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Analysis finds sharp partisan shift and deregulation in Michigan's environmental laws

Jan 15, 2015

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Our environment laws in Michigan have become sharply more partisan in the past 14 years.

That statement comes from an analysis by MIRS News in Lansing. Reporter Craig Mauger examined about 200 new laws that the Michigan Legislature enacted from 2000 to 2014. 

He noted several changes.

"We have seen a pretty dramatic shift in both the nature of the type of environmental laws that Legislature is approving, and also how partisan the votes are on these laws. Over just a period of about 10 years, you've seen the laws become more about easing regulations and working more closely with businesses and less about specifically trying to protect different facets of the environment."

MIRS did a more thorough examination of two particular data sets, 2001-2004 and 2011-2014, to show the shift from laws that favored increased regulation to ones that called for deregulation.  

More closely, MIRS examined the nature of the 47 environmental protection laws put in place from 2001 to 2004 and compared them to the 41 put in place from 2011 to 2014. Seven years apart, those periods reveal major differences in the types of environmental laws that gained final approval. From 2001 to 2004, 44 of the 47 new laws — or about 93 percent —increased regulations, exclusively sought to protect the environment or extended sunsets on fees levied against businesses. Only three of the 47 laws — or about 6 percent — had a specific impact of decreasing regulations or lifting governmental burden.

Then, there are 41 laws from 2011 to 2014. Of those, only 10 — or about 24% — increased regulations, exclusively sought to protect the environment or extended sunsets on fees levied against businesses. Meanwhile, 31 of the environmental laws enacted from 2011 to 2014 — or about 75 percent — decreased regulations or lifted the governmental burden placed on businesses.

Term limits and recession left lawmakers with tough choices

In his report, Mauger says the reasons for this shift are complex:

Some say it has to do with Gov. Rick Snyder's efforts to overhaul the state's regulatory approach. Some say larger national trends are at play: an increase of money in politics; a move to the right by Republicans; or possibly, an overall increase in political partisanship. Still, others say the deep economic recession has altered how lawmakers weight environmental protection versus economic impact."

He added that the recession left lawmakers with the difficult choice of choosing between economic benefit and environmental benefit. Additionally, term limits have lead to a change in who is in office. 

"What's happened over the years, if you talk to people who watch environmental law, is that a lot of Republicans who were previously very pro-environment have left and there aren't a ton of Republicans now who get positive scores from groups like the Sierra Club or the League of Conservation Voters," Mauger said.