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Great Lakes Article:

Balance Jobs and Environment
The Detroit News
05/07/2002



   The 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 concessions.
   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 disadvantage.
   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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