Sunday, April 30, 2006

Can Dow win the Battle of the Tittabawassee? Or will the world’s largest chemical company have to clean up the mess it made nearby?

Polls show clearly that most voters support efforts to clean up the environment and the opposition in Lansing knows it. That is why Republican legislators who feel environmental regulations are a drag on corporate profits, are using Michigan’s environmental watchdog agency as a whipping boy.

But the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is getting tired of claims that somehow it is running amuck by doing it’s job. The wildest of the MDEQ running amuck claims relates to one of the state’s largest employers, which is trying to get off the hook for cleaning up a mess it created years ago.

The Dow Chemical Company first claimed that it wasn’t responsible for the dioxin contamination of the Saginaw Bay watershed. But when tests conducted by the MDEQ clearly showed through chemical fingerprints that the world’s largest chemical company was responsible, the company has tried its best to weasel out of cleaning up the mess it created.

We teach our children to clean up their messes, but we still have difficulty teaching the largest of our corporations and their political apologists to play by our environmental rules. But they dare not claim the environment doesn’t matter, because most Americans agree it does. So instead they claim the MDEQ is running amuck, when it applies environmental laws the way they are supposed to be.

The MDEQ has found dioxin levels that are not just a tad high of the 90 ppt, the safe level for humans, but a hundred times higher and more. The state pollution watchdog has moved to protect the public interest by issuing warnings on eating fish and game from the area and has declared that properties along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers are to be considered contaminated facilities until further study clarifies the situation.

But Republican legislators all with direct or indirect ties to Dow chemical are slandering the MDEQ and are introducing new legislation to minimize and delay the necessary remediation of what could become Michigan’s most expensive environmental clean-up. If the state would only change it’s regulations to call 1,000 ppt the safe level for dioxin, then there would be no problem or at least not as much of a problem in so many places. That’s exactly what Sen. Tony Stamas and his Republican buddies in the state House, Rep. John Moolenaar and Mike Gotshka had proposed and Gov. Granholm vetoed. Now these champions of Dow pollution are coming at it again with some new legislation pretending to “protect property rights” of people who are living along the river.

Incredibly, there are many property owners who don’t want to know how bad the pollution is in their backyards fearing their life savings will be going down the tubes if their properties are labeled as contaminated facilities and Dow leaves them holding the bag. But most of the contaminated property owners just want Dow to clean up the mess.

But Stamas, Moolenaaar and Gotshka have reintroduced only slightly changed legislation, again claiming that property owners rights are at stake, instead of Dow having to forfeit a chunk of corporate profits to clean up the river. Our local Congressman, Republican Dave Camp, who has received more than a quarter million in campaign contributions from Dow has even tried to pressure Congress and Gov. Granholm to cut Dow some slack. Thus far Dow has been able to drag its feet and pretend it’s trying to reach a remediation agreement with the state. Meanwhile, the dynamic trio of Republicans with deep Dow connections is working to keep Dow from having to do anything.

Property owners along the river are fed up and are suing, but also getting petitions signed to keep the laws that would get Dow a pass on pollution from ever being passed. As long as Republicans control the state legislature, what do you think will happen along the Tittabawassee?

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