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E-M:/ alert on groundwater policy

"The decision makers cannot  persist with the old 'lumber baron philosophy'
that the state's resources are there to use up -- or we'll have undrinkable
water everywhere in Michigan for centuries to come."
-- Roger Rayle


        For most of the last year, MEC has participated in a DEQ work group
to draft rules governing discharges into Michigan's groundwater resources.
Known as Part 22 rules, these proposals have the potential to complete the
abandonment of groundwater protection that began with passage of the 1995
"polluter pay" amendments.

        Unlike "polluter pay," these rules generally deal not with cleanup,
but with prevention of groundwater contamination.  They apply to factories,
municipal wastewater plants, and others who discharge process waters to the
ground. (They may also apply in specific cleanup cases where a discharge
from the cleanup process is authorized;  see the reverse side for an

        The most significant feature of the rules is what standard will be
applied to limit the amount of pollution entering groundwater.  Michigan's
historic approach has been "nondegradation."  In practice, except for
select pollutants such as nitrates from municipal sewage, this has meant
that dischargers had to keep detectable amounts of pollution out of

        Now all that could change.  DEQ staff have proposed, and Director
Harding must soon decide whether to approve, a policy in which dischargers
could lawfully dump up to 20% of the Part 201 "cleanup standard" for
cancer-causing chemicals into groundwater, and 50% of the "cleanup
standard" for non cancer-causing chemicals.  It's important to remember
that the "cleanup standard" in 1997 is 22 times higher than it was in 1994
because the Legislature increased the acceptable cancer risk from 1 in 1
million to 1 in 100,000, and because the DEQ has changed its risk
assessment assumption regarding exposure from a 70-year to a 30-year span.

        What would such a policy mean?

        *  It would for the first time legitimatize degradation of
groundwater quality from business and municipal discharges.  State law (the
old Water Resources Commission Act, now Section 3109 of the environmental
code) plainly states, "a person shall not directly or indirectly discharge
into the waters of this state a substance that is or may become injurious
to any of the following:  (a) to the public health, safety, or welfare."
But the proposed standard would allow an increased cancer risk and other
health risks from new discharges.

        *  It would promote urban sprawl.  If dischargers can "use"
groundwater as a treatment system in unspoiled areas rather than sewer
systems in urban areas, they will lose an incentive to locate or remain
where such infrastructure exists.

        *  It would undermine pollution prevention.  MEC has pressed for P2
requirements in the rules, and has won some modest concessions, but a
system allowing degradation of groundwater removes a basic incentive to
search for alternatives to pollution in the first place.

        Incredibly, some industrial representatives in the DEQ Part 22 work
group have advocated a standard for new discharges of 100% of the cleanup
standard.  Others have advocated 100% of the federal drinking water
standard, arguing, "If it's clean enough to drink, what's the harm?"   They
overlook the effect of multiple discharges and multiple contaminants from a
single discharge which pose unknown risks.

        The work group will meet a final time on April 21 to learn Director
Harding's decision on the proposed policy and the draft rules.  We are
asking member groups of MEC to write Harding opposing abandonment of the
non-degradation standard and to contact members of the news media and local
legislators to express opposition to the proposed policy.  This is a
critical moment in the history of groundwater protection in Michigan.
Please act.

        Russell Harding, Director                       State
Representatives                 State Senators
        Department of Environmental Quality      P.O. Box 30014
P.O. Box 30036
        P.O. Box 30273                                  Lansing, MI  48909
Lansing, MI  48909
        Lansing, MI  48909
        517-241-7401 (fax)

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