standards for carbon dioxide CO2 emissions. However, the Court’s decision did not have any direct implications on requirements for evaluating transportation projects. Further, because of the interactions among elements of the transportation system as a whole, project-level emissions analyses for greenhouse gases are less informative than those conducted at the regional, state, or national level. Because of these concerns, FHWA concludes that CO2 emissions cannot be usefully evaluated in this EIS in the same way as other vehicle emissions. With With respect to health impacts, the “Interim Guidance on Air Toxics in NEPA Documents” indicates that presently there is not adequate science to reliably include exposure modeling or risk assessment in the air quality analysis. The Interim Guidance explains that modeling tools to generate air pollution emissions cannot be properly used at the project level because they are based on certain assumptions with regard to trip length and amounts of congestion and were based on a limited number of tests of mostly older vehicles. Dispersion models that would indicate how much particulate matter and air toxics are in the air were developed to deal with carbon monoxide, which is relatively non-reactive, and their intent was to determine maximum, not more typical levels. Further, little is known about background pollution levels in many areas. Even if emission levels and concentrations could be estimated, exposure assessment and risk analysis have their own shortcomings, due to extrapolation to annual levels, for example, let alone multiple years."

There are a few things I'd like to mention regarding this. First, and the most obvious, is that the environmental impacts have not been addressed at all with this study - I will save you the pain of having to go through this terrible assessment. I don't understand why it is called an environmental impact statement at all. Second, even if the assessment was conducted, the reasons why the bridge is being built would still completely supersede the environmental impacts. MDOT would say, "Deal with the impacts." Third, such life-cycle assessments can be tailored to give you the answer you want, based on the variables you choose to include in the assessment. My stance is this, the impacts are debatable, what is not debatable is that these impacts are negative.

Having more local revenue could increase peoples salaries which may be more positive than the air pollution is negative. It is not reasonable to assume that people’s lives won’t be dramatically improved by having additional money (e.g. better healthcare, education, healthier food, more money for environmental remediation, etc.). 
I don't think that there should be a tradeoff between salaries and pollution. As I have written about before the choices we've made so far have always pit one important thing against another. What such behaviour connotes is that a degraded environment is necessary for people's lives to be "better." What this also means is that we convert the most important thing, our environment, into something expendable and movable (money), through degradation, and then use that expendable thing we've created to buy back the most important thing. Speaking of entropy, I think there are losses here...

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