Clean Air Villain of the Month

May 2000


(Washington, D.C. May 9, 2000) - The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today awarded its clean air "Villain of the Month" award to Russell Harding, director of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality.

Harding was awarded this dubious distinction for his attempts to arrange a secret meeting of state officials and industry lobbyists at the Detroit Airport Marriott. The meeting initially was designed to draw up clean air "reform ideas" for the "next EPA administration and/or the next Congress."

Perhaps Lana Pollack, president of the Michigan Environmental Council, best described the initiative, which Harding initially wanted industry to underwrite:

"It's like the vice police hosting a meeting of pimps and prostitutes and having the pimps and prostitutes pay for the meeting," she was quoted as saying, in a story published by the Booth newspaper chain.

Harding memorialized his initial plans in a series of memos to some of his counterparts in other states. But his plans were dashed after their disclosure in the Detroit News, which reported (in a story headlined "EPA Opponents Plot Changes Under Bush") that:

"Some of the nation's top state environmental regulators plan to meet in Detroit soon to discuss how the Environmental Protection Agency might be reshaped if George W. Bush wins the presidency.

"The gathering of regulators unhappy with current EPA policy was quietly arranged by Russ Harding, Michigan's senior environmental regulator, a Republican who has been feuding with the agency for years."

The Bush presidential campaign vociferously denied any connection to the meeting, but the Washington Post reported it would be attended by "industry executives - representing businesses that generally have contributed to Bush's campaign." The Post added that:

"Those scheduled to attend include representatives of the Edison Electric Institute, who president, Tom Kuhn, is a major Bush campaign fundraiser. Several generally pro-Bush trade associations also plan to attend, including groups representing the paper and forestry sector, petroleum products and automakers General Motors and Toyota."

A meeting of sorts ultimately took place, but it was a dud. The industry lobbyists decided to bag it following the meeting's disclosure. So did most of the invited state officials.

One of the few states to send a representative was New York, which sent a technical expert. John Cahill, commissioner of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, explained in a letter to Harding that he had no interest in seeking "to lessen the severity of our Clean Air Act requirements" regarding "new source" restrictions that apply to such major sources of pollution as electric power plants. (New York is suing a number of out-of-state electric companies on the grounds that they failed to follow new source rules by failing to install modern pollution controls during major plant modifications.)

Cahill added that "I do not believe that a reduction in these requirements is warranted and would not support a recommendation calling for the removal of these requirements from the Clean Air Act."

Though his initial plan was scuttled, Harding seems determined to press on. Associated Press reports that "Harding said he hoped to meet with industry representatives at a later date."