Skubick: New DEQ head faces tough questions at confirmation hearing

LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Governor Rick Snyder and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality have had a rocky year, to say the least.

In the wake of the Flint water crisis both the governor and DEQ employees have faced tough questions, investigations and, in some cases, criminal charges.

But there’s another controversy brewing for Mr. Snyder and the department.

If the environmental lobby had a vote, it would vote no.

Heidi Grether did work for British Petroleum during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

She told the confirmation hearing, that is a good thing. “My experience with crisis situations has well prepared me to step into this roll at D-E-Q at this time,” said Grether.

But environmentalist Nic Clark says he’s looking for a DEQ director who is not beholden to corporations over citizens.

“We need someone in there who is on the side of the people and not corporations,” said Clark.

When asked if that experience would benefit citizens during a crisis Clark said “Well, that’s an argument from a PR perspective but what we need a leader whose going to tell us how to prevent the next crisis. Not spin it.”

Four Republicans and one Democrat questioned Ms. Grether but audience members were not allowed to testify.

The committee chair says he favors her nomination. “I think she’s got a background that is certainly in it and I she has the leadership skills and abilities,” said Sen. Tom Casperson. “When you look at what she’s accomplished, what she’s done she has certainly been able to handle big issues.”

Ms. Grether called the Flint water crisis “the elephant in the room” and she reports she has made some top level changes in her department.

Afterwards she was asked about lessons learned.

She says the department needs to be more cooperative with other departments but as for any mistakes “I can’t speak to that because I don’t know enough. I’ve talked to people but I’m not going to lay blame at this point. The jury is still out.”

Ms. Grether also reports she believes in climate change and wants to balance protecting the environment with economic growth.

No vote was taken today but she is expected to be confirmed.

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