Score one for Dow Chemical

In the EPA's Midwestern division, a pro-industry stalwart replaces a dioxin stickler

Posted by Tom Philpott at 3:28 PM on 21 Jul 2008,  Grist Magizine

Back in May, Mary Gade found herself unceremoniously ousted from her post as Midwest regional administrator.

According to an excellent Chicago Tribune article by Michael Hawthorne, Gade had been locked in a battle with Dow over the chemical giant's massive, long-standing dioxin mess in low-income areas of Michigan.

Hawthorne reports that Gade crossed a line with her bosses in Washington when "she sent contractors to test soil in [one] neighborhood where Dow had found high dioxin levels. The levels in one ... yard were nearly six times higher than the federal cleanup standard, and 65 times higher than what Michigan considers acceptable."

Said Gade after her firing: "There's no question this is about Dow. I stand behind what I did and what my staff did. I'm proud of what we did."

Evidently keen to keep sure such confrontations with powerful industry players from happening again, the EPA has named Lynn Buhl as Gade's replacement. The agency's press release paints Buhl as a diligent career public servant. But as this vintage 2003 Daily Grist entry shows, Buhl is a long-time industry stalwart.

 

Buhl's ties to the Michigan area go back decades. Starting in 1988, Buhl worked for 10 years as "senior staff counsel for environmental legal affairs" for car giant DaimlerChrysler Corp. In that decade of cheap oil, Detroit launched a highly profitable SUV craze -- a trend from which the planet may never recover.

After that, she went to work for in the Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality for then Gov. John Engler (R), a notorious environmental scoundrel.

By 2003, Buhl was cozying up to Republican politicians in Maryland, where Gov. Robert Ehrlich nominated her to head the state's Department of the Environment. The choice was such a travesty that the Maryland Senate rejected the nomination -- a rebuke so stinging that it made national news, as the above-linked Daily Grist entry shows.

It's a shame that a region beset by persistent dioxin poisoning from a corporate titan like Dow is getting such an apparent industry shill as its top federal environmental watchdog.

I should note, though, that Mary Gade, the woman who was ousted from Buhl's new post for standing up to Dow, also spent time working as an industry lawyer, for the firm Sonnenschein, Nath, and Rosenthal. Maybe Buhl will have a similar change of conscience?

I hope so. According to the above-linked Chicago Tribune article, here's how things stand in the part of Michigan dumped on by Dow:

[A]ll along the two wide streams that cut through this old industrial town, signs warn people to keep off dioxin-contaminated riverbanks and to avoid eating fish pulled from the fast-moving waters. Officials have taken the swings down in one riverside park to discourage kids from playing there. Men in rubber boots and thick gloves occasionally knock on doors, asking residents whether they can dig up a little soil in the yard.

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site www.trwnews.net for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.