Monday, January 11, 2016

Save the Wild U.P.: MDEQ needs real leadership in 2016

MARQUETTE -- Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) is calling on Governor Snyder to appoint an individual with proven experience in environmental protection to fill the leadership vacuum at Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), following Director Dan Wyant’s resignation. Wyant resigned, along with a top MDEQ public relations staffer, after a State Task Force blamed MDEQ for Flint’s water quality crisis.

"This situation is urgent and new leadership is critical," said Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director. "The MDEQ needs a leader with an environmental track record, not a career administrator or an industry insider. The clock is ticking on a number of environmental permits currently under review by the MDEQ -- including a mine permit application for what could be Upper Michigan’s second sulfide mine."*

Maxwell added that the lack of MDEQ leadership means the task of defending clean water and wild places falls to grassroots organizations such as Save the Wild U.P., FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), Front 40, and Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.

In the case of the Flint crisis, that task has fallen to ordinary citizens whose lives and health depend on their water supply, noted Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president.

"At the highest level, MDEQ leaders have repeatedly failed to protect water quality in Michigan. The MDEQ can’t go on treating our priceless rivers like sewer pipes, useful only for flushing away wastewater discharges," Heideman said. "I applaud the concerned citizens in Flint who spoke out in order to sound the alarm about their contaminated water -- that’s grassroots activism. These ordinary citizens are truly heroes. It’s clear that the EPA only got involved in Flint because of citizen efforts, while the DEQ tried to cover up the problem."

Steve Garske, SWUP board member, said the Governor needs to do more than apologize.

"Michigan visitors, residents, and wildlife alike depend on clean water -- for everything from habitats to recreation to drinking water," Garske said. "The Governor has apologized for the DEQ’s failure to ensure that the city of Flint had a safe water supply, for disregarding the concerns of local citizens and denying there was a problem. Now we hope he gets serious about reorganizing the MDEQ so that it works for the people of this state, instead of benefiting the big corporate polluters they’re supposed to be regulating."

According to Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member and former federal oil regulator, Dan Wyant was hand-picked as MDEQ director for the very purpose of benefiting industry at the sake of the environment.

"Wyant was totally incapable of managing the agency," Loman said. "Snyder needs to be held accountable for appointing Wyant, just as he should now be held accountable for the egregious mismanagement of Flint’s water quality crisis."**

SWUP's Maxwell summed it up: "Our message to Governor Snyder is simple," she said. "In 2016, Michigan deserves real environmental leadership."

UPDATE: In a recent email, Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay told Keweenaw Now that experience with the permitting process for the Eagle Mine has made him aware of the need for house cleaning in the upper echelons of state government and the MDEQ.

"The 'Flint Water Crisis' does not surprise people here in the UP who have witnessed first hand the current culture, as imposed by upper management, the MDEQ, our legislature, and our governor," Champagne said. "Those who have followed the permitting process for the Humboldt Mill and especially Eagle Mine have witnessed data manipulation and non-compliance for developing and enforcing the law and rules set forth in Part 632 of our state's mining laws. Perhaps now those with the authority to do so will take a serious look at what has already been presented to them, both in Flint and the UP, and clean house at the MDEQ. The citizens of this state need to know that MDEQ is there to protect them and the environment. Currently the DEQ makes a mockery of the permitting process to the benefit of the applicant at the expense of our children and grandchildren. My heart goes out to the residents, and especially the children, of Flint. I also feel for those at the MDEQ who are trying to do a good job, only to be overturned and given orders from the upper echelons."

Founded in 2004, Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to preserving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources. For more information contact info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Get involved with SWUP’s work at savethewildup.org on Facebook at facebook.com/savethewildup or on Twitter @savethewildup.

Editor's Notes:

* See "Environmentalists criticize proposed open-pit sulfide mine near Menominee River; MDEQ to hold Public Hearing Jan. 5," posted by Keweenaw Now on Jan. 4, 2016.

** See a video from Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show on Dec. 19, 2015: "Flint toxic water tragedy points directly to Michigan Gov. Snyder." 
See also this excellent article on Truth Out: "Brain Damage: Children Suffer the Consequences of Anti-Regulation in Michigan."

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