Business leaders will lobby for 'sensible'
By Jeff Kart
Bay City Times
Bay County businesses say some state and federal environmental
regulations in Michigan are hurting their ability to retain
jobs and compete.
They're taking their case to the state Capitol on Sept.
30 and Oct. 1.
The trip is being organized by the Bay Area Chamber of
Commerce, and marks the first time the agency has ever
led such a lobbying effort, said Chamber President Michael
A local business regulation and environmental task force
plans to meet with local legislators, other policy makers
and representatives of the Michigan Department of Environmental
"It's a very time-consuming, heavy effort that over
the long haul, I'm convinced will pay off for the Bay
area," Seward said.
"It's designed to really set the rapport with the
leaders in the House and Senate and the administration
on these key things that effect Bay County."
Seward said he could only speak in general about the
group's concerns, because issue statements are still being
He said the concerns include discharge limits on wastewater
treatment facilities, permitting fees, water treatment
standards, air quality and land use. The group thinks
environmental regulations need to be more sensible.
DEQ spokeswoman Patricia Spitzley said her agency welcomes
the input, but she takes issue with the suggestion that
her agency is too hard on business.
"I don't think the DEQ as a whole has a problem
with companies expressing concerns about environmental
regulations," Spitzley said. "I think that they
will find that we are not as heavy-handed as other states."
Warren R. Smith, environmental projects coordinator for
H. Hirschfield Sons Co. scrapyard in Bay City, will be
one of those making the trip.
Smith said his company will send representatives, along
with Dow Corning, Monitor Sugar, S.C. Johnson, Consumers
Energy, Bay Cast and General Motors.
Smith said businesses in the Saginaw Valley, as well
as other parts of Michigan and the Great Lakes states,
are under stricter environmental regulations than states
in other parts of the country.
For instance, he said, the mercury standards for surface
water discharges here are more stringent than those for
drinking water. Drinking water has a parts per billion
standard, while surface water has a parts per trillion
standard, said Smith, a former manager for Dow Chemical
Co. in Midland.
"The problem is, it's very difficult to even test
to those limits, much less to find the controls to meet
it," Smith said.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said the
standards are higher for surface water because mercury
accumulates in the environment, building up in sediments,
fish and other aquatic organisms. That then becomes another
source of mercury that people are exposed to when they
eat fish, for instance.
Mercury is a liquid metal that can cause kidney and brain
damage, according to the EPA.
Still, Smith said costs to businesses rise exponentially
as limits on mercury and other contaminants continue to
He said there are few laboratories that can even test
for mercury in parts per trillion. The tests are so sensitive
that old fillings in teeth can mess up a sample, he said.
"It's a situation where I think everybody wanted
the water to get much better and they set the limits very
high so people would reach for a higher limit, but I think
we're starting to get to a point where maybe those are
very, very low and very, very difficult to attain without
spending an ungodly amount of money."
Smith said environmental standards in the Great Lakes
make it tougher for companies in the Saginaw Valley to
maintain jobs here. Hirschfield has spent about $1 million
on a resurfacing project at its site, to get rid of old
contaminants and contain surface water on the property,
DEQ spokeswoman Spitzley said she schedules all of the
agency's external meetings, and wasn't aware of the Chamber's
She said environmental regulations exist to keep harmful
amounts of pollutants from getting into the Great Lakes.
The DEQ gets guidance from the EPA and usually makes rules
in a process that includes opportunities for public comment.
"We don't do it in a vacuum," Spitzley said.
"We don't have a Ouija board."
Rep. Joseph L. Rivet, D-Bangor Township, said the lobby
effort can only help Bay County.
"Relationships mean everything," Rivet said.
"The Chamber's effort can only be positive, developing
those relationships in concert with what we do on a daily
basis in Lansing."
Smith said Hirschfield has installed a rain gauge across
from its scrapyard to measure the amount of mercury that
falls from the sky.
Rain falling in Traverse City has been found to contain
mercury levels up to nine times higher than those considered
safe for surface water, according to the National Wildlife
Smith suspects similar findings in Bay City; Hirschfield
plans to share its data with the DEQ in hopes of reducing
the amount of mercury it has to remove from surface water
discharged from the scrapyard.
Smith said he doesn't fault the DEQ or the EPA for enforcing
regulations, but thinks sometimes they're imposed without
consideration of the effect on businesses.
The local lobbying effort is nothing new for Seward,
who led similar charges while at chambers in California
He couldn't recall any changes to environmental regulations
that came as a result of those visits. But he said the
chamber in Illinois picked up a $175,000 grant for economic
development last year, shortly before he came to Bay City.
Environmental regulations are one of six issues the lobbying
effort aims to address. The others include economic development,
education, health services, taxation and spending, with
representation from local government and education leaders,
Seward said. At least 30 people will be making the trip,