michigan department of environmental quality

As the year winds down, we’re spending some time this week on The Environment Report taking a look at the state of our environment. On Thursday, we’ll hear from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters on just how well they think Governor Snyder has been protecting Michigan’s natural resources. But, first, today, we speak with the man whose job it is to keep your environment healthy. That would be Dan Wyant, Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Cutting the DEQ’s Budget

I first asked Wyant about his department’s budget. It’s been cut and cut over the past decade; just this year alone it saw a 15 percent cut. The cuts do have an impact, says Wyant, but, “it’s forced [the department] to prioritize… think about what we want to accomplish. So, we’re focused around air quality and water quality and public health… and I think we can say, with some confidence, that we are seeing more environmental stewardship, not less.”

Economic Development

Governor Snyder has said one of the goals for the DEQ is for the department to be a part of Michigan’s economic development. Both Snyder and Wyant believe the DEQ has a role in the state’s recovery. “We know that it’s our role to ensure good environmental stewardship – that’s why we were created and that’s our job,” notes Wyant. But, he also says he thinks there are certain things the department can do to help businesses grow in the state. “We want to be recognizing permit timing so that businesses can get timely decisions and… we’re looking at old and antiquated, duplicates of regulation... and we want to address culture. We want to be a department of problem solvers. It doesn’t mean that we don’t wear the black hats and that we don’t have to tell people they can’t do things… but we really want to be a full partner with those that do business,” Wyant says.

Working with Lawmakers

Director Wyant was appointed by Republican Governor Snyder but he, also, works closely with the state legislature.  The GOP majorities in both the state House and Senate sometimes disagree with both Wyant and Snyder about certain environmental issues.  One such issue is wetlands protection. Wyant says he and the Governor will continue to push the legislature to keep the wetlands program. “The Snyder Administration and myself have been advocating very strongly to keep the program… We think the resource is really important for water quality, it’s very important for habitat and natural resources." And, he notes, he thinks he and the governor now have a majority of lawmakers believing that the program should be saved.

Looking to 2012

Wyant says the goal for 2012 will be focusing on one of the Governor’s favorite phrases, “Relentless Positive Action.” “We do that”, Wyant says, by, “encouraging more environmental stewardship – not less. We want to see Michigan’s economy recover – we think that’s good for the environment. And, lastly, the governor is very focused on customer service – our customers are the citizens of Michigan.”

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 The EPA this week gave approval to Enbridge Energy’s plans for continuing its cleanup of an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River.    The plan suggests major cleanup operations may change next year.  

More than 840 thousand gallons of crude oil spewed from a broken pipeline near Marshall in July, 2010.   The exact amount remains in dispute.     

Hundreds of workers have spent the past 17 months removing the oil from the river.    

Democrats at the state capital are calling for a two-year moratorium on a procedure used to extract hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits.

They are taking aim at a process called hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – where water, sand, and chemicals are sent down a well to loosen stubborn pockets of gas and oil.

Here's a demo of how it works from Chesapeake Energy:

Critics say it has caused pollution and dried-up water wells in other states.

State Representative Jeff Irwin thinks the procedure needs to be more tightly regulated as it becomes more common in Michigan.

He said more study is needed on the potential effects of deep-rock fracking on the world’s largest supply of fresh water.

“We have a tremendous amount to protect here in Michigan with our surface waters and our Great Lakes,” Irwin said. “When you think about what makes Michigan a special place to be, it’s really our water. It’s the one thing that we have that makes us unique over and above anyplace in the world. We have the best water resources in the world.”

Irwin said new rules should include limits on groundwater withdrawals and full disclosure of all chemicals used.

Brad Wurfel with the state Department of Environmental Quality said Michigan has some of the strictest fracking regulations in the country, and that the process has been safely used in the state's shallow rock for decades.

“If you look around the state, you’ll see where oil and gas producers over the past 60 years have fracked probably on the order of around 12,000 wells,” said Wurfel.

Wurfel said the state updated its drilling regulations in May to address hydro-fracking deeper into the rock.

EPA website

Two of Michigan's "Areas of Concern," heavily polluted sites around the Great Lakes region, have seen recent progress in terms of cleanup. This according to state environmental regulators.

The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. and Canada designated 43 toxic hot spots in the region in the late 1980s. Among them are Muskegon Lake and the Upper Peninsula's Deer Lake.

Among the problems that put Deer Lake on the list were deformities or reproductive problems for wildlife. Another was excessive algae.

Photo courtesy of the Gerald R Ford International Airport

Airplanes across the country use de-icing fluid, and airports have to figure out how to deal with the run-off from the fluid.

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport has come up with a $15 million plan to deal with the run-off which contains a substance called glycol. The Grand Rapids airport currently mixes glycol with storm water and dumps it into a tributary, where it breaks down and creates a bacterial slime.

Holland Board of Public Works.

The legal battle over a proposed expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Holland is not over yet. The State of Michigan granted the city the necessary air quality permit in February, following years of delays. But now a number of environmental groups are teaming up and bringing the issue back to court.

(Flickr mcav0y)

Last year state officials approved a ban on burning trash starting April 1st, 2011.  But with the date drawing near, it appears backyard burning appears safe, at least legally, for now.    

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