Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry, business, and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio.   She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly "bitten by the radio bug," and never recovered.  She took over the auto beat in January, 2009, just a few months before Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy.  Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio.   Her coverage of Michigan's Detroit Three automakers has taken her as far as Germany, and China. 

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. 

Mercedes Mejia

When you think of Cuban exports, you probably think, cigars, sugar, and rum.  But Cuba exports something of much greater value to third-world countries:  doctors.  Cuba has trained 23,000 foreign physicians for free at the Latin American School of Medicine near Havana. 

Dearborn F150 factory
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Ford Motor Company of Dearborn on Thursday reported a record first quarter profit of $2.5 billion, far exceeding analysts' expectations.

General Motors had a good first quarter too, reporting $2 billion in profit, and Italian-American automaker Fiat Chrysler made $540 million.

All three companies are benefiting from the boom in U.S. sales of SUVs and pickup trucks. 

Gasoline prices remain low, and automakers have made great strides improving fuel economy  for larger vehicles. 

oil field
wikipedia

Eric Kort was looking for methane when he and his team flew a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft over the Bakken formation in May, 2014.

What the University of Michigan climate researcher found was ethane. Lots and lots of ethane.

Kort says the air sample data he collected has solved a mystery. Wwhat caused global ethane emissions to rise between 2009 and 2014, after a significant decline prior to 2009?

Finca Marta organic farm in Cuba
Finca Marta

Michigan agriculture businesses are intrigued by the prospect of doing business in Cuba, after the Obama administration re-established formal ties with the island nation.  

Cuba also sees the U.S. as a potential new market.  

But there are still many obstacles standing in the way of increased agricultural trade.  One of them is the low productivity on the typical Cuban small farm.

Ford worker, Livonia Assembly
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company's investment of $1.4 billion will upgrade its Livonia Transmission plant to build a new, more fuel-efficient 10-speed transmission for some models of F-150 trucks.  

At the same time, Ford is also building a new factory in Mexico, part of a strategy to build SUVs and trucks in the U.S. and cars in Mexico. 

The UAW doesn't like that strategy, but Ford points out it still employs more than 55,000 hourly workers in the U.S.  That's more than any other automaker in the country.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Tourism has exploded in Cuba since the Obama administration announced a resumption of diplomatic relations with the country in 2014.

Danilo Gomez is a law professor and, as is very common in Havana, is also employed in the tourist industry. He moonlights as a tour guide. Gomez says tourism has nearly doubled since the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, because Westerners want to see Cuba “before the Americans ruin it.”  A million people a year used to visit Cuba, he says.  Now it’s close to two million.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

 

Cuba’s heralded health care system has been mobilized to stop the Zika virus from gaining a foothold in the country, and so far, the campaign appears to be a success.

The virus is spread by Aedes Aegypti,  the same species of mosquito that spreads dengue, a painful and often debilitating illness.

Cuban officials have ordered mandatory fumigation of every apartment and house to kill the mosquitos.  Our own apartment in Havana was fumigated today.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Resourceful does not even begin to describe Cubans.  There is not enough of anything in Cuba – food, money, freedom.  So they make the most of what they have.  They call it “luchando,” which means fighting the good fight, managing despite long odds.

Individual Cubans can sell you just about anything more cheaply than the Cuban government can.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Mercedes Mejia and I have been in Cuba for four days, long enough to have ridden a bus, taken a shared taxi, used the local currency, interviewed many Cubans, eaten some quite good meals, and formed a few impressions.  Here are a few of mine.

Feeling a little of Flint’s pain in Cuba

Everybody, no matter how brave their character, agrees one must not drink the tap water in Cuba. It is treated with chemicals, but I’m told it still has microbes that an American stomach would find most objectionable.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

I was still getting my bearings after arriving in Havana, when I spotted a chicken wandering the street. Nobody was chasing it with a frying pan. It seemed sure of itself, as if it considered itself no different from the human passersby. 

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

When President Obama announced a resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba in the fall of 2014, we kept our eyes and ears open for possible Michigan-Cuban stories to tell.

It didn’t take long to discover there are quite a few.  The Michigan Agribusiness Association has been wooing Cuban officials for years now, hoping to sell Michigan-grown produce in a new market.  You want black beans, Cuba?  We got your black beans in Michigan.

Pixabay

It’s no secret Cuba is hot.

Tourism is up 15% since just last year, when the Obama and Castro administrations announced an historic rapprochement.

This article by Oliver Wainwright describes “droves” of people visiting Havana.  He writes, “it can now be hard to move for the throngs of package tour groups.”

Consumers Energy / Flickr/user

Seven of Consumers Energy's oldest and smallest coal-burning power plants will shut down for good on April 15.

They're being shut down to comply with an order to reduce mercury emissions.

Spokesman Brian Wheeler says the shutdown is expected to be smooth.

"Power plants obviously do go on and offline at different times," says Wheeler.  "Sometimes plants get shut down for maintenance.  So the shutdown process  isn't that difficult, but once they're closed for sure by April 15th, they won't come back."

People voting
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Ann Arbor Public Schools will close on May 3, an election day.

Many schools are polling places, and Superintendent Jeanice Swift says there are concerns about people coming into unlocked buildings to vote.

Swift says Ann Arbor is not alone in grappling with the issue.

"It is on the minds of districts across the state and around the country, " she says.

Swift says some districts have elected to use election days as professional development days, and Ann Arbor may do the same, or the city may decide to find other places for people to vote.

creative commons - public domain / Pixabay

Michigan's labor participation rate has improved, according to Gongwer News Service.

The rate is 61.2%, compared to 60% in 2012.

Labor participation is tracked for all adults age 16 to 86, and includes those who are employed or actively seeking work.

Jim Robey is an economist with the Upjohn Institute. He says one reason for the uptick may be the lure of higher wages.

The average wage for a production worker rose by a dollar an hour between 2013 and 2016.

pixabay

A jury has awarded no damages in the second of six bellwether cases against General Motors related to its ten-year delay of a recall of cars with faulty ignition switches.

The bellwether trials are intended to help courts around the country try to settle hundreds of similar cases, which allege physical or financial damages due to the defective switches.

The jury found that the plaintiff, who was not seriously injured in the accident, lost control of her car because of icy conditions, not because of the faulty switch. 

DTE Energy

DTE  will build a solar power array on 10 acres of vacant land in Detroit. 

The utility says it will be one of the largest urban solar power projects in the country, producing enough electricity to power about 450 homes. 

The array will be located at the former O'Shea Park, near I-96 and Greenfield Road. 

The utility will pay the city $1 million over 20 years to lease the land, and the deal also requires DTE to develop a new community park, and provide STEM education, workforce development and energy efficiency programs to benefit the local community.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $41 million to help farmers in the West Lake Erie Basin reduce phosphorus runoff through voluntary programs.

Gail Philbin of the Michigan Chapter Sierra Club says "every little bit helps," but she thinks there are a number of other things that could do more to keep phosphorus out of Lake Erie.

The nutrient encourages the growth of bacteria and algae blooms.

James Gathany/PHIL-CDC / public domain

Health officials are warning Michiganders traveling to certain countries on spring break to bring plenty of 20% DEET mosquito repellent.

The CDC says there are outbreaks of Zika virus in many countries in the Carribean, Central and South America, and the Pacific Islands.

"People usually don't get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika," says Jennifer Eisner of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.  But she says Zika has been linked to a severe birth defect, microcephaly. 

Bernt Rostad / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

New census figures show Wayne County lost .4% of its population between July of 2014 and July of 2015.

Kurt Metzger, founder of Data Driven Detroit, says that's an improvement, after decades of steep decline.

And it holds promise for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who says he wants to be judged on things like people moving into the city.

The Ann Arbor city council has asked its Environmental Commission to review whether it should ask the U.S. EPA to order a Superfund cleanup of groundwater contamination.

A plume of groundwater contaminated with 1,4 dioxane from the city's now-closed Pall Gelman plant is spreading from the city limits towards Ann Arbor Township, Scio Township, as well as towards the Huron River.  

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The annual Kids Count Report has a gloomy view of the well-being of the state's children.

Kids Count in Michigan is part of a broad national effort to measure the well-being of children at the state and local levels and use that information to shape efforts to improve the lives of children.

The report for 2016 reflects data from 2014.

It says the state's efforts to keep children safe, healthy, and educated are falling short.  From the introduction:

A town-gown controversy continues in Ann Arbor, as University of Michigan Regents heard Thursday from people opposed to a plan to move a campus bus transit center.

That's despite the project being "paused" by UM President Mark Schlissel, who said the university should have been more "thoughtful and responsive" when considering the development.

The transit center would move from the university's South Campus into a residential neighborhood in North Campus.

Pamela Ray lives in Green Baxter Court, a low-income community very close to the proposed site.

Scio Residents for Safe Water

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is proposing to change the state's standard for 1,4 dioxane to 7.2 parts per billion.

That's a ten-fold difference from the current standard of 85 parts per billion.  1,4 dioxane is a known carcinogen. 

The DEQ missed a December, 2015 deadline for issuing updated standards for 308 chemicals, including 1,4 dioxane. 

The agency has issued the new standard for 1,4 dioxane first, likely in response to an increased outcry from Ann Arbor city officials and residents. 

Ken Teegardin / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some people expecting tax refunds may have to jump through an extra hoop to get them this year.

Jeremy Sampson is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Treasury.

He says up to 100,000 letters will go out, asking people to verify their identity online, before they can get their refund.

It's to reduce identify theft and refund fraud, which is not a small problem.

"Last year the department was able to stop over 80,000 suspicious income tax refund requests," says Sampson, "and we were able to stop over $75 million of potentially fraudulent refunds."

U.S. Air Force / USGOV-PD, public domain

Health officials have told people living in 24 homes in Oscoda, Michigan, to stop drinking the water from their wells and to stop cooking with it.

The wells in the northeast town tested positive in December for traces of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, which are extremely long-lasting chemicals that accumulate  in the body over time. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the chemicals are toxic to laboratory animals and wildlife, producing "reproductive, developmental, and systemic effects in laboratory tests."

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Drug overdose deaths rose 14% between 2013 and 2014, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

MDHHS Public Information Officer Jennifer Eisner says a state task force is looking at ways to prevent the problem, as well as increase access to treatment.

"We are looking at ways to reduce doctor shopping and pharmacy shopping," says Eisner, "as well as how to expand access to access to Naloxone (a drug used to treat addicts), increasing access to care and increasing the number of addiction specialists that there are in the state."

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

People in Flint still should be drinking only filtered water or, in the case of pregnant women and children under six, bottled water. 

But officials say there are hopeful signs that phosphates are re-coating the Flint water system's damaged pipes, and may be lowering the amount of lead getting into the water.

U.S. EPA On-site Coordinator Mark Durno says phosphate levels in the city's water mains are rising.

MAP PRODUCED BY: Environmental Health Division Department of Public Health Washtenaw County, Michigan

A plume of groundwater contaminated with the highly carcinogenic chemical 1,4 dioxane continues to spread beyond Ann Arbor's city limits, threatening private wells in Ann Arbor Township.

Township Supervisor Mike Moran says he is so frustrated at the lack of  legal action by the state attorney general that it's time for the "nuclear option" -- asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare the region a Superfund Cleanup site.

Moran says in March, he will ask his township board for permission to make the request to the EPA.

The Argo Cascades is a series of little waterfalls and drop pools built in an old mill race in Ann Arbor. The polluted site is across the Huron River from this site.
City of Ann Arbor

An official with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will address water contamination in Ann Arbor at a special meeting of the City Council Monday night at 7 p.m.

A plume of 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic chemical, is slowly moving through the city's groundwater.

Ann Arbor City Council member Sabra Briere hopes the state will finally announce how much of the chemical is considered safe.

She says the state has postponed making that rule for eight years. 

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