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March 6, 2002 — GM is not thy brother's keeper


To say City Pulse hit a nerve with its May 1, 2002, cover is an understatement. In Goliath fashion, The Keep GM movement was in full throttle in 2002. City Pulse’s David was Brian McKenna, an environmental journalist with time on his hands. When an Ann Arbor environmental group proposed that GM offset the higher pollution standards it was seeking for its new Delta Township plant by lowering pollution at its paint plant on Verlinden Street in Lansing, the Establishment went nuts, and McKenna went to work in a column on March 8, 2002. He returned to the subject at length on May 1, and we turned to Justin Bilicki, who had been an editorial cartoonist at The State News, to portray then Mayor David Hollister as a human scale of justice that favored GM over the public’s health.

You might think Lansing Mayor David Hollister 's office is the PR arm of General Motors.

Last week the mayor reconvened the "Keep GM Blue Ribbon Committee" in an emergency attempt to convince Westside Lansing residents to keep silent when the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality offers them the chance to appeal GM's request for a permit to increase its federally monitored toxic gas emissions on the already over-gassed community.

At stake is the health, well-being and quality of life of residents of about 1,800 households, including schoolchildren in four schools, who suffer headaches, watery eyes and asthma attacks after decades of frustration over poor air quality.

Or is it?

From the Keep GM committee's perspective, the stakes are elsewhere. "We've gotten signals from Detroit. They've threatened to back out of the Delta plant if there is an appeal," said David Weiner, Hollister's chief aide. "At risk are 18,000 jobs and $10 billion by 2020. GM has opened new plants in Mississippi and Alabama, and the trend is to go South. Everything we've worked for during the past five years can go up in smoke," he said.

"Please don't appeal," a Delta supervisor pleaded to Westside citizens at Thursday's meeting.

The Lansing State Journal reinforces this view with misleading headlines ("Residents Reject GM Proposal," Feb. 28, when in fact most residents have not rejected it and are still actively negotiating with GM), erroneous statistics (claiming that GM proposed reducing Craft Centre emissions by 28 percent when in fact GM proposed increasing them by 270 tons, Feb. 28), glaring factual omissions (e.g., no coverage of the Michigan Public Health Institute's "Framework for Assessing Environmental Health" report, which asserts that toxic gases, like those released from GM, may contribute to heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and death), and toothless editorials (e.g., "GM Makes Good Faith Efforts to Lower Emissions, " Feb. 27).

The meta-message: GM is being reasonable and its Westside neighbors are selfish spoilers.


Indeed, the opposite is true. Westside citizens have long endured unreasonable assaults on their quality of life from federally recognized toxins that GM, for many years, denied even existed.

For decades GM has broken toxic permit levels and suffered little or no fines. The mainstream press has refused to publish asthma statistics produced by Joanne G. Hogan, a statistics specialist with the Department of Community Health, which show that youths in zip code 48915 - the Westside area - have an asthma hospitalization rate of is 50.3 per 10,000, the highest in Lansing.

If you put aside fine-tuned debates about what constitutes a "legitimate health" effect, the plain fact is GM has already ruined the quality of life for thousands of Westside residents. Rather than raising the federally recognized toxic load, they should be paying compensation. In Coburg, Ore., last year, residents sued Monaco Coach Corp. for similar problems and won.

Several months into the crisis, one essential fact remains the same: GM doesn't care about the health and wellbeing of Westside citizens, just like it didn't care about the people of Flint. GM has yet to offer to spend a thin dime on pollution abatement equipment to help resolve the matter. Instead, the world's most profitable corporation wraps itself in the American flag, makes threats to leave and offers a few crumbs to its neighbors.

"Without the hurdle of the public participation permitting process, nobody would be listening to us," said Mulcahey.

It's called democracy, something the auto giant views as an impediment to conducting business.

City and state officials have demonstrated that they will continue to appease GM rather than make them clean up their act. Westside citizens are pondering a response.

Follow-up May 8, 2002

We got word Monday that Lansing Mayor David Hollister has ordered city employees not to speak to anyone from City Pulse…Is it just a coincidence that it came during a week in which the mayor was featured on the cover of City Pulse under the headline "The Hollister/GM Offensive: Fear & Profits versus the People's Health"? A story for which the mayor was unavailable for comment. Or that inside the paper, City Pulse raised questions about the mayor's handpicked public relations firm, Kolt & Serkaian? A story for which the mayor was also unavailable for comment.

(In both cases, he was unavailable before he decided he just wasn't talking to us anymore. Being unavailable for comment makes it difficult to be fair to him.)

This too shall pass. Meanwhile, City Pulse will have to work a little harder to get information. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The media are too reliant on the usual sources anyway.

Hollister’s censorship stood until the ACLU intervened, pointing out he was violating city employees’ First Amendment rights to free speech. In a memo to them, Hollister said they could speak to City Pulse but didn’t have to. “Second Shift,” a just-published book on the Keep GM Movement, Hollister and his co-authors write about the challenges of “controlling the media.” “Most, if not all, media came around.”It’s safe to say City Pulse did not come around to being controlled.


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