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Issues Of The Environment: Controversial Bills Would Create Governor-Appointed Review Panel For MDEQ

Feb 28, 2018

Michigan State Senator Rebekah Warren
Credit Michigan State Democrats / senatedems.org

Last month, the Michigan Senate passed legislation that would lead to more oversight for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  The devil ,as they say, is in the details. IS it actually going to strengthen environmental protections?  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks to Michigan State Senator Rebekah Warren about her thoughts on the bills that are now before the State House of Representatives. 


Overview

  • In January, the Michigan Senate passed a trio of bills to create a governor-appointed oversight panel within the MDEQ.  All of the Republican senators supported the bills, and they are popular with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.  Senate Bills 652, 653, and 654 were passed on to the state House of Representatives, and they will be considered by the natural resources committee.
  • Senator Rebekah Warren and other Democratic state lawmakers are concerned because the 11-member review panel seems stacked with business and industry seats.  Just one seat is open to a representative of an environmental group.  The oversight panel will have the power to hear permit appeals, and it is able to review, amend or end all proposed environmental regulations. 

  • Senator Warren led the fight to oppose the bills, which Democrats say are the equivalent of letting industry regulate themselves.  Ironically, Democratic state lawmakers have been pushing an oversight panel for the MDEQ for years, and they had proposed bills in 2017 with the hope that a panel with multiple representatives of citizen groups and environmental groups would result. 

SB's 652, 653, 654

Senate Bill 652 (S-1) would amend the Administrative Procedures Act to establish the Environmental Rules Review Committee in the Office of Performance and Transformation (OPT) to oversee all rule-making of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).  The bill would do the following:

--    Require to DEQ to provide copies of draft proposed rules to the OPT and the Committee.

--    Require the Committee to determine whether the proposed rules met specified criteria.

--    Prohibit the DEQ from proceeding with the request for rule-making if the Committee determined that the proposed rules did not meet the criteria.

--    Require the Committee to hold a public hearing if the rules met the criteria.

--    Provide that the rules would be considered approved and would have to be processed as specified in the bill, if the Committee determined that revisions were not appropriate.

--    Allow the Committee to approve rules subject to revisions being made.

--    Require the DEQ Director and the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services each to select a science advisor to participate in Committee meetings and provide expert advice to it on relevant science-based issues.

Senate Bill 653 (S-1) would amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) to establish the Permit Appeal Panel, and do the following: 

--    Allow a permit applicant to submit a petition to appeal a decision of the DEQ regarding the approval or denial of a permit application or the content of a permit (a permit or operating license issued by the DEQ under NREPA).

--    Allow the DEQ Director to contact the petitioner regarding the issues in dispute and negotiate a resolution.

--    Require the Director, if the dispute were not resolved, to convene a meeting of an appeal board, which would consist of five members of the Appeal Panel selected by the Director.

--    Require the appeal board to make a decision, which could adopt, modify, or reverse, in whole or in part, the Department's decision.

--    Require the Director, after receiving the appeal board's decision, to issue a final decision incorporating the appeal board's decision into the terms of the permit.

--    Provide that, if the Director failed to do so, the decision of the appeal board would be considered the final decision of the Director.

--    Permit the final decision of the Director to be appealed as provided in the Administrative Procedures Act.

Senate Bill 654 (S-1) would amend NREPA to establish the Environmental Science Advisory Board to advise the Governor and any State office, agency, or department specified by the Governor on issues affecting the protection of the environment or the management of natural resources in Michigan.  The bill would do the following:

--    Require the Board to consist of nine members with expertise in specific areas who would be appointed by the Governor.

--    Require the chairperson of the Board, upon receiving a request from the Governor for advice on a particular issue, to convene a committee of the Board.

--    Require the committee to make recommendations on the issue to the Board, which would have to deliberate on the recommendations and provide written advice to the Governor.

--    Require advice provided by the Board to be based on specific factors listed in the bill.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu