It’s fitting in our current times that most people believe the phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility” originated in the world of comics. Somehow we forget a carpenter’s son said, “To whom much is given, much is expected” about 2,000 years ago; and Voltaire originally coined the phrase hailing Europe’s Age of Enlightenment.

Whether heard while nodding through a Sunday sermon, a boring philosophy lecture en route to an MBA or the world of comics, the maxim is no laughing matter when the failure to live up to it belongs to a corporate powerhouse like DTE Energy. The state’s largest energy provider is also the eighth largest in the country with over two million household and business customers. DTE has reaped average gross incomes[1] of approximately $3.5 billion over the last five years.

That’s a lot of power and responsibility to be sure.

At[2], you’ll even find a link to “Corporate Responsibility” with green-washed photos and subheadings presenting DTE’s good neighborly commitments to people, economy and environment. What you won’t find however are DTE’s own un-neighborly emissions reports to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. These reports detail 1,499 combined violations of the federal Clean Air Act[3] at DTE’s River Rouge, Trenton Channel, Belle River and St. Clair coal-fired power plants over a five-year period.

[I’ll venture to say that] these self-reported violations are a conservative number. Either way, they’ve prompted the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign[4] to file legal proceedings against DTE on behalf of its membership in Michigan. Each of these almost 1,500 violations was an instance in which a coal plant emitted excessive pollutants from its smokestacks into the air, contributing to the well documented elevated health risks of people in surrounding communities.

Smokestack plumes from DTE contain nitrogen dioxide, which a 2010 published study[5] referenced in University of Michigan Professor Paul Mohai’s 2011 Health Affairs study describes as “a common air pollutant generated by the burning of fossil fuels.” It can cause “decreases of 6.71, 7.37 and 8.61 points” in the neurological functioning of nearby residents — often children who attend schools located near heavy industrial facilities. Additionally, the Clean Air Task Force has found that the River Rouge, St. Clair/Belle River, River Rouge, and Trenton Channel coal-fired power plants collectively contribute to 267 deaths, 434 heart attacks, and 4,180 asthma attacks each year.

The Clean Air Act aims to protect the health of nearby communities. To come into compliance, DTE simply needs to make the required equipment upgrades, or follow the lead of the nation’s other utilities by reducing its reliance on coal and increasing its investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. To date, DTE has chosen not to do so, and the consequences of the disparity between DTE’s public relations materials and public accountability should no longer be ignored.

It’s time for DTE to make the investments necessary to protect the public health and adopt a sustainable clean energy plan. DTE should transition away from the use of outdated coal-using facilities toward greater use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, and it’s not like they don’t have the resources.


Follow Patrick Geans-Ali on Twitter: [8]

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  1. ^has reaped average gross incomes (
  2. ^ (
  3. ^Clean Air Act (
  4. ^Beyond Coal Campaign (
  5. ^published study (
  6. ^billions more (
  7. ^tax breaks (
  8. ^ (

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