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Environmental groups to Snyder: New MDEQ director “key opportunity to redefine your legacy”

The Flint River
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

It’s been two months since the former head of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality resigned. Dan Wyant resigned after a task force placed much of the blame for the Flint water crisis on the MDEQ.

Now, a coalition of environmentalists is urging the governor to appoint someone who’ll make human health the department’s top priority.

The coalition includes nearly a dozen local, state, and federal environmental groups. It sent a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder Thursday, outlining what criteria they’d like to see in a new DEQ director.

“We really believe that human health, and the protection of our air, our land, and our water are fundamental, and that the person who comes into this position must have a deep commitment to that first and foremost,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

The coalition would prefer Snyder look beyond his network for a new leader. Getting an outsider’s perspective is one way to change the department culture, it says.

“It’s an important choice symbolically because it’s showing what the governor has learned essentially from this crisis and is an important choice for everybody who cares about access to clean water,” Mike Shriberg, regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, said.

The groups say DEQ’s failures go beyond Flint, pointing to a controversial air permit the DEQ granted to a steel plant in Dearborn in 2014 and a plan to reduce toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie they say relies on flawed methodology.

It’s not clear how quickly Snyder will make the appointment.

“A permanent director will be identified for the department, but right now the focus is on efforts on the ground in Flint,” Snyder spokeswoman Laura Biehl said in a written statement. “The governor wants to make sure we find the right person for the position who can continue (interim director Keith Creagh’s) reforms to ensure that we are always putting the health and well-being of Michiganders first.”

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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