“Pay to Pollute” pays off for Russian steel corporation, DEQ issues permit to pollute Detroit at higher levels

It’s good to be know the king

A Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit has been issued to Russian steel corporation Severstal this week, allowing the company that DEQ once called “the most egregious facility in the state” to continuing spewing pollutants in Dearborn and Detroit at levels far in excess of state regulations. As I wrote about earlier this month, it’s one more clear example of “pay to play”, or in this case “pay to pollute” cronyism by the adminstration of Rick Snyder. The permit DEQ issued grandfathers in old, dramatically higher levels of pollutants and requires Severstal to do nothing but to keep emitting at the same outrageous levels that it always has.

There were plans to update their permit to bring them into compliance with current regulations but heavy lobbying of DEQ by Severstal and then involvement by Governor Rick Snyder’s Michigan Economic Development Corporation changed things considerably:

The Michigan Economic Development Corp., Gov. Rick Snyder’s business-promoting agency, worked for months behind the scenes with one of the state’s most flagrantly polluting businesses as the company lobbied the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for permission to release even higher levels of pollutants and avoid current air quality regulations, DEQ e-mails obtained by the Free Press show.

The Severstal Dearborn steel plant, one of Michigan’s worst air polluters, wants to “correct” its 2006 state emissions permit to allow the release of harmful pollutants at levels up to 725 times higher than the permit initially allowed.

Plant officials also want their request considered only under 2006 environmental regulations, meaning they would avoid current state and federal rules that would require greater protection of the surrounding neighborhood’s air quality — and cost the company millions. […]

DEQ officials went from calling the factory “the most egregious facility in the state” with a “total disregard … for the air quality requirements” in an August 2012 e-mail, to adopting Severstal’s lawyers’ arguments for avoiding modern pollution regulations almost verbatim about a year later.

So, times change, rules change, and our country becomes safer and cleaner as we learn more about our impact on the environment. Unless, that is, you are in Michigan and are pals with Rick Snyder or someone in his administration. If that’s the case, you can continue to pollute our fair state under rules that are nearly a decade old and that no longer apply to anyone else.


Rhonda Anderson, senior organizer for the Sierra Club, issued this blunt statement:

The decision by the DEQ puts polluters before families in Dearborn and Detroit and is an outrage. What the Snyder administration is saying with this permit is that no matter how many times you have violated clean air standards in your previous permit we will not only give you a new one but one that makes it easier to pollute. It seems clear that public health wasn’t even a consideration in this decision. This is unacceptable, an injustice and an embarrassment for Michigan.

In their press release, the Sierra Club points out that Dearborn-based Severstal has been the target of 117 complaints and more that 20 violation notices with the DEQ since 2010.

Lon Johnson, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party was equally blunt:

With this outrageous decision, Republican Gov. Snyder is putting a major polluter before Michigan families, and prioritizing political friends over public health. Make no mistake: this decision reflects on the governor himself. Rick Snyder visited this plant, got a fancy Russian vase as a personal gift, and his campaign received a $1,000 contribution from Severstal’s top official in North America. Then the DEQ, which had described Severstal as the state’s worst polluter, reversed course and yesterday weakened pollution rules for the plant. This is backdoor politics at its worst. Unfortunately, it’s also business as usual for the Snyder administration.

If you can’t actually BE the King of Michigan, the next best thing is to be his friend.

We need a new king.

UPDATE:: Michigan state director of Clean Water Action Nic Clark issued this statement:

This is business as usual under the Snyder administration — it’s about profits over people. We’re calling on Gov. Snyder to come clean to the community that surrounds the Severstal plant and explain to them why his administration is allowing even more pollutants to be released into their neighborhoods, homes and schools.”

Air pollution like that which is emitted from the Severstal plant not only threatens community health, it puts Michigan’s economy and Great Lakes in jeopardy.

The tourism industry in Michigan provides thousands of jobs and creates millions of dollars in economic activity for the state. But who will want to visit a state that has dirty air and water? Allowing corporate polluters to poison our air and water threatens our Pure Michigan economy and puts the Great Lakes and the livelihoods of thousands of Michiganders at risk.

[Snyder caricature by DonkeyHotey from photos by Anne C. Savage for Eclectablog]

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