The Sierra Club launched a public relations campaign Tuesday aimed at DTE Energy. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is considering major changes to the way Michigan regulates air emissions — a potentially cost-reducing initiative that pleases industry but has some environmental groups concerned about the potential health impact on residents.
Last month, an air quality committee composed of industry representatives, environmental groups and state officials recommended cutting the number of chemicals subject to air emissions limitation rules by 37 percent — to 756 from more than 1,200.
It’s a move state Department of Environmental Quality officials argue brings Michigan in line with most other states. The state currently tracks more chemicals than are required by the federal government — leading Michigan to share the distinction with Texas of regulating more chemicals than the rest of the states across the country.
The regulatory reform also would help area industries keep up with out-of-state competition by reducing air emission costs.
“Michigan and only a few other states have an open-ended definition of what’s regulated — no strictly defined list,” said Robert Stills, a supervisor with DEQ’s Air Quality Division. “Around the country, there aren’t many states with that kind of approach.”
But some environmental groups argue the Snyder administration proposal would be harmful. Guy Williams, president and CEO of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, said he sees it playing out poorly for the residents his group works to help. The proposed rules “give the state government the ability to reduce current protections,” Williams said in a written response to questions. “And given the air and health conditions in our region and city, this is intolerable.”
On Tuesday, the Sierra Club of Michigan launched a public relations campaign aimed at DTE Energy, one of the industries represented on the panel that produced the proposals. The campaign targets its reliance on coal-burning power plants and the emissions they release.
For more than two years, Michigan’s Office of Regulatory Reinvention has been reviewing the state’s approach to regulating air emissions for the first time since 1998. Under the proposal, no cancer-causing chemicals will be removed from Michigan’s list of regulated air toxins. Other chemicals that fall in the upper end of toxicity — the highest 75 percent — will remain regulated as well. But chemicals in the bottom 25 percent would not be under the state’s purview.
“The main benefit is greater certainty and efficiency for the regulated community,” said Sharon Basel, communication manager for environment and energy for General Motors Co.
The automobile manufacturer was one of several companies represented on the ORR’s committee, which included Dow Chemical Co. of Midland; Wolverine Power Cooperative in Cadillac, which supplies energy to rural areas in the Lower Peninsula; and Consumers Energy, the Jackson-based utility.
The air quality committee report is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks and sent to the Snyder administration for approval. It could be put into effect in the next year.
If the recommendations are approved, Michigan would also cease regulating chemicals for which no hard data is available about health effects. New chemicals used in the state’s plants and factories, for instance, would be considered safe, even if scientific studies have not been conducted to prove it.