Just How Bad is MDEQ?

… recent and ongoing failures of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to do anything like protect the quality of Michigan’s environment.


Many of us do not regularly (or ever) read newspapers for local news. It’s too often a waste of our time and worse, often fills us with misinformation. And yet, there are exceptions. This longish front-page story in the March 27 Detroit Free Press is one of them.

Starting with Flint, it details a series of additional recent and ongoing failures of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to do anything like protect the quality of Michigan’s environment. Unfortunately, the conclusion of the article is little better than, “Things have to change. Michigan deserves better leadership.” It’s roughly equivalent to what Governor Snyder’s task force recommended: “… a proactive, comprehensive cultural change program within MDEQ … to refocus the department on its primary mission to protect human health and the environment.”

The article mentions, in this order, lead in Flint’s municipal water; petroleum coke piles (from the Marathon refinery in Detroit) on the banks of the Detroit river; multiple pollutants emitted from the Severstal Steel plant in Dearborn; the U.S. Ecology hazardous waste facility in Detroit near the border with Hamtramck which is applying for a tenfold expansion; and additional sulfur dioxide and other pollution from the marathon refinery. You might get the impression the article is comprehensive about local pollution problems which the MDEQ could control, but it does not.

Marathon refinery

Marathon Refinery РPhoto credit:  Earthjustice.org

We could easily make an equally long list of local pollution issues not in this article:

  • Carbon particulates and mercury emissions from coal-burning plants, mainly owned by DTE Energy, a.k.a. “The Dirty Energy Company.”
  • Tritium and other regular radioactive releases from The Dirty Energy Company’s Fermi 2 nuclear reactor.
  • Toxic algae blooms caused by a combination of combined sewer overflows and runoff of excess fertilizers and confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) sewage lagoons.
  • Multiple air pollutants from incenerators and other industrial smokestacks.
  • Multiple water pollutants from drilling, fracking and liquid waste injection wells.
  • Destruction of transportation infrastructure, surrounding land, surface water and ground water from hundreds of tons of salt spread on roads in the winter.
  • And still more.

Even adding this list to the one in the Free Press article, we are short of a comprehensive accounting of local environmental issues, let alone world-scale ones like climate change and ocean acidification. We may never have a truly comprehensive list. Even if we did, the essential question is, “What should we do about it?” That’s the question whether we have a partial list, an expanded list, or a complete list.

What should we do about it? Personally, I do not trust the Snyder administration to make any cultural change in the MDEQ. They created, as the Free Press article makes clear, the current culture that has failed to protect Michigan’s environment. There’s no reason to believe they would know how to change it. There’s no reason even to think that they would want to, beyond some gestures for public relations purposes.

Let’s put the question a little differently. What should ** WE ** , the people outside of government, do about it? After you’ve read the Free Press article and taken some time to think about it, please come back here and put your ideas into the comments.

Do we need to throw out all the SOBs in state government? If so, what do we want from the people who replace them? Is it better to just put pressure on current lawmakers and administrators, and plan to replace the ones who are unresponsive? And whatever the plan, what’s the best sort of organization to accomplish it?

The comment section is open.

Author: Art Myatt

Retired engineer and environmentally aware activist with Green Party of Michigan, Sierra Club and Alliance to Halt Fermi 3.

2 thoughts on “Just How Bad is MDEQ?”

  1. Add to your list the permit MDEQ recently approved for Jordan Development to drill for oil and gas in an area of Southfield zoned residential.


  2. Good article, Keith Matheny puts our issues on the front page, at least. One of the quibbles I have is the repetition that the rad waste from fracking is “very low level”. this is what the DEQ keeps saying based on the Argonne National Laboratory ( the same who brought us the atomic bomb) recommendation. Michigan is one of the three highest level (50 picocuries) in the nation to allowing frack rad waste in our landfills. These wastes are coming in at much higher levels and being “down-blended” or diluted with other waste products to achieve the 50 Pc.


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