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Report: State business group led talks for plant

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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — State business development officials led discussions with environmental regulators and a Detroit-area steel plant seeking to release higher amounts of toxins, according to a newspaper report.

Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the Michigan Economic Development Corp. set the agenda in a meeting on behalf of Dearborn-based Severstal, the Detroit Free Press reported (http://on.freep.com/1umseUN ) Sunday. The communications reveal the MEDC became involved after its chief executive, Michael Finney, and Gov. Rick Snyder attended a ceremony in June 2012 marking facility upgrades at Severstal.

The Department of Environmental Quality is considering whether to grant the Russian steelmaker a permit allowing it to release 725 times more lead into the air. The DEQ and officials with the Russian steelmaker said the change will not be an increase in pollutants; instead, it's what has already been sent out by the plant for years. The DEQ has said Severstal's 2006 emissions permit was based on incomplete data.

An email from September 2010 from MEDC business ombudsman Amy Banninga to Severstal attorneys and DEQ officials says that she wanted to suggest an agenda for an upcoming meeting that included a "grandfathering analysis." Such an analysis would explain why the company should be allowed to alter its 2006 permit and operate under six-year-old regulations.

The newspaper reported that DEQ officials had described the plant as having a "total disregard ... for the air quality requirements" in an August 2012 email. About a year later, the agency had adopted Severstal's arguments for avoiding modern pollution regulations.

Banninga said the task list mentioned in the email was established by DEQ and company officials. Further, she said, the MEDC was helping Severstal navigate interactions with state government, not advocating for the company.

DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said the department wasn't uncomfortable with the MEDC's involvement and compared it to inquiries and input from environmental groups.

Severstal spokeswoman Katya Pruett told the newspaper that since modifications were made in 2006 and the revised permit wouldn't change plant activities, the company should be required to follow "rules that were in effect at the time the project was constructed."

The plant has been cited more than two dozen times since 2010 by state and federal environmental regulators for pollution violations.

The company has invested more than $1.6 billion into the plant, including pollution control. Severstal formed its Severstal Dearborn operations when it purchased the nearly century-old Rouge Steel plant in 2004. It makes steel for the auto industry and others.

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com

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