Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Just in case yesterday’s legislative hearing on the Flint Water Crisis has anyone laboring under the misapprehension that our legislative majority actually cares, please consider Senate Bill 827, which was introduced earlier this month by State Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba).
SB 827—cosponsored by Senators Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), Darwin Booher (R-Evart), Mike Green (R-Mayville), Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton), and David Robertson (R-Grand Blanc Township)—would make it substantially more difficult for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (“MDEQ”) to promulgate environmental and public-health regulations.
The MDEQ is responsible for issuing regulations regarding a number of issues, such as drinking-water safety, air quality, surface-water pollution, groundwater safety, and various other environmental concerns. For example, under Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act, the MDEQ is responsible for promulgating rules with respect to “[s]tate drinking water standards and associated monitoring requirements, the attainment and maintenance of which are necessary to protect the public health.” This includes rules pertaining to the maximum allowable level of certain contaminants (including lead) in municipal drinking water.
The MDEQ is also responsible for implementing regulations to combat air pollution and improve air quality. Pursuant to Part 55 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, the MDEQ is responsible for promulgating rules “to establish standards for ambient air quality and for emissions.” This statutory rulemaking authority includes “[c]ontrolling or prohibiting air pollution,” “[r]eviewing proposed locations of stationary emission sources,” “[p]rohibiting locations or modifications of emission sources that impair the state’s ability to meet federal ambient air quality standards,” “[e]stablishing suitable emission standards consistent with federal ambient air quality standards,” and “denying or revoking a permit to operate . . . equipment that would adversely affect human health or other conditions important to the life of the community.”
The Flint Water Crisis is not the only environmental tragedy unfolding in Michigan. Severe air-quality issues have plagued Southwest Detroit and the adjacent downriver communities for years. Take a drive through Detroit’s Delray, Boynton, and Carbon Works neighborhoods sometime; or visit the city of River Rouge. You’ll understand the problem immediately.
Sadly, the MDEQ has done precious little to combat the serious public-health emergency caused by low air quality, unacceptable particulate concentrations, and noxious industrial pollution in these overlooked, disadvantaged areas. And even more disturbingly, the MDEQ’s ability to control air pollution through the rulemaking process will be virtually eliminated if SB 827 ever becomes law.
SB 827 would create a rulemaking-oversight committee within the MDEQ, consisting of 11 members appointed directly by the governor. The bill would require the governor to appoint seven of these members from business and industry, including the solid waste industry, the manufacturing industry, the oil and gas industry, and the chamber of commerce. Only three of the members would represent environmental, conservation, or public-health interests. One member would represent local government. In other words, the seven members representing business and industry would always have the power to outvote or overrule the will of the remaining four members.
What exactly would the MDEQ rulemaking-oversight committee do? It would have the statutory power to veto all proposed MDEQ rules, including rules pertaining to water safety, air quality, or any other subject matter described above.
Under Michigan’s Administrative Procedures Act, the Michigan Legislature and its Joint Committee on Administrative Rules are already empowered to stop environmental and pubic-health regulations from taking effect if they are inconsistent with state statute, are arbitrary and capricious, or exceed the agency’s legislatively conferred rulemaking authority. But I guess this just isn’t enough. If SB 827 is enacted, the committee’s majority of manufacturing, oil-and-gas, solid-waste, and chamber-of-commerce representatives will be able to stop all proposed MDEQ rules before they’re even released for notice and public comment.