One of the state’s most notorious polluters, the Severstal Dearborn steel plant has asked the Michigan’s Department of Enviornmental Quality to allow to to emit harmful pollutants to levels 725 times higher than currently allowed on its permit.
The state agency, which as recently as two years ago said the plant was an “egregious” polluter, which had a “total disregard … for the air quality requirements,” now appears poised to approve the change, a Detroit Free Press investigation shows.
Severstal Dearborn said the proposal before the DEQ is a “correction” that will align the permit to the amount of pollutants currently being released, and it apparently has the blessing and support of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.,
After filing a Freedom of Information Act request, the newspaper obtained MEDC emails to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality lobbying for the change, which would base the permit revision on 2006 environmental regulations to avoid current state and federal laws setting a higher threshold for emissions. Adhering to the higher standards would cost Severstal Dearborn millions of dollars, the newspaper said.
The plant has been cited more than two dozen times by the DEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The emails showed MEDC began lobbying for the change after Severstal CEO Sergei Kuznetsov told officials, including Gov. Rick Snyder and MDEC president and CEO Michael Finney, that the higher environmental standards would be problematic for the steel plant.
But MEDC business ombudsman Amy Banninga said the agency was merely doing its job to help the company navigate state regulations.
However, the Free Press said the emails seemed to suggest the MEDC was doing more than serving as a “conduit of communication,” as Banninga explained, but was leading the process and advocating for Severstal.
A spokeswoman for Snyder’s office said the governor tries to strike a balance between protecting the environment and creating jobs and fostering economic growth.
Environmentalists and neighbors in the area where the steel mill operates, near the 48217 ZIP code that where the air has an EPA toxicity score that’s 45 times the state average, have questioned the process.
“I see a steel company and another arm of the State of Michigan seeming to stop at nothing to bend the rules and carve out exemptions — at the last neighborhood in the state and the last facility you should be bending rules for or giving exemptions to,” said environmental attorney Chris Bzdok, who represents a group of neighbors from Dearborn’s South End neighborhood near Severstal that have challenged the revised permit.Read the full report from the Detroit Free Press here.