Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation explores the political, economic, and environmental choices that led city officials in Detroit to build the world's largest waste incinerator. in the 1970s, Detroit officials €“ led by Mayor Coleman Young €“ confronted the difficult financial realities of the urban crisis alongside the rise of a new environmental issue €“ the garbage crisis. a single solution to these dual crises seemed to present itself in €œresource recovery,€ the burning of municipal waste in an incinerator to produce steam and electricity. in the context of the energy crises of the 1970s, the logic of resource recovery was compelling to officials in Detroit, and was made even more so by strong endorsements from private industry and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Yet when Detroit officials began moving forward with their project in the 1980s, resource recovery was still an unproven and expensive technology and the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery plant faced a number of regulatory challenges from the state and the federal EPA, as well as protest from grassroots activists who viewed the incinerator as a threat to public health and environmental quality. Detroit officials sought to protect their investments in the project €“ primarily in the form of municipal bonds €“ by seeking redress in federal court rather than respond to these concerns. Ultimately, Detroit's economic stresses convinced city officials to pursue "responsible" fiscal choices, as defined by bond ratings agencies and investors, in order to maintain the city's credit rating, access to the municipal bond market, and, they believed, Detroit's long-term financial stability. This choice, however, came at the expense of residents, who bore the burden of increased pollution from the incinerator and a financial burden totaling almost $1 billion over the next three decades.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.