Snyder signs 2 bills for more environmental oversight

The Detroit News

Two bills Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Friday creating additional oversight  for the state's Department of Environmental Quality are being called a sham by environmentalists for giving too much weight to polluters. 

The first bill creates the Environmental Rules Review Committee to oversee the DEQ's rule-making process. Voting members are appointed by the governor and represent waste management, manufacturing, small businesses, utilities, environmental, oil and gas conservancy and agricultural organizations. Local governments and public health professionals are also represented. 

The second bill creates the Environmental Permit Review Commission within the DEQ to advise the director on disputes related to permits and applications. It gives final decision-making ability on appeals of pending permit decisions to an administrative law judge. 

The governor said the pair of bills enhance the department's transparency and accountability.

"When state leaders make decisions impacting environmental quality, Michiganders deserve full transparency," Snyder said in a statement. "These bills enhance opportunities for independent experts to weigh in and provide information that will help ensure new environmental processes meet the highest levels of quality and safety standards."

But environmentalists don't agree.

"The people of Michigan deserve better than polluter panels making decisions about the quality of their air, water and health," said Cyndi Roper, the Michigan senior policy advocate for the National Resources Defense Council. "Weeks after Michigan was rightly celebrated for putting the nation's strongest protections in place against lead contamination of drinking water, Gov. Snyder is signing off on a system that would make similar improvements nearly impossible in the future."

Roper said it is "highly unlikely" the new polluter panels would have signed off on the state's Lead and Copper Rule reforms "if they'd been given the chance" or on policies regarding toxic waste, cleanups, sewage and toxic chemical dumping.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for Snyder, said several states — such as Indiana, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma — have commissions that "oversee and advise them on what" their environmental departments can do.

But Adler said these concerns are unwarranted because language that would have given these commissions and panels authority over the department was scratched from the bills early on.

"One of the key things the governor's office worked on with the legislature was when the bill got to the governor and he was ready to sign them, it was set up that these committees and commissions all served in an advisory capacity," he said. "We consider that a significant improvement."

Still, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters condemned the signing as "the fox guarding the hen house acts."

"We are deeply disappointed Governor Snyder signed this legislation that gives industries and polluters undue influence over the Department of Environmental Quality," said Lisa Wozniak, Executive Director of Michigan chapter. "At a time when communities across Michigan are grappling with contaminated drinking water, lawmakers should be focused on protecting the health of communities, not giving polluting industries power over environmental rule making."

Meanwhile, Snyder vetoed a third bill that would have directed the DEQ to adopt U.S. Coast Guard regulations on ballast water discharges, including an allowance for alternative management systems approved by a foreign administration.

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