WSW: Looking for More Teeth from Michigan's "Environmental Watchdog"
Elevated levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water and a long-delayed and much criticized study of the aging oil pipeline underneath the Straits of Mackinac have a common thread in the eyes of commentator Gary Wilson.
Wilson’s latest Chicago View column for Great Lakes Echo is called The Sorry State of Michigan’s Environmental Watchdog. Wilson opens his essay by quoting the Rolling Stones. He says the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is – as Mick Jagger sings in the song Satisfaction – “on a losing streak.”
Wilson says Michigan is the Great Lakes state, so an agency in charge of water quality will land in the spotlight when there are high-profile problems. Wilson says the agency has also developed an ineffective response to preventing algae blooms in Lake Erie.
The DEQ worked with Attorney General Bill Schuette on a report about Enbridge Energy’s 60 year old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. Wilson says the report does very little. He says the main recommendation is that tar sands crude oil not be allowed to move through the pipeline. But Wilson says Enbridge doesn’t transport tar sands through the pipeline now, and doesn’t plan to in the future.
The crisis over drinking water in Flint has prompted investigations at the state and federal level and two lawsuits have also been filed. Wilson says this issue has probably brought the most attention to the Department of Environmental Quality. He says a problem with drinking water “gets people’s attention immediately.” Wilson says the DEQ has failed at every step on the Flint water issue.
Algae blooms in Lake Erie caused a water crisis in Toledo in 2014. The Department of Environmental Quality says it is working to keep phosphorus out of the lake. But Wilson says the DEQ’s response have been roundly criticized by environmental activists for not addressing the root cause of the problem.
Wilson says the string of problems in a short period of time isn’t a coincidence, and reflects problems in how the DEQ is run. He says Governor Rick Snyder should take responsibility for the problems. Wilson says the DEQ needs to have its mission and way of operating examined
“and hopefully they’ll come out the other side, all the better.”
Asked what should happen next, Wilson says the DEQ’s problems are such that its director Dan Wyant should be replaced. He says the governor counts on people who run state agencies to serve his administration and the citizens of Michigan. Wilson says
“I would say that Mr. Wyant has done neither effectively, especially in the Flint situation.”