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For Immediate Release: Oct 20, 2000
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

STATE AND FEDERAL WORKERS SEE THREATS FROM MICHIGAN ENVIRONMENTAL CHIEF

Tightening the Screws at DEQ


Washington, DC - Federal pollution inspectors fear for their safety after Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Russell Harding voiced opposition to their presence in Michigan by invoking the specter of "Waco-like" violence, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an organization representing public agency pollution specialists. At the same time, Harding has impeded enforcement of anti-pollution laws in his own agency by a series of illegal orders and retaliatory re-assignments.

"The climate for environmental enforcement within Michigan is at rock bottom," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization did an agency-wide survey of DEQ employees two years ago. "Russell Harding is tightening the screws not only against his own staff but is also raising the possibility of violence against federal inspectors."

In an October 5th posting on the web-site of the Michigan Farm Bureau, Harding is quoted as calling the presence of federal water quality inspectors in the state a "simply unacceptable... Waco-like manner to trample over the state's rights." "Federal inspectors view Harding's comments as a warning to watch their backs," said Ruch. "Harding's comments are an astonishing act of irresponsibility from a public servant."

At the same time, a coalition of Michigan environmental groups recently released a report, entitled "Dereliction of Duty," detailing 25 cases in which DEQ management blocked enforcement efforts by its own staff often re-assigning the staff or forcing resignations. [The report is available online at: www.mecprotects.org] "This report reinforces what DEQ employees themselves have been saying," Ruch added.

Two years ago, PEER surveyed all 1400 DEQ employees with nearly half (41%) responding:

* Less than one-fourth (23%) felt their agency is committed to enforcing anti-pollution laws. More than three-quarters (83 and 86%, respectively) said economic development receives more weight than environmental protection and that the customer served by the agency is business rather than the public or the environment;

* More than half of DEQ employees (52%) expressed fear of job retaliation for advocating environmental enforcement; a similar percentage (54%) knew of cases where employees were transferred or reassigned for "doing their job 'too well' on a controversial project;"