“This looks a lot like collusion.”
On heels of Flint Water Crisis, MDEQ may have shielded pipeline company from liability for watershed contamination.
In response, residents are asking the MDEQ to do the following regarding an Oct. 2017 petrochemical spill associated with construction of the Rover Pipeline:
(1) Publicly acknowledge Rover’s continuing liability for the construction, operation, maintenance and repair of the pipeline, associated facilities and all harm or damage caused by Rover until its final decommissioning;
(2) Conduct a comprehensive investigation into the extent and origin of the petrochemical contamination (including establishing the earliest moment that Rover knew the water it was pumping might be contaminated, and including the possibilities that Rover may have spilled fuel or petroleum products in or near the construction site, pipeline easements or on nearby land or water); and
(3) Send the bill for the investigation to Rover, levying fines for contaminating the watershed and retroactively revoking permits as appropriate.
Michigan’s environmental regulatory agency, the MDEQ, may have deliberately misrepresented facts to the public to shift responsibility for petroleum-polluted water away from the Rover Pipeline Company and onto the state’s taxpayers and residents, according to recently released emails.
This comes on the heels of the Flint Water Crisis, where the MDEQ altered test results to suppress evidence of lead in Flint’s water, causing residents to continue drinking lead-tainted water.
These emails show three instances of apparent dishonesty by the MDEQ related to the Rover Pipeline LLC’s fall 2017 release of at least approximately 6.5 million gallons (and possibly as much as ten-fold that amount) of petroleum-tainted water into a watershed that provides drinking water for the city of Ann Arbor during construction of the 42-inch Rover pipeline in northern Washtenaw County. The contamination was confirmed by MDEQ remediation expert Rebecca Taylor on Oct. 12.
First: Appearance of MDEQ permit pre-approval prior to end of short public comment period.
The public was granted a 14-day public-comment period from Nov. 15, 2017 through Nov. 28, 2017 on whether MDEQ should issue Rover a permit to resume work on the contaminated site. This comment period was shorter than MDEQ’s standard 30-day period, and included a four-day Thanksgiving holiday. Yet before even this short comment period was over, throughout the day on Nov. 28, 2017, still within the comment period while comments poured in, Rover’s senior specialist William Barth was already firming up permit plans, and MDEQ Water Resource Division official Jeffrey Surfus gave Rover’s project manager Buffy Thomason an apparent pre-approval for the permit, as if the public comments didn’t matter. (See e-mails below and here: http://bit.ly/MDEQ-Nov28-PrePermit-Correspondence).
Second: MDEQ dismisses water surface sheens as "bacterial", contrary to MDEQ publications.
It is well known that bacterial sheens on water fracture when disturbed, whereas hydrocarbon sheens reconstitute themselves (see https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-oea-nop-bacteria_378414_7.pdf ). On Nov. 8, a resident filmed a sheen on water in a Rover construction easement reconstituting itself (video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cNY8suxgpE&t=39s). Yet MDEQ official Jeff Pierce and environmental quality analyst Laura Matthews concluded the sheen was bacterial, in part based on information provided by Rover. When the resident challenged their conclusion, citing the video and MDEQ’s own documents, Mr. Pierce emphatically contradicted what is scientifically known about bacterial sheens, effectively protecting Rover from the investigation, remediation measures, loss of permits, and fines that could accompany acknowledgement of a second hydrocarbon spill (see e-mail exchange below and here: http://bit.ly/MDEQ-surface-sheens).
On November 8th, 2017, a resident filmed a sheen on water in a Rover construction easement reconstituting itself, clear indication of a NON-BACTERIAL sheen according to the officially released pdf on bacterial sheens as published on the left.
Third: MDEQ says Rover is not liable to pay the expense of determining cause of contamination.
A resident, John Machowicz, challenged the MDEQ’s decision that Rover was not liable to pay the expense of finding out the cause of the petroleum in the millions of gallons of petroleum-contaminated water that Rover construction caused to be dumped into the Little Portage River. In so doing, any discussion of any fines and/or remediation for several days of direct environmental contamination into one of the most pristine waterways in southeastern Michigan has been sidestepped.
MDEQ’s Gerald Tiernan quoted back to him an interpretation of Michigan’s environmental liability laws that completely omitted any wording that would indicate Rover’s responsibility for the contamination incident. The MDEQ has not yet responded to a February 1 legal critique from the group's attorney, claiming serious flawed interpretations by MDEQ of MIchigan's contamination cleanup laws and demanding a reversal of the agency's decision, which shields Rover.
(see Complaint below and here http://bit.ly/MDEQ-18Feb1-LetterTiernan).
Terry Lodge, the group’s attorney, said: “This looks a lot like collusion between ET Rover and the MDEQ. MDEQ can’t be allowed to get away with saying ‘since all Rover has is an easement for the pipeline, they can’t be held liable for causing the contamination.’ The pipeline is a major construction project which rips open the earth and wetlands, adds a lot of fill material and a big steel pipeline, changes groundwater flows, destroys natural layers of subsoil, and easily could have caused buried toxics to start moving.”
Clifford Rowley, a local resident, added: “We want to affirm a clear line between protecting the environment and the public safety of Michigan over vested corporate interest. We are not seeing this demonstrated throughout this course of events, nor in these documents. In fact, it appears to be the opposite. We find this continued pattern troubling and disturbing. This is their opportunity to get it right.”
These e-mails emerge at a time when Michigan Senate Bills 652, 653, and 654 have cleared the Senate and now head to the House (see http://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-environment-watch/senator-wants-defang-radical-michigan-deq-he-just-may-do-so). If passed, these laws would significantly weaken the MDEQ’s mandate to protect the public by subjecting it to oversight from a body composed mostly of industries the MDEQ is tasked with regulating. The e-mails released today demonstrate the degree to which MDEQ currently is willing to distort rules and regulation in favor of industry, and offer evidence of the serious threat that industry interference in the MDEQ poses to the protection of the environment and public health.