Like a sick joke: Snyder appoints BP lobbyist to head MDEQ
In the wake of the Flint water crisis, amid profound concerns over an aging oil pipeline under the Great Lakes, with an ongoing, urgent need to decrease pollution and improve air quality and public health in southwest Detroit, Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed … wait for it … a former oil-industry lobbyist, Heidi Grether, to head the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.
It’s a stunning look into the way the governor views the state’s responsibility to protect Michigan’s environment, and Michiganders’ health.
And in the aftermath of the Flint water crisis, it’s like Snyder is rubbing the noses of his constituents in his own mess. The move is astoundingly tone-deaf to Michiganders, who rely on the state’s environmental regulatory agency to keep us safe. It’s also a tacit announcement that Snyder no longer finds rebuilding Michiganders’ trust in government, something nearly everyone agreed was paramount after the Flint crisis, to be particularly important.
Related: Snyder’s new MDEQ director was manager for BP during 2010 oil spill
The Free Press endorsed Snyder for governor two times because his Democratic opponents were weaker choices overall, but Grether’s appointment is an articulation of a particularly troublesome foible. Even in endorsing Snyder, we marked him the less desirable choice on the environment in 2014, and our concerns rested with his flawed understanding of the role of government oversight and the need to act vigilantly to restrain polluters.
The MDEQ can’t, nor should it, shut out business concerns. But there’s a balance that agency must strike, and in this editorial board’s view, that balance should tip toward environmental protection, and the health and welfare of Michigan residents – even when it means that a business must make changes to ensure that compliance.
The Snyder administration obviously disagrees.
When former MDEQ chief Dan Wyant resigned, one former Snyder adviser remarked to another that it was a mistake to let Wyant go. “Keep in mind that finding a replacement who has the trust of the business community will be very difficult,” former chief of staff Dennis Muchmore wrote in a December email. An MDEQ mission statement, rewritten during Snyder’s first term, gave “Be full partners in Michigan’s economic development” as the second of three guiding principles.
This instructive glimpse into the view Snyder and his team take of the MDEQ is particularly noteworthy in context: Wyant resigned over the Flint water crisis – because of government ineptitude and indifference. Lead contaminated the City of Flint’s drinking water, exposing nearly 9,000 children younger than 6 to the neurotoxin.
We had hoped to ask Grether how she views that balance, how she sees the MDEQ’s obligations to business versus its obligation to residents. Snyder’s press secretary, Anna Heaton, declined our request for an interview Thursday.
So we’re left with her rsum. And that does not fill us with confidence.
Grether currently serves as deputy at the Michigan Energy Agency. Prior to that appointment, she spent 21 years at BP, most recently managing the public response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an unprecedented marine disaster; after an explosion on the deep-sea rig, oil equivalent to 3.1 million barrels pumped into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. Before that job, Grether worked for BP as a lobbyist.
On Grether’s LinkedIn page – text presumably penned or approved by Grether herself – she describes her accomplishments in that role thus: “Developed and implemented successful external relations strategies for the Gulf Coast in response to the DWH accident, thereby achieving no legislation adverse to BP being introduced in the Gulf states. Developed and implemented the successful exit strategy for Gulf Coast external affairs activities, which obtained zero negative reactions against BP.”
By all accounts, Grether is intelligent and capable. And her performance at BP – ensuring no adverse legislation or reactions to an environmental disaster that wreaked incalculable harm on a commercially and environmentally important body of water – suggests that she’s good at her job.
We can only hope that Grether turns that same loyalty and competence to protecting Michigan residents. Not Michigan business.
– Detroit Free Press