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New DEQ Chief To Face Questions In Confirmation Hearing

State Capitol - file photo
Melissa Benmark

(MPRN-Lansing) Governor Rick Snyder’s new environmental protection chief goes before a state Senate committee for a confirmation hearing. But Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether faces little possibility that her new job is in jeopardy. 

Heidi Grether’s predecessor, Dan Wyant, resigned over the Flint water crisis, and the DEQ was run on an interim basis by Keith Creigh, who has returned to his job running the state Department of Natural Resources.

Grether will likely face questions on how she’ll restore confidence in the Department of Environmental Quality.

“I feel like a lot of folks feel like their voices have not been heard as much as they would have liked as things have been addressed by that agency in the past few years,”

says state Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor).

Warren, the only Democrat on the committee, says she’ll be listening for plans to improve public engagement. She says Grether needs to explain not just what she’s going to do, but how long it will take.

“I think it’s really important in re-building trust with our citizens that we set deadlines and that we meet those deadlines,” she said, “and we don’t just keep saying that things are going to get better, or things are going to get fixed.”

Warren says that includes some promises on when Flint residents will be able to drink their tap water without filters.

Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Casperso says his Upper Peninsula constituents want to know how aggressively the DEQ under Grether will enforce environmental rules:

“Really, leadership can play a key role here in trying to find that balance so we protect the environment, but we also use some discretion when it comes to personal property rights and the average citizen in having to deal with their government.”

But Casperson says he’s not planning a committee vote on the appointment, which clears the way for the appointment to take effect permanently without Senate action.

Protestors could be on hand, as well, for the meeting. Environmental groups say Governor Snyder should not have named a former oil industry lobbyist to be in charge of protecting the state’s air and water.

Grether could be asked about her position on whether the Enbridge oil and gas line under the Straits of Mackinac should be shut down. She has said previously that she hasn’t reached a conclusion.

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