River Rouge Power Plant

River Rouge power plant, owed and operated by DATE energy in Detroit, Michigan. Written by a SF state student 

River Rouge power plant located in Detroit, Michigan site on the banks of the Detroit river. A channel of water connecting lake St. Clair to Lake Erie. The purpose of this article is to examine the environmental racism that affects the estimated 1.78 million living within a 3-mile radius of the plant, 76.3% being people of color.[1]. And how resources curse plays a part in this community.

    The cost of living next to a coal plant like River Rouge greatly outweigh the benefits. Low-income housing located near sites such as these have a different cost. The amount of pollution in the air is at a far higher level than that of surrounding neighborhoods.[2]. The rates of asthma in children and adults is at a far higher rate, along with cancer, heart attacks, and even death. [3]. With rates as high as these something should have been done earlier to to reduce the amount of particle pollution that plagues the residents.

    However that’s when the “resource curse” comes into play. Or how the surrounding community next to an industrial project never sees the benefits that come out from extracting resources from the environment [4]. The low-income residents  who live within 3 miles of this plant are basically targeted due to the lack of income and power that they did not possess at the time. “only 1.2% of total U.S. electricity production, yet affecting a total of 1.78 million Americans who live within 3 miles of one of the 12 plants, with an average per capita income of $14,626 (compared with the U.S. average of $21,587), and 76.3% people of color.”[5]. And after years of running the river rouge plant, the community hasn’t reaped any of those benefits. The plant was built in 1957 when citizens of color still had to face housing discrimination practices.[6] Forcing them into the less desirable locations. They weren’t guaranteed employment so that created another problem. There wasn’t any wealth going around the community instead just to the CEO’s. Of DTE energy. Another factor to contribute to this resource curse is how the people who actually see the benefits of a product, and for this example coal, are in fact many or thousands of miles away. The number of consumers outweighs the victims.[7]  Many of the residents have fled due to the health risks the plant imposes but some have stayed.

    The cost of running power plants like these out way the benefits.

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from River Rouge Power Plant
Type of Impact    Annual Incidence    Valuation
Deaths    44                           $320,000,000
Heart attacks               72    $7,800,000
Asthma attacks    700    $36,000
Hospital admissions    33    $770,000
Chronic bronchitis    26    $12,000,000
Asthma ER visits    38    $14,000
Source: “Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution,”[8]

Above is a table demonstrating the number of illnesses related the the coal particulates and the amount of money that goes in annually to treat the costs. With co2 emissions reaching over 3 million tons [9]. The probability of a resident in River Rouge breathing in one of these particulates is very high. The lack of power and political voice is what was needed to save this community, has finally been heard. For there are plans to retire this plant in 2023.[10]

There were a number of contributing factors that ultimately led to the shutdown of River Rouge, ranging from an American attitude that is trying to strive for cleaner energy, more knowledge on the harmful effects that producing energy can have. And a community be able to unite and say they won’t take a anymore of it.


[1] “River Rouge Power Plant.” River Rouge Power Plant -SourceWatch, www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/River_Rouge_Power_Plant.

[2] Source Watch

[3] Source Watch

[4] Bridge Gavin The Whole World “Scales and Spaces of Extraction

[5] Source Watch

[6] “Energy Progress for Detroit Communities and the State of Michigan as DTE Announces Coal Plant Retirements.” Earthjustice, 13 June 2016, earthjustice.org/news/press/2016/energy-progress-for-southeast-detroit-and-the-state-of-michigan-as-dte-announces-coal-plant-retirements.

[7] Bridge

[8] Source Watch

[9] Source Watch

[10] Source Watch


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