The Michigan Senate recently passed a three-bill package—on a mostly party line vote (26-11)—to increase transparency and accountability within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Supported by Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB), numerous agricultural partners, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and others, the proposal is intended to strengthen faulty processes and increase stakeholder involvement. Even so, the legislation is facing some unjustified opposition according to Matt Smego, MFB’s state government relations manager.
“We’ve heard accusations that the proposal is an attempt by the business community to control DEQ decisions, and in fact we’re doing just the opposite,” said Smego. “We’re empowering the Governor to convene, and receive recommendations from, an independent science team to provide a second opinion to the DEQ and ensure we’re doing everything necessary to protect citizens from environmental threats.”
That team is the Environmental Science Advisory Board re-established within Senate Bill 654. It consists of nine individuals with expertise in one or more of the following disciplines: engineering, environmental science, economics, chemistry, geology, physics, biology, human medicine, statistics, and risk assessment. It also includes one legislator or one employee of any office, department or state agency. Michigan operated a similar board in the 1990’s, but it was abolished by executive order in 2007.
“It’s also important to remember the checks and balances already in place in the rule-making process,” Smego added. “The Environmental Rules Committee being proposed is only one stop in the decision-making tree.”
He explained that the 11-member stakeholder committee created within Senate Bill 652 would review, amend, deny and approve DEQ rule promulgation. It’s designed to enhance stakeholder engagement in environmental rulemaking (farmers included) in a proactive way and enabling them to work with DEQ to find a consensus solution.
The final piece, Senate Bill 653, forms a permit appeal board that, upon request, would hear an appeal by a permit applicant that has been denied by the DEQ. This is similar to the structure currently in place for environmental remediation.
“The legislation creates a better structure for a focus on cooperative solutions to maintain environmental protection without creating undue regulatory burdens, as well as ensuring farmers receive reliable communication from DEQ staff,” Smego said. “We will ask our members in the coming weeks to communicate this with their state representatives when the House considers the bill in the natural resources committee.”