WASHINGTON -- Michigan is not finished with the Environmental Protection Agency's "environmental justice" policy just yet.
Despite the EPA's unprecedented dismissal of civil rights charges against a proposed steel mill near Flint late last month, Michigan and Genesee County will remain at the center of the struggle over the agency's controversial regulations meant to further restrict pollution in minority areas.
EPA staffers confirm that federal environmental regulators are refocusing their attention on four environmental justice cases that have languished for more than four years. The cases include a dispute over the emissions from a wood-waste power generating plant in Genessee Township owned by CMS Energy Corp., less than two miles from the recently exonerated Select Steel mill site. There are also two disputes in Texas and one in Georgia.
"Obviously, it's long overdue," Russ Harding said, head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. "If they use the same criteria as they used with Select Steel, the EPA should quickly dismiss the case."
Since the existing CMS plant isn't likely to close, threatening jobs, the EPA will not face the intense bipartisan political pressure it faced over the potential employment losses in the steel mill case.
Harding, the most vocal critic of the environmental justice rules launched last February, will also lead a multistate delegation to Washington on Nov. 19 in a bid to find a compromise with the EPA. The delegation of 10 state environmental regulators will meet with EPA Administrator Carol Browner to urge EPA cooperation in reworking environmental justice programs.
Outside observers see chances of a compromise between the states and the federal government in the near future as slim.
"Considering the friction over the last year, working
out a mutually acceptable plan is likely to take a lot more than one meeting,"
said Chris Foreman, a researcher at the centrist Brookings Institution.