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Published: Wednesday, 12/11/2002

A dangerous legacy

A spending slash and publication of a self-serving biography lauding his record as governor are the least harmful legacies John Engler stands to leave the state of Michigan.

More troubling is the fact that Mr. Engler, on his way out after 12 years in office, has been quietly drawing up an agreement that would give a regulatory sweetheart deal to one of Michigan's most noxious polluters, Dow Chemical Co.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has negotiated a consent decree that would, according to a report in the Washington Post, ease state standards for toxic dioxin pollution, “a move that could relieve Dow ... of substantial liability for future cleanup operations at the company's headquarters ... and along a large watershed leading into Lake Huron.”

Dioxins are the toxic legacy of Dow's manufacturing operation in Midland, Mich., which produced Agent Orange, mustard gas, pesticides, and other chlorinated compounds. Elevated levels of dioxins have been found in the soil around the Dow headquarters and along the Tittabawassee River.

Environmentalists are comparing the potential pollution liability in central Michigan with the $500 million federal order against General Electric last year for dredging PCBs from the Hudson River bed above New York City.

As part of the agreement, the Engler administration has proposed increasing allowable amounts of dioxin in soil by more than nine times over current limits.

The governor wants to hurry the order through this month, apparently because it is unlikely that governor-elect Jennifer Granholm, who takes office Jan. 1, would ever agree to a plan that would let Dow off the hook.

The Post quoted Russell Harding, state environmental quality director, as telling the publication Chemical Policy Alert: “Frankly, Dow would like to get this done with our administration here. The statements that the attorney general [Ms. Granholm] made in this campaign scare 'em to death.”

Fortunately, a coalition of environmental groups have gone to court to try to block the Dow agreement. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed a long list of objections indicating that the pact may be illegal and would fail to protect the public from what could be a significant health danger.

Toledoans and all residents of the lower Great Lakes area, which receives the inevitable downwash from pollution that occurs to our north, should be concerned about the Dow case.

If Mr. Engler's spending cuts and vanity biography were his only legacies, we wouldn't be particularly worried. But dioxin pollution is one gubernatorial hand-me-down that might never be undone.


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