Remember the Onion, that crazy satirical newspaper people couldn’t get enough of in the 1990s? It’s still around, but these days, I think real life has gotten better than art at being utterly absurd. Certainly that was the case in Michigan yesterday.
I mean, can you imagine a better Onion headline than “Governor whose aides poisoned children appoints oil industry lobbyist to head environmental agency?”
The subhead would add “New MDEQ chief defended guilty company during world’s worst oil spill.” The only trouble with what I just wrote is that it is all true.
Late Thursday, word came that Rick Snyder had appointed Heidi Grether to head the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She has been working in obscurity as deputy director for the often-overlooked Michigan Agency for Energy for some time.
But she spent most of her career with BP, where she was a lobbyist for that company during the infamous Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010, when their offshore drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the governor, she “helped head up the company’s response to the Deepwater Horizon spill,” and was eventually promoted as a result.
The lawsuits stemming from that are expected to go on for 20 years, and BP could end up paying $20 billion in penalties.
Less than two years ago, a federal judge ruled BP was reckless and guilty of gross negligence and willful misconduct under the Clean Water Act.
This was the incident and this was the company that Heidi Grether spent years defending. And now our governor wants her to head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the same agency which tried to cover up the governor’s appointees’ poisoning of the children of Flint.
The headline on the Detroit Free Press editorial today says it all: “Like a Sick Joke.” If you asked a political consultant about this, they’d say “the optics are terrible.”
Well, of course they are, but the worst is that it is very clear Snyder doesn’t care what this looks like, or what the public thinks.
His political career is over. Thanks to Flint, nobody will ever elect or appoint him to anything again. You could tell he knew that when he hired criminal and civil defense lawyers to defend him at taxpayer expense.
What this administration cares about is what the big business community thinks. Late last year, after Snyder was finally forced to fire former MDEQ head Dan Wyant, his chief of staff incredibly thought that was a mistake.
“Keep in mind that finding a replacement who has the trust of the business community will be very difficult,” Dennis Muchmore told Snyder.
Never mind regaining the trust of the parents of the thousands of poisoned children. It is very telling that neither Snyder nor his new appointee was willing to talk to the press.
However, Snyder, who isn’t exactly known for his sense of humor, did issue a statement that was unintentionally hilarious. “Her experience at delivering good customer service from a large organization will be of great value,” he said.
I’ll just bet the people of Flint and the people in Southfield who are fighting attempts to build an oil well in the middle of their suburban city can hardly wait.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.