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WMEAC: Michigan’s natural resources should not be bargaining chips

• Dec 17, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Michiganders are ready for a change at the top. The proof is in Gretchen Whitmer’s success in the gubernatorial race for 2019.

Whitmer won in part due to campaigning on responsible environmental initiatives like restoring the 1998 Clean Michigan initiative to clean up PFAS, shutting down Line 5 to avoid an ecological nightmare, creating a statewide curbside recycling program and investing in a blue economy.

However, although it used to be a non-partisan issue, environmental policy has become a party-specific boiling point, and we’ve watched politics become less about compromise and solution and more about sticking it to the other side, dragging environmental policy along as a polarizing bargaining chip.

And so, in the political parlance of our times, before the GOP hands over the highest office in the state to Gretchen Whitmer on New Year’s Day, they’re spending their last “lame duck” days in office wrangling a herd of bad environmental bills through the Legislature.

The first is Senate Bill 1197, which seeks to preserve Enbridge's Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. On Dec. 5, senators in Lansing passed legislation to create an authority group to oversee Gov. Snyder’s proposed protective tunnel for Line 5, a pipeline that Whitmer has said she will immediately begin the legal process to remove upon taking office. The governor signed this bill on Dec. 12.

Even more pressing is the fate of Senate Bill 1211, which Lansing will vote on any day now. The bill stands to deregulate more than half of Michigan’s protected wetlands, allowing for filling, dredging and construction on some 4,200 Michigan lakes and approximately 500,000 acres of wetlands. Michigan is one of only two states allowed to manage and regulate its own wetlands (New Jersey being the other). Passage of this bill would likely strip our right to do so and return wetland regulations to the federal level.

No Stricter Than Federal (HB 4205) bars local government in Michigan from adopting any environmental policy that is stricter than federal standards unless specifically mandated by state law. Basically, this bill significantly slows down state response time when enacting responsive solutions to environmental emergencies, like the current PFAS epidemic, for example. As of Nov. 12, HB 4205 had passed and will cross the governor’s desk before Dec. 31.

While we’re on the subject of PFAS, Senate Bill 1244 would limit Michigan lawmakers to relying on outdated science when determining how to clean up toxic sites. Specifically, the bill would only allow the state to use studies the EPA has approved to gather information on toxic chemical exposure. Federal agencies are often slower to approve scientific limits based on scientific findings than more nimble state agencies who can conduct real-time field research in coordination with universities and state-based researchers.

And then there’s the Mining Authorization Act (SB 1210), which would effectively ignore local government’s voice when it comes to mining projects in their communities. The bill states its purpose as to “prohibit a local unit of government from preventing, prohibiting or denying a permit, approval or other authorization for the mining of natural resources.” To reject a mine, local government would have to spend taxpayer money to prove mining would cause significant environmental damage.

House Bills 6532–6536 would repeal Michigan’s can and bottle deposit recycling program, an initiative pioneered by the 1976 Michigan Beverage Containers Law that contributes to more than 90 percent of Michigan's beverage containers being recycled each year.

These are just a few of the bills that will round out the last few weeks of Snyder’s run as governor; there are many more. SB 1254 nearly negates the recently passed anti-gerrymandering bill, SB 1248-1252 creates a “Fair Political Practices” squad that will sap duties from the secretary of state, HB 5752 and 5753 will remove tools local governments use to ensure septic systems are safely maintained, and there are more still.

Perhaps some legislators believe Michiganders aren’t watching after a hectic election season that we won’t notice a slew of slipshod bills heading to the governor. But it’s our job to notice.

Use resources like the Michigan League of Conservation Voters or sign up for WMEAC action alerts at our website (wmeac.org/advocate) to keep an eye on pending bills for Snyder to sign or veto before the year ends, and call his office to express your concern over the consequences of passing bad environmental policy when we need stringent protections, now more than ever.

Whatever your political leanings are, if you agree with Gov.-elect Whitmer or not, Michigan’s lakes, streams, beaches and wetlands are not bargaining chips to be used to trip the other side up; they’re our home and that’s a non-partisan issue.

About the writer: Dylan Tarr is the ecojournalism intern for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

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