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"Sound Science" or the Science of Politics?

August 1, 1998 | By Keith Schneider
and Arlin Wasserman
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

(continued from previous page)

But critics say the MESB's opinions are outside the mainstream. A telling example occurred last August,
when the panel issued a report challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's call for new air quality
standards to reduce dust particles -- technically known as "particulates" -- from industrial processes. The
EPA implicates particulates in causing childhood asthma and lung disease -- the MESB report said there was
not enough scientific evidence to support that conclusion.

Yet not all of the panel members agreed with the report's findings. The dissenting minority issued a
separate opinion that described how their colleagues "downplayed" a firm scientific "consensus ... that current
particulate and ozone air pollution levels increase heart- and lung-related dysfunction and death."

When Polluters Paid, Sites Were Cleaned Up
Some of Michigan's civic officials, among them Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, say the Administration's
softening of regulations on toxic substances has helped cities redevelop old industrial sites, making it possible to
generate new business and jobs. In Traverse City, for example, River's Edge, an architecturally-distinguished
housing, office, and retail development, is under construction on an old iron foundry along the Boardman River in
the city's downtown. City officials say River's Edge would not have been possible without changes in the cleanup

"Our old Polluter Pay law did not work," said David Ladd. "Anybody in the chain of title was liable for
paying for cleanups whether they caused the problem or not. The result was the last guy in hires an attorney
who sues everybody in sight. Nothing got cleaned up."

The Michigan Environmental Council and other public interest organizations say that is not true. According
to the DNR, when the original Polluter Pay law was in effect from 1990 to 1994 toxic site cleanups increased
from eight per year to 1,354 per year.

The law was weakened in 1995 by redefining what constituted contaminated sites, and changing the
requirements for redeveloping them. In some cases sites that once were considered contaminated were
pronounced "clean" on the basis that state officials considered the toxic material there to be of little concern.
Before the law was changed, Michigan had more than 11,000 contaminated sites that needed to be cleaned
up. Afterwards, the number of sites the state said needed attention dropped by more than 3,000.
Conservationists also note:

In 1995, the Senate Fiscal Agency estimated that the changes in the Polluter Pay law shifted between $350
million and $500 million in cleanup costs for industrial contamination from polluters to Michigan taxpayers.

The changed law permits cleanups based on how private owners intend to use their property. Cleanups are
not coordinated with local land use plans. Industrial sites may leave much higher levels of contamination
behind than those used for housing. Local governments whose master plans call for converting industrial
districts into recreation and housing cannot force polluters to pay for removing the remaining contamination --
public funding will be required to cover the additional costs.

There is no effort to speed cleanups in minority communities where the threat is greatest -- Detroit, Flint,
and Saginaw have hundreds of contaminated sites.

The law now allows more contaminants in general to remain in the ground after cleanup.

"When we passed the Polluter Pay law in 1990, we designed it to provide an efficient and fair system of
generating money for cleaning up the contamination," said Lana Pollack, president of the Michigan Environmental
Council, who helped write the law when she served as a state senator from Washtenaw County. "It was a blueprint
for state authorities to recover funds for cleanup, and laid out obligations of the responsible parties.

It also was about creating incentives so that people would change their behavior. That has been lost."

CONTACTS: Lana Pollack, 517-487-9539; David Ladd, 517-335-7824; Ken Silfven, press secretary,
Department of Environmental Quality, 517-241-7398; Arlin Wasserman at the Institute, 616-882-4723.

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