For years, residents of Detroit’s Tri-Cities area, which is predominantly Black and low income, with a growing Hispanic population, pointed to the Marathon Petroleum refinery for releasing cancer causing chemicals into the air they breathed. Those concerns were heightened in 2019 when a malfunction of the Detroit refinery coker flare gas system resulted in releases of hydrogen sulfide and mercaptan compounds into the community releasing strong odors, causing residents to experience a number of illnesses. Thirteen documented violations of air permits and the Clean Air Act over six years at this same facility were the focus of a Congressional field hearing in September, 2019. These releases of cancer causing chemicals into nearby neighborhoods prompted US Representative Tlaib to reprimand the company’s management for its inattention to safeguarding the health of its workers and nearby residents.
A large group of the residents that were not included in a 2012 Marathon voluntary home purchase program, many from black communities, had asked to have their homes purchased by Marathon, so that they could leave the area and start new lives free of the air pollution. While Marathon took some steps to address those concerns, ultimately dozens of people were stuck, unable to sell their homes on the market and unable to move. Dozens more homes were abandoned.
In 2018, Trillium began to look into the matter and used the tools available to us as shareholders – dialogue, inquiry, and shareholder proposals – to press the company to address the community’s concerns. In late 2019, we filed a shareholder proposal that focused on the relationship between its executive compensation incentives and community impacts, like the ones experienced by the community near its Detroit facility.
Ultimately, the shareholder proposal received a low vote, only 7.8%, in April 2020, but the shareholder proposal did provide a context in 2019 and early 2020 for some very pointed and challenging meetings with the company to discuss the topic. In those meetings, we emphasized the importance of meaningfully strong environmental and social performance at each and every facility, including the Detroit refinery.
We were therefore delighted to see in December 2020, that Marathon Petroleum announced it will purchase residential properties from willing sellers in the neighborhood and that it is working with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to purchase or lease 38 abandoned homes and 140 vacant lots with plans to remove the ruined houses and establish a maintained green belt to offer some buffering between remaining nearby residents and its refinery.
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