Jobs and Environment
General Motors Corp.
has just averted a long court battle over producing a new
vehicle at a plant in Lansing. The episode reveals the need
to balance a reasonable concern for air and water quality
with creating jobs.
The Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center and
the Michigan Environmental Council of Lansing were on the
verge of derailing GM's plan to build a new Chevrolet SSR
roadster, a specialized niche sports truck. The truck operation
will provide some 400 jobs.
The two groups said the company was not
meeting a provision of the Clean Air Act that calls for
using the "best available controlled technology" at its
paint operation within the facility.
They also contended the new operation
would increase the amount of odor residents in the area
will have to endure. Until last month, the plant produced
the Cadillac Eldorado.
Paint shops traditionally produce emissions
that must be controlled through a variety of means, including
the use of water to wash down the walls. The company offered
to install a water-borne paint system that produces a relatively
low level of emissions.
The paint is water soluble, which keeps
most solvents from evaporating into the air. GM contends
there's no better water-borne control technology available
for automotive use.
The automaker also tried to address concerns
about odors. Millions of dollars were spent to reduce an
annoying odor at a nearby Fisher Body assembly plant. Even
as GM reached agreement with the affected neighbors that
emissions from producing the new vehicle wouldn't exceed
that of the old Eldorado line, the groups still wanted greater
But GM had already been deemed in full
compliance with the Clean Air Act for any effect on human
health or the environment. The automaker filed all the necessary
permits with the state Department of Environmental Quality
(DEQ), which allowed it to operate a paint shop.
In fact, the state had already issued
the operating permit. Most important, the environmental
groups were asking GM to add controls no other automaker
in the world has been asked to do. And because the requested
technology is unproven, there are no assurances that it
would work. All of this would have put GM at a competitive
These demands put at risk the $70 million
the company plans to invest in the facility as well as the
jobs of the workers who have been laid off and are expected
to be rehired once the SSR is brought on line. Unnecessary
delays could have forced the company to move the plant to
a location that is more business-friendly. The state and
the city of Lansing would have been deprived of tax revenue
from the facility.
Ultimately, the environmental groups and
the company came to a compromise -- the same one the firm
had reached with the neighbors. The level of odor from the
paint operation won't be increased. This kind of compromise
is the best model for reconciling environmental concerns
with providing jobs for Michigan workers.
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