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September 20, 2000

MDEQ Director Harding Refuses to Release Information Regarding Lax Environmental Enforcement

The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) and the Washington-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) charged today that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is stonewalling the public on environmental enforcement data to cover up its poor performance.

The MDEQ last week refused MEC's Freedom of Information Act request to release information showing whether or not the Department has been lax in enforcing environmental laws. In August, the Department criticized EWG's report, "Prime Suspects, The Law Breaking Polluters America Fails to Inspect," claiming the group had misled the public regarding environmental enforcement by Michigan and other states. The production of such a critique would have almost certainly required the Department to have the information it now says is not available for public dissemination.

"If the Department is claiming fraud, I think it has the duty to back up its claims with hard data showing that EWG is wrong and that in fact enforcement is taking place," said James Clift, Policy Director at MEC. "Instead, the Department is dodging our Freedom of Information Act request claiming release of the data would not benefit the public and stating no documentation exists that we could review in person. In exchange for hundreds of dollars they say they are willing to release 'some' data about their program."

The Prime Suspects report, based on information the state submits to the EPA, showed Michigan ranked 5th in the country in its failure to inspect known violators of the Clean Air Act, and 3rd in the nation in its failure to inspect Clean Water Act known violators. It also showed detailed inspections of known violators were very rare.

"Russ Harding is paid by taxpayers to account for the job he's doing enforcing environmental and public health laws on their behalf. As required by agreement with the U.S. EPA, his Department sends enforcement information to be compiled by the federal government for use by the public.But he screams 'foul' when reporters or public interest groups actually look at that information," said EWG spokesman Mike Casey "Today, MEC and our organization are calling on Mr. Harding to stop blocking the public's right to know. What's Mr. Harding trying to hide?"

The MEC has asked the House and Senate Appropriation Subcommittees with oversight over the MDEQ to schedule hearings on the issue so that the public can get the full story on the Department enforcement efforts.

For more information contact:
James Clift (517) 487-9539
Mike Casey (202) 667-6982

Submitted by: James Clift, Policy Director
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette, Ste. 2A
Lansing, MI 48912

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