Call it an environmental oversight variation on the "Stockholm Syndrome."

State Department of Environmental Quality officials "" to the detriment of the environment they're hired to protect "" have apparently begun to identify with an oil and gas company charged with cleaning up groundwater pollution near the Au Sable River.

"Stockholm Syndrome" is the name given to a condition in which hostages begin after a time to empathize and eventually sympathize with their captors.

While DEQ officials overseeing the cleanup of groundwater pollution near Kolke Creek in Otsego County certainly aren't being held hostage by Merit Energy, the firm responsible for the cleanup, they seem to have shown an uncommon empathy for the company's plight.

The DEQ first approved a plan by Merit to dump up to 1.5 million gallons of treated groundwater a day from the cleanup site into Kolke Creek, which is a headwater of the Au Sable, a legendary trout stream.

When a fishing group and neighbors sued, the DEQ took Merit's side; state officials even turned a blind eye while Merit built a pipeline in anticipation of winning its case.

Merit lost and entered into a settlement agreement with the DEQ and the plaintiffs. But a week later the firm and the DEQ reneged on the deal and appealed. DEQ officials said they realized they could not issue the permits necessary to allow aerial dispersal of the polluted water on a nearby 40-acre parcel owned by Merit, even though the agency has already agreed to the alternative.

A DEQ official has now declared "we are left without any other option," but that appears to be a false choice. At least one other method "" deep-well injection "" has been discussed; and if a pipeline to Kolke Creek was possible, why not one to an alternate site?

What the DEQ seems to have also forgotten is that the onus for finding and paying for an acceptable disposal method is on Merit, not the state. That's "they," not "we."

The DEQ is supposed to be the people's advocate and watchdog. Right now it looks like we need a bit more of both.

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