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. 

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. 

flickr user Bernt Rostad / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

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. 

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has joined a 20-state effort to halt the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's implementation of its Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, which is aimed at limiting mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants.

The application for a stay alleges that the rule has already caused utilities to spend $9.6 billion, for only $4 billion to $6 billion in health benefits.

user: mariordo / Wikimedia Commons

Federal safety regulators have told Google the computer in their self-driving car can be considered the driver - in lieu of a human.

One analyst says that decision is a "launching pad" for the technology.

Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says many regulations were written long before the self-driving car was a twinkle in Google founder Larry Page's eye. So recognizing the computer as the driver helps to make the technology feasible.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is defending its eGRID system against a critique by an analytics think tank.

Companies all across the U.S. use eGRID to calculate their own indirect carbon emissions based on how much electricity they use. And it's not uncommon to see a company brag about a) their transparency on emissions and b) their progress in reducing their indirect emissions to fight climate change. 

House Foreclosure
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The number of U.S. homes lost to foreclosure last year dropped 22.6% from 2014, according to the analytics firm CoreLogic.

Economist Frank Nothaft says there were fewer completed foreclosures nationwide than any year since 2006.

And while the country hasn't yet worked through all of the extra foreclosures to reach "normal" pre-recession levels, "we're getting there," says Nothaft. "I think in the next year or two, nationwide, we'll be coming down to those levels, finally."

But it will take Michigan longer to get through its foreclosure backlog.

A shifter like the one shown here has confused consumers, resulting in the recall of more than 800,000 Fiat-Chrysler vehicles.
Mike Durand / creative commons

U.S. car safety regulators are investigating electronic gear shifters in more than 850,000 newer model Fiat Chrysler vehicles. 

Driver problems with the shifters have caused 121 crashes and 30 injuries. 

The shifters are apparently so confusing that drivers have exited the vehicles while they're in gear. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the shifters' operation is not intuitive and provides poor feedback to the driver. 

A few accidents caused by the rollaway vehicles resulted in hospitalizations. 

wikieditor243 / wikimedia/commons

Updated 2/8/16 at 1:32 pm and 2/10/16 at 2:50 pm

Many companies are making their carbon emissions public, to show they are doing their part to fight climate change.

But new research by Lux Research indicates most companies in the U.S. are either underestimating or overestimating their emissions.

Ory Zik is Vice President of Analytics for Lux Research.  He says estimating one's own carbon emissions is very difficult.  That's because electricity moves from region to region on grids.

Toyota

General Motors announced Wednesday it made a record profit of $7.9 billion in 2015. 

CEO Mary Barra told investors she thinks the good times will continue in 2016 and beyond. 

"There's been a lot written about the U.S. industry being at peak levels and that a downturn is imminent," Barra said. "We like many others do not share this view."

GM's record profit means a record profit-sharing check for UAW hourly workers, as well. Many will get $11,000 in the next month or so.

public domain

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger has filed a lawsuit on behalf of four people who contracted Legionnaire's disease after being treated at a Flint hospital.

One of the four subsequently died.

The lawsuit claims the state of Michigan is liable for providing unsafe water to the hospital.  It also alleges that McLaren's hospital in Flint knew its water, air and cooling systems had high levels of legionella bacteria.

McLaren officials say they have not seen the lawsuit yet. 

Dow Chemical

Andrew Liveris, the embattled CEO of Dow Chemical, confirmed during an analysts' call that he will leave the company in 2017, after Dow completes its takeover of Dow Corning, and then merges with Dupont.

Liveris' leadership has been under attack by an activist investor, who criticized Liveris for not pursuing mergers and other means of maximizing investor returns.  That was before the Dupont deal was announced.

Liveris has been with Dow Chemical for 40 years and was its CEO for 12.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

WARNING: Graphic photos of a dead animal are included at the bottom of this article.

The fierce opposition led by the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) to Ann Arbor's first deer cull continues.

On Monday, HSHV released photos of a partially eaten deer in the Leslie Park Golf Course, along with a photograph of a fetus fully encased in its sac nearby.

The group also pulled the fetus out of the sac, cleaned it up, and snapped a photo of it lying on a piece of carpet.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Since October, plumbers with United Association Local 370 in Flint have been volunteering to install filters and faucets to get lead out of people's tap water.

On Saturday, the local guys got some help – from a small army of more than 300 plumbers driving in from Lansing, Detroit, Saginaw, and other cities across Michigan.  

They get a rousing, union-pride welcome from Local 370 official Harold Harrington.

"We did not cause this American tragedy in Flint," Harrington tells the group, "but we certainly can help correct the damage that has been done!"

Flickr user Pictures of Money / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A non-profit watchdog group says the person who signed a new law doubling campaign contributions was the one who ended up benefiting the most.

In December, 2013, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law that doubles the amount an individual can donate to a statewide election from $3,400 to $6,800.  The law also doubles the amount a political action committee can donate from $34,000 to $68,000.

IFCAR / Wikipedia/public domain

Ford Motor Company made a record $7.4 billion in 2015, largely on the basis of profits in North America and despite a very big loss of $832 million in South America.

Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks says the automaker also made a record pre-tax profit of $765 million in the Asia Pacific region – and the automaker returned to profitability in Europe for the first since 2011.

UAW hourly workers will share in the good news.

Bull-doser / wikimedia/public domain

Fiat Chrysler is making some tweaks to its current five-year plan.  And some of those tweaks are pretty big. 

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says the company will double down on increasing its ability to churn out Jeeps and trucks.  In the U.S., he says the trend is clear.  

"There's been in our view a permanent shift towards UVs (utility vehicles) and pickup trucks," Marchionne told analysts during an earnings conference call.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

It seems unthinkable that some people in Flint might still be drinking water from the tap.  

But some undocumented immigrants in the city are just now finding out that lead contamination has made the water unsafe to drink.

That means some babies and toddlers may have been drinking poisoned water for weeks or perhaps months longer than others.

Jessica Olivares knows the new routine of daily life in Flint well by now - buying cases of bottled water at the grocery store, standing in line to get free water at the nearest fire station.

Creative Commons

One of the six "bellwether" ignition switch lawsuits against General Motors has been dismissed, after evidence was presented showing that the plaintiff lied about the timing and extent of his injuries and his financial damages.

GM faces hundreds of lawsuits across the country alleging various harms from its delay of a massive recall for faulty ignition switches.  The switches can suddenly turn off if bumped, disabling the power steering and the airbags. 

General Motors

General Motors is launching its first new brand in 20 years.

But it's not a car brand.

"Maven" is GM's new personal mobility service.

The new brand is in response to a trend, slight but noticeable and growing, of millennials and urban residents deciding car ownership isn't worth the cost or hassle. 

But they still need to get around. Peter Kosack is GM's head of Urban Mobility. He says Maven will give customers easy access to car-sharing and ride-sharing services.

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