FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan and Clean Water Action
September 7, 2016
Oil and MDEQ Don’t Mix: Citizens Speak Out Against BP Lobbyist Appointment
Dozens of citizens from across the state rally in Lansing to speak out for accountability
LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder has tapped a former oil lobbyist to take over the reins at the embattled Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and today, dozens of citizens converged on Lansing to say, “Not on our watch.”
Activists from Lansing, Kalamazoo, Flint and Detroit spoke at a press conference to voice their concerns about the nomination of Heidi Grether, a former lobbyist for BP, to the head of the MDEQ. The press conference and rally took place before the Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing, where Grether was set to take questions from the committee prior to her appointment.
“Heidi Grether’s background as a spin doctor does not qualify her to be the chief watchdog for Michigan’s environment,”said Sam Inglot, deputy communications director at Progress Michigan. “Michiganders deserve someone committed to protecting our natural resources. Instead, Gov. Rick Snyder and his rubber stamp Republican legislature have decided that a press strategy is more important than environmental protection. This is more of the same from Michigan Republicans, choosing the interests of corporate polluters over the well-being of citizens, our communities, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.”
Activists noted that Gov. Snyder has received roughly $90,000 from the oil and gas industry throughout his career and the four Republicans on the Senate Natural Resources Committee have received nearly $65,000 combined.
Heidi Grether is a former executive and lobbyist with BP America who worked public relations during the company’s massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Grether is a PR professional, not an environmental advocate.
“We need an MDEQ that can provide the oversight to ensure Flint’s recovery actually happens and that the culture that created this disaster is no longer present in state government. Prior to any acceptance of the crisis, the MDEQ had a culture of arrogance and obstructionism that hurt our efforts for justice,” said Nayyirah Shariff, director of Flint Rising.“We do not believe that Heidi Grether is the best choice for Michigan. We need a director that will change the culture of the MDEQ — not it’s marketing plan.”
The Flint Water Task Force, which was organized by Gov. Snyder, laid much of the blame for the Flint Water Crisis at the feet of the MDEQ, but the agency’s response to other environmental disasters has been lacking for years, according to activists.
“It’s been five years since the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history happened in Kalamazoo and there’s still work to do,”said Chris Wahmhoff, a Kalamazoo resident and activist. “It’s disappointing that the Michigan legislature is treating today as more of a coronation than a true confirmation hearing. After the Enbridge spill and the Flint Water Crisis, we need advocates in the legislature asking tough questions instead of allowing the Snyder administration to continue to cover-up the truth.”
For folks in communities like Detroit, where they’re fighting for access to affordable and clean water and energy, waste dumping, and advocating for the Clean Power Plan, the appointment of Grether is a sign of bad things to come.
“Ms. Grether was at BP to manage the company’s Deep Horizon crisis in the gulf where hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and I worry her prior appointment may be a sign of things to come,” said Dorthea Thomas, an environmental and climate justice organizer for Michigan United in Detroit. “Has Gov. Snyder brought in Ms. Grether because she’s a PR pro who can spin his administration away from bad press? Is another massive environmental disaster on the horizon? We need someone who will be proactive in preventing — not merely responding to — a crisis because of corporate polluters.”
“We need to hold our elected officials accountable who choose to put an oil lobbyist in charge of the MDEQ. We need to know what Heidi Grether plans to do if she takes the office,” said Nic Clark, state director for Clean Water Action.“We need the tough questions to be asked, and we’re worried that the Republican-controlled committee won’t ask the right ones.”
The group posed several questions to the committee and the media for Grether to answer:
-Do you believe in manmade climate change and do you believe that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate change?
-Where do you stand on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan?
-What would you change at the MDEQ to prevent another Flint Water Crisis?
-What policy recommendations do you plan to implement from the Flint Water Task Force report?
-Would you push for the “Water Is A Human Right” bill package that has been allowed to languish in committee?