By Nicole Sevrey
The Michigan House passed this week a three-bill package aimed at increasing transparency and accountability within the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The votes were mostly along party lines, with four Republicans voting no on the entire package (see how your legislator voted).
Senate Bills 652-654, supported by Michigan Farm Bureau, numerous commodity organizations and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, await a final concurrence vote by the Senate before heading to the Governor’s desk.
Leading up to the decision, nearly 200 farmers contacted their respective representatives, urging a yes vote.
According to Matt Smego, MFB’s government relations manager the legislation will increase transparency of unelected, bureaucratic decisions and increase stakeholder involvement through three new expert oversight groups.
Senate Bill 654 re-establishes an Environmental Science Advisory Board. Smego said Michigan operated a similar board in the 1990’s that was later abolished in 2007 by executive order.
“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,” he explained.
The bill prescribes that the board will consist of nine individuals, among others, with expertise in the following disciplines: engineering, environmental science, economics, chemistry, geology, physics, biology, human medicine, statistics, and risk assessment.
Senate Bill 652 creates a 12-member stakeholder committee to review and provide recommendations for DEQ rule promulgation.
Designed to enhance stakeholder engagement in environmental rulemaking (farmers included), Smego clarified that the proposed committee is only one stop in the decision-making tree.
“It’s important to remember the checks and balances already in place in the rule-making process,” Smego added. “The process should foster cooperative solutions that maintain environmental protection without creating undue regulatory burdens.”
The final piece, Senate Bill 653, forms a permit appeal panel that, upon request, would hear an appeal of a DEQ permit.
“This is similar to the structure currently in place for environmental remediation,” Smego said. “Like the rest of the bills, this should shed light on DEQ decision-making to ensure permit decisions are based on law and rule and supported by science.”
The bill further provides that an administrative law judge will be the final decision-maker for DEQ permits in contested cases, and that opinion may be reviewed by the DEQ appellate commission prior to a court action.