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Three new DEQ panels created under new bills

December 5, 2017

Article courtesy of MIRS News Service

Three new business-supported oversight panels would be created within the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) under legislation considered Wednesday by a Senate committee.

One 12-member committee would review any DEQ rule change proposal. Another 15-member committee would create a permit appeal process for rejected DEQ permits. And the third would be a science advisory board that would give the Governor advice on specific issues.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee heard Wednesday afternoon from representatives of the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Manufacturers Association on how these panels would increase “stakeholder engagement” in a process that can be adversarial, they said.

Matt Smego of the Michigan Farm Bureau testified that the bills would increase transparency through processes that either existed in Michigan or other states.

“Our members believe that Michigan’s regulatory structure must foster economic growth by providing policy makers with a clear understanding of the impact of regulations on business before supporting new ones,” Smego said.

Former Gov. John Engler created the Environmental Science Advisory Board in 1992 to help navigate his administration through technical issues like those involving chlorine, according to MMA’s Andy Such. It tackled 18 issues before former Gov. Jennifer Granholm dissolved the body.

SB 0654, sponsored by Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), would cement the Science Board in to statute.

The permit appeals board came from the Farm Bureau and concerns from farmers that the DEQ wasn’t taking specific scientific information into account when turning down development permits, among other things, Smego said.

SB 0653, sponsored by Sen. Darwin Booher (R-Evart), would create the Permit Appeal Panel that would include a professional geologist or someone with a similar background. It would also include someone educated in air or water science.

And SB 0652, sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), creates the oversight board for DEQ rules, which was pushed by the state Chamber and modeled after a similar board in Indiana. It comes after a current “problematic process that has created more division than agreement between the DEQ and stakeholders,” said the Chamber’s Jason Geer.

“If the process remains in place long-term, it will only lead to a more challenging regulatory environment,” Geer said.

James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) wasn’t buying any of it. He expressed concerns about delegating power to industries or people who have a “directly private financial interest in the outcome.”

If industry were able to clog up a needed rule or policy change, it would be more prone to “ignore the impacts on residents,” Clift said.

Shifting accountability to an unelected board of gubernatorial appointees could result in increased litigation and would “undermine our current structure of government.”

“Let’s not put the fox in charge of the henhouse,” Clift said.

However, the bills were supported by the local chambers, landfill management, DTE and the gas/oil lobby, among other industry leaders.

Casperson, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said he was only taking testimony on the bills Wednesday.

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