Bill would delay cleanup

Friday, November 11, 2005

Looking downriver, state regulators see troubled waters if the Senate approves a bill that would limit their authority to enforce environmental cleanup.

But the Department of Environmental Quality says the legislation likely won't sink cleanup plans for the dioxin-tainted Tittabawassee River, which are due from Dow Chemical Co. by the end of the year.

State Sen. Michael Goschka, a Brant Republican, has introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for the state to label any property a contaminated "facility" -- a designation that triggers cleanup.

Instead of relying on assumptions or models to chart the path of pollution, the DEQ could not include any property in a facility without specific testing.

Goschka calls the bill a matter of "homeowner fairness." He said the state has no right to attach such labels without the proof to back it up.

"The issue is due process," he said. "Innocent until proven guilty. Clean until proven contaminated."

Regulators dub the bill the "Polluter Relief Act" -- a parody of the sponsors' given name, the "Homeowners Fairness Act." They claim the legislation would delay cleanup and cost hundreds of millions of dollars more in additional sampling.

While the bill could have far-reaching implications elsewhere in the state, regulators say cleanup plans likely will remain intact along the Tittabawassee River where dioxin remediation is required by Dow's state and federal operating licenses.

"In this instance we have two authorities that will temper the potential problems that this legislation will cause," said Andrew Hogarth, chief of the DEQ's Remediation and Redevelopment Division.

Still, the legislation would require expansive testing along the Tittabawassee River that likely would increase the time and expense of cleaning up dioxin contamination in the floodplain, officials say.

Goschka said the process will slow down, but for good reason. Of the hundreds of properties now considered facilities along the Tittabawassee River, many have had no specific sampling. That shouldn't happen, he said.

"Yeah, it is it going to slow it down," he said. "But it is because we are out to keep homeowners from having their property wrongly labeled."

The bill passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. Officials expect it to reach the Senate floor for a vote next month.

Michelle Hurd Riddick, a member of the environmental watchdog group Lone Tree Council, fears that the bill could undermine, or at least delay, a cleanup agreement by giving Dow more opportunity to avoid remediation.

"Dow historically does well with delay," she said. "Anything that will open that door for them to walk through, they are going to do it."

Nonsense, Dow officials say. They say they have taken no position on the legislation and are committed to moving forward with cleanup.

"The Dow Chemical Co. is committed to complying with its operating license and going forward under the agreement we signed with the state," said Susan Carrington, vice president and director of Dow's Michigan Dioxin Initiative. "We absolutely are forging ahead." v

Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer at the Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.


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