Commentary
10:28 am
Wed November 16, 2011

Needed: Protection for The Great Lakes

In Lansing last week, the legislature put the finishing touches on a bill to prevent the various departments of our state government from issuing regulations stronger than federal ones.

That may sound a little odd, so let me explain. Let’s say we wanted to have clean water standards higher than those Washington requires. That ought to make sense. We are surrounded by the Great Lakes, which account for most of the fresh water in the entire Western Hemisphere. Preserving them is essential to our survival.

It would seem natural and proper that we should be concerned, maybe even obsessed, with protecting them. But members of the Republican majority in Lansing are obsessed with something else.

They are concerned with government overregulation. So they passed a bill that would prevent state departments from issuing rules and regulations that have stronger standards than those issued by Washington. Now, I can understand how they feel—to an extent.

Nobody sane can deny that there are cases of overregulation and overzealous bureaucracies. I know of a case where an auxiliary retirees group separated itself legally from a university.

The reason was that when they had a meeting, they were required to get three competitive bids to supply the coffee.

But there are two major things wrong with the bill -- known formally as HB 4326—now heading for the governor‘s desk.

First of all, there is a fundamental philosophical contradiction. Republicans are supposedly big on federalism.

They often complain about the federal government encroaching on the rights of state and local governments.

Except in this case, they want to tie state government’s hands and force it to bow to federal authority. Looked at another way, as things now stand, they are basically saying they trust President Obama more than they do Governor Snyder, or themselves.

But the more serious problem is that it puts our state at risk—and Congress proved this yesterday. As is well known, the Great Lakes face a major threat from invasive species.

Yet yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a law—HR 2838, for future reference—that weakens the standards for making sure ballast water is free of invasive species. Ballast water from ocean-going vessels is how we got zebra mussels and round gobies and all sorts of other damaging pests in the Great Lakes.

Former Republican State Senator Patty Birkholz is upset by this. She‘s now director of the Office of the Great Lakes, and says that since Michigan tightened its ballast water standards, no new pests have gotten into the lakes.

By the way, if this wasn’t bad enough, the U.S. House bill, which is actually mainly about funding the Coast Guard - would also allow a car ferry called the SS Badger to keep dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan, which is just, for want of a technical term, crazy.

We need to hope that two things happen. First, the U.S. Senate strips these environmental atrocities out of the Coast Guard funding bill, and second, that Governor Snyder has the courage and common sense to veto the nutty bill that would tie the state’s hands.

There are areas where we can afford to make mistakes. The Great Lakes aren’t one of them.