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MDEQ is a regulatory agency, so it doesn’t make the rules, it just enforces them. And since well before the latest Nestle decision, it’s taken a consistent public stance: We read and review all public comments, but only those that address legal or scientific aspects of a proposal are seriously considered. In other words, to really change our minds, you need to address some sort of technical deficiency in a particular permit. But environmental advocates say that stance conceals a couple of problems. They argue that since MDEQ largely considers proposals on an individual basis, they tend to overlook larger cumulative impacts on the environment — and even when those are considered, the agency finds a way to narrow the requirements so much that almost anything goes. Some suggest that boundary-stretching goes so far, the MDEQ actually doesn’t comply with the laws it claims to strictly uphold. For example, in Nestle’s case “the law for the permit requires real hydrological data of ‘existing conditions’ and ‘predicted effects.’ Yet [MDEQ] issued a permit based on a model, not real data of existing conditions or to estimate real or predicted effects,” says Jim Olson, a Traverse City environmental attorney who works with the group For Love of Water (FLOW). “To do this, DEQ had to have made an internal decision to help Nestle, because it issued the permit without the data by letting Nestle submit a monitoring plan and submit data after the fact. It could and should have denied the permit until there was an evaluation of existing conditions, but it didn’t.” "In my mind, this points to a sleight of hand, manipulation if you will, of the law in favor of Nestle. That’s the only explanation." –Traverse City environmental attorney Jim Olson Olson says in this case, copious amounts of such data actually do exist: from the court case Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation vs. Nestle, which examined a decision to allow Nestle to pump up to 400 gallons per minute for its Mecosta County bottling facility. That data indicated that “Nestle caused substantial harm at rates above 200 gpm to proposed 400 gpm, and the courts found it unlawful” (the Michigan Supreme Court eventually overturned the lower court decision in that case on a legal technicality). To Olson, this case proves not only that public comment doesn’t matter, but that a “more shadowy kind of comment” does have real influence on the MDEQ: “In my mind, this points to a sleight of hand, manipulation if you will, of the law in favor of Nestle.
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