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Environmentalists say corporations will have 'outsized' voice on environmental regulations

Still from Casperson campaign video.
Senator Tom Casperson sponsored bills to give a larger voice to business and industry.

New laws signed by Governor Rick Snyder last Friday set up commissions to oversee the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Environmentalists say those commissions will be stacked with business and industry people and give them more influence in the environmental rulemaking process.

Senator Tom Casperson sponsored the bills. Since being elected, he’s tirelessly worked to reduce environmental regulations in the state. The Upper Peninsula official’s website bio indicates he worked for 27 years in his family’s log trucking business, including 12 years as its owner and operator.

During a Stateside interview earlier this year, Casperson indicated he thought too many staffers within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are influenced by environmentalists.

“We got to take the agenda part of it out of it and that’s what I believe is happening in too many cases with the Department. They have an agenda behind the scenes that they’re not telling us about and it’s driven by a viewpoint, but it’s not necessarily the will of what we want as a people,” he said. 

Casperson stressed he only wants to use what he views as more commonsense in protecting the environment.

“We’ve tried different approaches to put some reasonable standards in place and we keep running into roadblocks and problems within the Department. And so we’re trying to come up with something that levels the playing field not just for business – a lot of talk about business – but even the citizens of the state that own property and want to do something with it,” he said

Casperson only got some of what he original proposed. He wanted panels that could overrule the Department’s scientists. What he got is panels that give business and industry greater standing in the process.

Sean Hammond is with the Michigan Environment Council, which represents dozens of environmental organizations around the state. Hammond says one of the panels will be an advisory check on the DEQ.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Sean Hammond works on policy issues for the Michigan Environmental Council.

“Eleven or twelve members mostly stacked toward business and industry groups. They will advise the DEQ and the governor on all rulemaking in the state and can propose changes to rules, but the final say still rests with the governor and the DEQ head,” he explained.

Another panel will review appeals on permits for polluting air, water, and land.

“Which has two functions, one of which is an appeal during the permits process," said Hammond. "So, after you apply for a permit, you can apply for an appeal before the permit is denied to try to sort out technical issues in the permit. And at the end of the entire process, after you’ve challenged the permit before and administrative law judge, the panel has the final review before it goes to the courts."

Here’s the catch, though: A polluter who expects a component of the application might be questioned, can immediately appeal. The Department of Environmental Quality director must rule on that appeal within 100 days. That makes the entire application process a lot faster. There’s not enough time for to go through everything properly. It shortchanges the permit review.

A third panel will advise the governor and the DEQ on science.

The Michigan Environmental Council’s Sean Hammond says environmentalists already believe the State of Michigan’s pursuit of economic development despite environmental concerns is a problem.

“You already see some of this influence, but basically the appeals panel and the rules committee put that solidly in law,” Hammond said. 

The Michigan Environmental Council believes these new panels are completely unnecessary and damaging.

“We think that getting all the voices around the table is already happening in a way that’s fair and gives the governor kind of final say. We think this presents an outsized voice to industry in the process,” Hammond concluded.

Governor Snyder can appoint the members of all three commissions before he is term limited out. The commission members will serve four-year terms, leaving the next governor no choice but to deal with Snyder’s picks.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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