Snyder renews call for cleanup, water fees: ‘Look at Parchment’

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley talk fee proposal on Aug. 30, 2018.

Lansing — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is asking the Michigan Legislature to consider new or increased fees for environmental cleanup efforts and water infrastructure upgrades when they return to session next week.

The lame-duck governor could face an uphill battle in the GOP-led state Legislature, but he renewed his call Thursday with support from the powerful Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Farm Bureau.

Snyder issued a warning to lawmakers who might be reluctant to raise fees in an election year.

“Look at Parchment,” he said, referencing the Kalamazoo County community whose public water system was contaminated by PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

The governor’s plan calls for a 11-fold increase in tipping fees for trash haulers that dump in Michigan landfills to no more than $3.99 per ton from 36 cents, which the administration says is currently the lowest rate in the nation.

The landfill fee, a replacement for nearly depleted bonding money from 1998, would generate an estimated $69 million. It would cover $45 million to clean up brownfield and PFAS sites, $9 million focused on solid waste management issues and $15 million to try to raise the state's 15 percent recycling rate.

Snyder also wants to create a new fee for water system customers — the equivalent of about $20 per household or up to $400 for businesses — to raise money to help local governments update aging water infrastructure systems.

The fee would generate an estimated $110 million a year, including $50 million for an emergency fund, $45 million for a capital grant and loan program for local governments, $10 million for integrated asset management initiatives and $5 million for a water assistance grant program to help low-income residents struggling to pay their bills.

“It’s tough to ask your citizens to pay a fee, but this is about providing infrastructure – core things that are important things that government provides – that is important for our quality of life, our economy and our world,” Snyder said. “And I think it’s time to step up.”

Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature balked at the proposal earlier this year and did not include projected funding in the 2019 budget they negotiated with Snyder.

Any action on the fee proposal would be more likely after the Nov. 6 general election, during what is commonly referred to as the “lame-duck session.”

House Speaker Tom Leonard, a DeWitt Republican competing with Democrat Dana Nessel to be the state’s next attorney general, does not personally support the proposed fees, said spokesman Gideon D’Assandro.

“The last time they were discussed in the House, there was not sufficient support for taking them up,” he said.

Snyder is hoping allies at the Michigan Chamber and Farm Bureau will help bring lawmakers to the table for negotiations. State Rep. Larry Inman, R-Traverse City, and state Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, sponsored enacting legislation and are expected to lead the legislative push in the House and Senate.

Inman, who is running for re-election, said he’ll urge colleagues to join him in preventing a “pending tsunami” of water and environmental woes across the state.

“We have a serious problem on our hands, and we have to face this particular situation with or without an election pending on Nov. 6,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do now.”

Michigan Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley said he is confident lawmakers can reach agreement on a solution that includes “reasonable user fees.” Focusing on environmental infrastructure is an important “next step” to ensure a solid state economy, he said.

“We have got to seize the opportunity to do a better job cleaning up these sites,” Studley said, pointing to brownfield properties in need of environmental remediation, “bringing them to closure, getting them back on the property tax rolls and into use.”

As the state continues to test water systems across the state for PFAS, Snyder said the contamination in Parchment “reinforces the need for both these fees.”

The source of contamination is still under investigation, but Snyder said it “likely” involved a brownfield site “where there may not be a responsible party.” The water fee could have helped provide emergency funding to cover costs when Parchment connected to Kalamazoo’s water supply, he said. 

PFAS chemicals have also been detected in Michigan lakes and drinking water in West Michigan’s Belmont area and around military installations including Wurtsmith Air Force Base and Sawyer Air Force Base. They have been used in firefighting foams, food packaged in the materials, and in commercial household products or manufacturing facilities.

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