LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A former BP lobbyist who Gov. Rick Snyder says has good crisis management skills will lead Michigan's environmental agency in the wake of fallout from the Flint water crisis, a move that drew criticism Thursday because of her ties to the company responsible for the disastrous 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Heidi Grether of Williamston will become Department of Environmental Quality director, effective Aug. 1, barring any unlikely objection from the Republican-controlled Senate. She has been the deputy director of the Michigan Agency for Energy for more than a year.
She previously worked at BP for about 20 years, mostly as state government affairs director, before managing external affairs in the Gulf after the oil spill. She formerly was a legislative aide in the Michigan Legislature.
"Heidi has decades of experience in environmental quality issues, and has effectively served during times of crises and recovery," Snyder said in a written statement. "Her expertise in delivering good customer service from a large organization will be of great value as we continue working to reinvent the department and act more proactively to address issues that arise."
The DEQ has been deemed primarily responsible for the lead-tainted tap water emergency that began when Flint's source was switched in 2014 while under state management. Director Dan Wyant and his communication director resigned in December, another manager was fired and two regulators were charged with crimes.
The interim director, Keith Creagh, whom Snyder credited for stepping in during a "very challenging time," will return to his post as director of the Department of Natural Resources.
The Republican governor's selection was criticized by environmental groups, a liberal advocacy organization, the state Democratic Party and a group of Flint activists, who have accused the administration of bending to business or other interests at the expense of protecting public health.
"The director of the DEQ should have a track record of protecting our environment, not lobbying for big oil to pollute our air, land and water," said Mike Berkowitz, legislative and political director for the Sierra Club's Michigan chapter.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said Grether "faces a steep climb in restoring trust that the MDEQ will have a culture of putting the public's health first."
At the energy agency, Grether managed the state's response federal requirements for reducing carbon emissions from power plants. The state, which had said it was on track to comply with the rules, suspended its plan in February after the U.S. Supreme Court put the regulations on hold until legal challenges are resolved.
Grether has bachelor's and master's degrees from Michigan State University.