Business Choices: EPA Fines Vs. Cleaning Up

March 22, 2004
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It was just a year ago that the Environmental Protection Agency was ready to begin tough, new air pollution regulations and levy sanctions against West Michigan. Area chambers of commerce and political leaders have been able to make a case of defense by pointing to transport pollution coming from states to the West, but it is an uneasy truce. The specter of such an economic burden in difficult economic times is far more unsettling than making business decisions that are environmentally friendly and that ultimately lessen the causes of pollution.

The facts of West Michigan’s continued urban sprawl — and its rank as the fifth worst sprawling area in the country — are significant contributions to noncompliance issues. The Grand Valley Metropolitan Council and West Michigan Strategic Alliance are targeting that issue specifically, and, as indicated in this space last week, are including the Home & Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids in the discussion.

Some private businesses are more actively searching to become part of the solution. Building reuse and LEED certification are much more often represented in Business Journal headlines these days. The sustained efforts of public company Steelcase are a West Michigan legacy.

So, too, are the growing efforts of Crystal Flash, which last August began sales of soy diesel fuel to the general public. What is most heartening in the Crystal Flash story is the public response: CF President Tom Fehsenfeld has seen sales that are double the expectation. The farming community and trucking companies have been quick to use the product and complimentary of the results. Of particular interest is Fehsenfeld’s expansion to the marinas on the lakeshore. What might we call the stinkpots that no longer stink?

Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute has been using the 20 percent soy blend fuel in both its vessels and the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research laboratory in Muskegon has used the 100 percent soy diesel for three seasons. Its marine superintendent regards it as “an outstanding success in every aspect,” noting that they prefer biodiesel because of its absence of odor, and the boat is cleaner for lack of black, sooty exhaust. And the engine runs cleaner. We might note that the research lab ship was built in the 1950s; it is not one of the newer models designed for the advent of biodiesel.

The recreational use of powerboats will pack marinas on the lakeshore for the next six months. One can hope the operators are given choices this year. Crystal Flash has provided for Michigan State University campus maintenance trucks and its agricultural equipment, for Catholic Central, West Catholic and Zeeland Public School buses and for Verhey Motor Coach Co. While the biodiesel fuel is slightly more expensive, those using the product have reported an increase in mileage and performance and a decrease in maintenance costs.

Michigan’s Great Lakes have a great choice this year.    

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