Checking in With the Department of Environmental Quality

  • Dan Wyant, 51, is the Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder.

As the year winds down, we’re spending some time this week on The Environment Report taking a look at the state of our environment. On Thursday, we’ll hear from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters on just how well they think Governor Snyder has been protecting Michigan’s natural resources. But, first, today, we speak with the man whose job it is to keep your environment healthy. That would be Dan Wyant, Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.


Cutting the DEQ’s Budget

I first asked Wyant about his department’s budget. It’s been cut and cut over the past decade; just this year alone it saw a 15 percent cut. The cuts do have an impact, says Wyant, but, “it’s forced [the department] to prioritize… think about what we want to accomplish. So, we’re focused around air quality and water quality and public health… and I think we can say, with some confidence, that we are seeing more environmental stewardship, not less.”

Economic Development

Governor Snyder has said one of the goals for the DEQ is for the department to be a part of Michigan’s economic development. Both Snyder and Wyant believe the DEQ has a role in the state’s recovery. “We know that it’s our role to ensure good environmental stewardship – that’s why we were created and that’s our job,” notes Wyant. But, he also says he thinks there are certain things the department can do to help businesses grow in the state. “We want to be recognizing permit timing so that businesses can get timely decisions and… we’re looking at old and antiquated, duplicates of regulation… and we want to address culture. We want to be a department of problem solvers. It doesn’t mean that we don’t wear the black hats and that we don’t have to tell people they can’t do things… but we really want to be a full partner with those that do business,” Wyant says.

Working with Lawmakers

Director Wyant was appointed by Republican Governor Snyder but he, also, works closely with the state legislature.  The GOP majorities in both the state House and Senate sometimes disagree with both Wyant and Snyder about certain environmental issues.  One such issue is wetlands protection. Wyant says he and the Governor will continue to push the legislature to keep the wetlands program. “The Snyder Administration and myself have been advocating very strongly to keep the program… We think the resource is really important for water quality, it’s very important for habitat and natural resources." And, he notes, he thinks he and the governor now have a majority of lawmakers believing that the program should be saved.

Looking to 2012

Wyant says the goal for 2012 will be focusing on one of the Governor’s favorite phrases, “Relentless Positive Action.” “We do that”, Wyant says, by, “encouraging more environmental stewardship – not less. We want to see Michigan’s economy recover – we think that’s good for the environment. And, lastly, the governor is very focused on customer service – our customers are the citizens of Michigan.”

Small Businesses Highlight “Green Gazelles”

  • Piles of GreenCel are dumped outside KTM Industries in Lansing, Mich. It looks like garbage, but the biodegradable material will dissolve and wash away with the next rain. KTM is one of a number of new environmentally-conscious small businesses called "Green Gazelles." (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)

Most environmental issues pit environmentalists against business interests. But now, people on both sides say working together might be the only way to help the nation’s economy, and preserve natural resources. So they’re teaming up to promote a group of fast-growing, environmentally-friendly small businesses called “Green Gazelles.” The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:


Most environmental issues pit environmentalists against business interests. But now,
people on both sides say working together might be the only way to help the nation’s
economy, and preserve natural resources. So they’re teaming up to promote a group of fast-
growing, environmentally-friendly small businesses called “Green Gazelles.” The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:

People who love video games are scrambling to get their hands on the latest gadget in the
gaming world. It’s a new hard drive for Sony’s PlayStation2. The drive comes loaded with
a new version of the game Final Fantasy. And it comes packaged in a new kind of
environmentally-friendly foam, called GreenCel.

(sound of manufacturing facility)

“It’s gonna be a little loud out here.”

“What’s the smell?”

“It’s cornstarch, that’s exactly what you’re smelling.
We’re taking cornstarch and we’re doing something that nobody else in the world does.
We’re melting it, and then we’re foaming it into huge sheets.”

A company called KTM Industries makes “GreenCel.” It’s an organic packing material –
made from cornstarch, vegetable oil and water. Companies like Sony are using it instead of
products made with petroleum, like Styrofoam. Those products don’t break down naturally.

KTM also makes an arts and crafts product for kids called “Magic Nuudles.” The Nuudles
are made out of cornstarch, too. They look like those candy circus peanuts, but they’re in all
different colors. Kids can glue Nuudles to paper to make pictures. Or they can build things
with them.

Both GreenCel and Magic Nuudles dissolve in water.

Tim Colonnese is KTM’s president. He says business is so good right now
because people are getting smarter about how they spend their money.

“You’ve got a better educated population out there that recognizes that we can’t
continue to do business as usual. Our landfills are getting fuller, our air is getting
dirtier, our water is getting dirtier. And we’ve got to take those steps right now, as
our population increases and business increases, to start cleaning up our act.”

KTM is one of a new group of small businesses throughout the country, called “green
gazelles.” Green — meaning they make environmentally-friendly products using newer,
cleaner methods. And “Gazelles” — because they’re fast-moving companies able to quickly
apply new technology.

Colonnese started his company seven years ago. He says it was awhile before
KTM’s products became profitable. But now, Colonnese says his company and other green
gazelles could be the future of the American economy.

“So as big business takes its job elsewhere, where are those new jobs going to be
created? And it’s going to be created with small business, with innovators that come up
with new products and new processes that are completely different from what the big boys
are doing. And hopefully, if a few of us are successful, we will become the next large

And the numbers show that’s already happening. Mark Clevey is with the Small Business
Association of Michigan. He says green gazelles are creating new jobs in the
US. But Clevey says they’re doing so without a lot of financial help.

“These companies, although they’re fast-growing companies, one of the reasons they
grow fast is because their competitive advantage is based on some technological
advantage and, in order to get that technological advantage, they have to invest
several million dollars, at a minimum, in research and development. Banks don’t fund
that, venture capitalists don’t fund that, universities don’t fund it, nobody funds that
kind of technology.”

Except, Clevey says, the government to some extent. He says the US Department of Energy
offers grants to small businesses for research.

Clevey says most state governments offer tax credits and incentives for basic small
business development. But he argues it would be better in the long run if states would start
investing more in research and technology – even if it’s risky.

That’s something people in Rust Belt states are already talking about.

Steve Chester is director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“I think there are some things that we can do environmentally, for instance, we do
have a lot of grants and loans that we provide. And to the extent that we might be
able to prioritize green technologies, I think that’s something we should try to do.”

Supporters of green gazelles are hoping to persuade Congress that helping green companies
is the best way to help the environment. During upcoming Congressional hearings, they’ll
ask lawmakers for more financial support and tax incentives for green gazelles.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.

Related Links

Mining Endangers Sand Dunes

The dunes around Lake Michigan draw millions of visitors each year. But
the dunes are more than just a tourist attraction: the sand is a
valuable commodity in manufacturing. And sand dune mining has been
going on since the turn of the century. Today, dunes in Illinois and
Wisconsin are protected since they fall within state park boundaries.
There are some small mining operations in some of Indiana’s dunes, but
by far, most sand dune mining happens in Michigan. The state’s had a
law in place for more than twenty years to regulate the mining… But a
new report alleges that the law isn’t working. And the dunes are slowly
vanishing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports:

Mining Endangers Sand Dunes (Wrap Version)

Sand dune mining has been going on around Lake Michigan since the dawn
of the industrial age. The sand is used by foundries to make molds for
casting metal. But despite a 1976 law to protect the dunes, a new
report released today (Tuesday 4/20) claims the dunes are in more danger
than ever. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports: