WUOMFM

Groups fight proposals to weaken DEQ

Feb 9, 2018

Pinkney Recreation Area
Credit Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

Some state lawmakers want to shift control of environmental rules from the Department of Environmental Quality to state-appointed boards, a move environmentalists say would put the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Senate Bill 652 would create an 11-member committee, mostly from industry groups like manufacturing, small business, oil and gas, and agriculture, to oversee all DEQ rule-making. And SB 653 would form another board with the ability to modify or reverse DEQ decisions.

Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, says there's a very good reason those industries are regulated by the state.

"It's the state's responsibility to protect us, to protect our air, and our land and our water," says Case. "To do just the opposite -- and turn it over to the people who have been, for years, polluting it -- is a constitutional violation, as far as I'm concerned."

A bill sponsor, Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, says the purpose is to counteract what he describes as "unreasonable views and agency overreach" in denying permits. However according to a scorecard assembled by the agency, in fiscal year 2017, the DEQ issued 7,447 permits and denied just 34.

Case points out that the DEQ has already been weakened by more than a decade of budget cuts and attrition.

"They've been underfunded, understaffed, so even when they want to do the right thing, they don't have the resources to do it," she says. "So, if you add something like these Senate bills, not only do they not have the resources, they no longer even have the authority."

Both Michigan bills await a review by the House Natural Resources Committee.