DEQ: Solving Problems Without Activist Theater
Several years ago I was working as a mason contractor in the evenings and weekends so my wife could stay at home until the kids were of school age. My colleague and I were building a room inside a factory, which required careful planning and measurement to ensure company standards were met. When we put in the last block, my partner noted that the wall came out exactly like we had hoped.
“Yeah, it’s almost like we planned it that way,” I replied.
Such was the natural gas processing facility meeting held July 25th at the Hamilton Township hall. A company, DCP Midstream, wants to put a cryogenic processing plant in the town of Harrison. They applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for an air quality permit, announced a period for input in the local newspaper, and completed all other requirements required for such a facility.
As might be expected, some local residents did not see the public notice and were surprised to see an article in the paper. They contacted Dave Cooper, the Township supervisor, and asked some questions regarding the effect of this plant in the community. Mr. Cooper did his job well, getting six DEQ employees to come to Harrison and spend two hours answering questions at an event they were not required to hold.
This is significant. The DEQ takes a lot of heat from the activist crowd who love to paint the agency as industry friendly and “in the pocket” of oil and gas companies in Michigan. Of course, the activists don’t limit their accusations to the DEQ, because this isn’t really about “good governance” or anything like that. They make similar claims about anyone whose conclusions do not support their ideological opposition to oil and gas development.
An event such as the recent Q&A in Harrison can turn into a chaotic mess in a hurry. But here, there were no signs, no baseless accusations hurled at DEQ without granting them the chance to respond, no chants or taunts. Just concerned citizens asking questions and the state agency responsible for answering them.
The leader of Ban Michigan Fracking, LuAnne Kozma, recently accused the DEQ of disregarding the public interest and being “unresponsive” at an event in West Olive. If showing up with six employees at short notice to an event they were not required to hold is unresponsive, I believe we could use a lot more “unresponsive” state officials!
Another audience member, Doris (she asked that her last name not be published), also related a story about an unscrupulous real estate agent who said her property for sale was covered with crude oil in 2003. Doris called the DEQ that evening and the next day two DEQ employees came and walked her entire property and declared her property clean of any contamination. Unresponsive? I think not.
Between the DEQ officials and the DCP Midstream representative, Dave Bennett, all questions were answered politely and thoroughly. Towards the end, this level of responsiveness prompted at least two calls for applause.
At the conclusion of the event, there was a 30 minute informal mingling of citizens and officials without any anger or animosity towards anyone. Without the fear-mongering element of the activists there to disrupt and confuse people with misinformation – or harass local journalists for trying to do their jobs – it is amazing how much education and civil debate can occur.
I complimented a township official with this observation. His response? “Yeah, it’s almost like we planned it that way.”