Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / Polluter Payday

Polluter Payday

Relief for industry

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

The Engler Administration and the Legislature changed the "Polluter Pay" toxic waste cleanup law in 1995
so that fewer sites would have to be cleaned up, and to shift the cost of most cleanups from private businesses
to taxpayers.

The law now allows cleanups to be based on how the property will be used. Most contamination still must be
removed from land that will be used for schools or day care centers. But higher concentrations of toxic substances now
can remain at sites for new factories or shopping centers, where, the Administration says, there is less apparent
likelihood that people will be exposed to the contamination.

The modified law also relieves many polluters from having to pay for cleanups by changing the legal liability
standards and making it much more difficult for the state to prove a company caused the pollution. The Governor and
lawmakers said this change was necessary to encourage developers to rebuild on old industrial sites, also known as

Taxpayers now are shouldering the financial burden instead. More than half of the Clean Michigan Initiative, a
$675 million bond proposal going before voters in November, is devoted to cleaning up wastes left by polluters no
longer obligated to pay for their messes.

What Happened to Michigan's Recycling Program?

For a short period during the 1980s garbage was big news. A barge piled high with New York City's trash
made its way up and down the East Coast as port after port refused to accept it for disposal. States objected to
becoming dumping grounds for other states. And Michigan became a leader in providing local governments
with new tools for establishing recycling and waste reduction programs to decrease the amount of garbage, and
the cost of burying it in landfills.

In the 1990s, the state's commitment to reducing its volume of garbage has waned, and the Engler
Administration has ended financing for recycling and waste reduction.

The current Administration's lack of interest contrasts sharply with a goal set by Gov. Jim Blanchard in the
late 1980s, to keep more than half of Michigan's waste from landfills by the turn of the century.

In 1986, Michigan voters approved a $150 million Environmental Bond initiative for counties, overseen by
citizen councils, to implement innovative recycling, composting, and waste reduction programs.

Hundreds of local recycling and composting programs were created, providing a market for a growing
recycling industry in Michigan. According to Kerrin O'Brien, executive director of the Michigan Recycling
Coalition, "Michigan certainly has more recycling and composting programs today than it did ten years ago. The
most important point is that there are more people recycling."

Although the program was proceeding well, in 1994 the Engler Administration ended it and transferred
approximately $30 million earmarked for recycling into the state's fund for cleaning up contaminated toxic sites.G

CONTACTS: Kerrin O'Brien, P.O. Box 10240, Lansing, MI 48901-0240, 517-485-9746; Seth Phillips, chief
of the Solid Waste Management Unit, Waste Management Division, DEQ, 517-373-4750, email

Michigan Land Use Institute

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