Before Gov. John Engler leaves office (we’re counting the days), News Hits would like to thank him (and spank him) for making Russell Harding his chief environmental steward (aka lackey).
The director of the Department of Environmental Quality has provided ample ammo for this column because of what he has done (like bend over for big business at the environment’s expense) and failed to do (let us count the ways). Most recently, Harding selected some folks to draft a permit to monitor large animal farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (mega-manure manufacturers that often pollute the land and water).
Harding wasn’t exactly excited about having to issue permits to farmers (like his boss, Harding prefers the fail-proof policy of letting big business regulate itself). Not until the federal government threatened to take over the entire water permit program (at the urging of several green groups) did Harding agree to monitor Michigan’s 250 major poop producers.
Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter director, hoped to be part of the group drafting the permit. (Woiwode helped sic the feds on Harding.) But she learned last month that neither she nor any of the dogged do-gooders who backed Harding into a corner were chosen. (We are shocked! Shocked!) Instead, Harding picked reps from the pork, beef and dairy industries (as well as other factory-farm enthusiasts). But Dave Hamilton, surface water quality division chief for the DEQ, pointed out that Harding also appointed a couple (News Hits’ translation: token) greensters to the group, in accordance with the EPA’s recommendation. (What Hamilton failed to mention is that one appointee opposes issuing the permits. The other, Tom Kerry, West Michigan Environmental Council director, by his own admission has limited knowledge of the subject.)
The group met once last month, but Kerry isn’t sure if his input will be seriously considered by the DEQ. “We could talk in circles, and they could do what they want to do,” he says.
If that happens, Harding is sure to upset many environmentalists. News Hits is fully confident the leader of DEQ will not make that mistake (wink, wink). Otherwise he may again find his name in bold type on these pages. (Count on it.)Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org