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Letter: Clean air pays off for Michigan

On March 5, The Detroit News published an editorial, “Ozone rules would hurt Michigan,” in support of Gov. Rick Snyder’s comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the newly proposed air quality standards for ground-level ozone. I write today to explain why Snyder and others who oppose the rule being strengthened are dead wrong.

In simple terms, the proposed rule is how the EPA carries out its mandate to implement the Clean Air Act. The overall purpose of the Clean Air Act is to protect the public from airborne contaminants. The law rightly requires re-evaluation of key rules every five years. The Ozone Rule was last adjusted in 2008 and, given the advances in current research, is badly in need of strengthening.

Assertions that protective environmental rules such as this will hurt business have commonly showed themselves to be unfounded. One wonderful and local case in point is Ford Motor Co.’s design change for the auto painting facility at the Dearborn Rouge Plant. Several years ago, when encouraged by local residents and clean air advocates, the company changed the originally proposed design of the plant from the conventional (at that time) practice of using high VOC (volatile organic compound) paints.

Instead, Ford adopted an innovative water-based process that allowed more cars to be painted with less pollution than before. And, of course, at a higher profit margin. It’s no secret that Ford was the only “Big Three” automaker not to need a bailout a few years ago. I believe this is, at least in part, a result of the company’s willingness to push forward toward better environmental performance. This kind of behavior is quite profitable.

We need look no further than the furniture manufacturers in the Grand Rapids area. These businesses now compete for the position of who generates the smallest waste stream.

The goal of the proposed standards is to give protection to the public with an adequate margin of safety — not to leave many of our residents vulnerable to seriously compromised health. Already in our country 1 in 10 children have asthma. In Michigan the figures are 1 in 7, according to 2010 numbers from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The Detroit area leads the state in hospitalizations and deaths due to asthma attacks. There is a better way.

The citizens of Michigan would be much better served if the governor applied his powers of leadership to forge expanded opportunity for Michigan and its economy around a cleaner, healthier future for us all.

Guy O. Williams, president and CEO,

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice