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E-M:/ from polluter pay to the public pays, to no one pays for cleanup

Toxic cleanup in Michigan will now come to a virtual standstill except for emergency needs. In 1990 Michigan passed a 'polluter pay' law, authored by former state senator and Michigan Environmental Council President Lana Pollack, that assigned strict liability to parties that owned contaminated sites. Although flawed, it protected taxpayers and obliged many 'responsible parties' to pay to clean up the mess they'd made. Rather than perfected, it was essentially repealed under pressure from polluters rather than corrected in 1995. In 1998 Michigan voters approved a $675 million bond with much of the money earmarked for cleanup. Now that money is gone, and the cupboard is bare. The Free Press 'guesstimate' of $35 million is well short of what is needed annually.

The money has not only gotten rid of heaps of contamination, but spurred redevelopment in many places. Cities and many local chambers of commerce like it as much as environmentalists do. This time around, however, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce was not on board.


So lawmakers now face the daunting task of finding next year's $35 million, even as they close a roughly $400-million gap that reflects the state's continuing economic deterioration. The DEQ needs to be quick and straightforward in assessing which projects can actually be fenced off and left to sit, and the ones that truly need ongoing financing to prevent worse problems. Lawmakers need to be equally adept at making some budget tradeoffs so the most vital projects can continue.