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GM’s Environmental Legacy

In addition to making its financial obligations more manageable, GM’s government-structured bankruptcy eliminated responsibility for polluted properties at discarded plant sites. Residents in beleaguered Flint, MI recognize that the eccentric bankruptcy slights more than mother nature:

In Flint, uncertainty over cleaning up Buick City threatens a three-year redevelopment effort. “We can’t lose this opportunity to create more jobs,” said Tim Herman, chief executive officer of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The State of New York is concerned about 12 GM sites, including a 270-acre site along the St. Lawrence River that possesses a “significant threat to human health.” Sites in Ohio, Delaware, Indiana and Colorado also have raised concerns.

GM said the issue rested with Motors Liquidation Co. — what’s left of the old GM — which declined to comment.

But can we really blame GM for its position? It’s simply been given a free pass on $500 million+ in cleanup. Instead, the lion’s share of the blame should lie with a government that’s too eager too often to let pecuniary trump environmental concerns. In this instance, it is holding neither GM nor itself responsible for the cleanup. So, the burden will most likely fall on the (very) hypothetical individuals who will purchase this contaminated land in the future.

Officials fear the practical outcome of GM’s bankruptcy on their local sites will be large chunks of land sitting unused with no way to clean them up, hindering economic-development efforts.

"It’s very, very difficult to get another company to come in and take over a property where there is a legacy contamination problem that has remained unaddressed," said Robert McCann, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

"That would ultimately shift the likely cleanup to the state, but our cleanup program is more or less out of money at this point, so we don’t have the resources to do it, either."

"We could go 200 years, and Massena [New York town once home to a GM plant] is not going to have enough money to pay for this," said Jason Clark, who heads the area’s business development corporation.

As a bright spot in all this, the New York Attorney General’s office went to the courts in an attempt to hold the government responsible for these sites. It was unsuccessful, but this is yet another progressive pillar on which NY AG Andrew Cuomo could run for his state’s governorship in 2010. Or, as Alex Thurston has floated, for the presidency in 2016.

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Lance Steagall

Lance Steagall

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