Like Ricky Ricardo in an episode of “I Love Lucy,” News Hits is slapping its collective forehead and muttering, “I-yi-yi-yi-yi.” What set us off is the new format the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently implemented for public hearings regarding permit applications sought by potential polluters.
Before the change, citizens gathered to ask questions and voice concerns into a microphone that stood between them and state officials.
But with the DEQ’s new “open house” format, questions are asked one-on-one as DEQ officials and company sit at tables scattered around a room.
The DEQ held its first open house earlier this month in Riverview, where BASF Corp. presented a plan to stop an old chemical site from leaking.
“It was an event for the deaf, dumb and blind,” says Blair McGowan, one of about 20 citizens who attended the hearing.
McGowan complains that the new format prevents the public from gaining insight from one another’s questions and comments.
“What they are doing is a community-wide lobotomy if, at hearings, we can’t hear what our brothers and sisters have to say,” he says.
DEQ spokesperson Ken Silfven says that the old format intimidated those who didn’t want to speak before a crowd. But Silfven assures that the open house will only be used when the permit is “controversial.”
The other reason for the change, according to a policy that DEQ director Russell Harding signed in April, is “The current process places the burden of involving the public and addressing its concerns on the DEQ instead of the permit applicant. As a result, the public perceives the agency as an advocate for the proposal rather than an objective technical resource and an impartial decision-maker administering the law.”
That’s funny, News Hits was under the impression that the public doesn’t trust the DEQ because it consistently sides with big business and other polluters.
Maybe the next time the DEQ decides to change course, it should hold a public hearing, not an open house. Otherwise it will have some serious “’splainin’” to do.Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at [email protected]