Michigan Tech, U.P. firms grow in response to environmental laws

Michigan State Roundup

Published October 1, 1992  | October 1992 issue

Fueled by federal and state environmental regulations, Michigan Technological University in Houghton has seen its environmental engineering bachelor's degree program grow from 25 graduates six years ago to about 275 students currently.

According to Neil Hutzler, director of the university's Environmental Engineering Center, Michigan Tech's program is one of only 15 similar programs in the country. In addition to providing a base for graduate level research, the Environmental Engineering Center houses one of four programs funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nationwide devoted to research of industrial environmental problems. Michigan Tech, as the lead university in a consortium that includes the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin—Madison, received $1.25 million in federal EPA funding to work with industry in developing clean industrial and clean treatment technologies.

One local business that has grown as a result of increased environmental regulations is MJ Environmental Consultants Inc. in Marquette. Gregory Johnson and his wife started their environmental consulting firm two years ago with two employees; now that number has grown to more than 30. The firm relies on the know-how of a number of specialists: hydrogeologists, geologists, biologists, chemists, planners, and mechanical and environmental engineers.

Greg Johnson, MJ's principal hydrogeologist, says that while a business knows what needs to be done to comply with environmental laws, it will look to firms like MJ for scientific expertise to actually solve the problem.

And business will also look to federal and state programs for funding to achieve compliance. MJ's business of leaky underground storage tank removal has increased largely because funds are available through the Michigan Underground Storage Tank Financial Assurance Act.

"We allow development to progress" Johnson says, by removing ground contaminants from a site. "Without firms like MJ, you can't build new buildings, and you stifle economic growth," Johnson adds.

And Michigan Tech's Hutzler says compliance with environmental regulations is becoming a way of life for industry. "Besides," he adds, "it's cheaper to hire engineers than it is to hire lawyers."

Kathy Cobb