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Whitmer signs executive orders restructuring DEQ, adding Michigan to US Climate Alliance

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provides money for habitat restoration, keeping invasive species out of the Lakes, and cleaning up polluted areas.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is restructuring the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Whitmer signed several measures Monday, including one that creates new offices in what will become the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The restructuring creates offices of public advocates for environmental justice and clean water, and it creates an interagency environmental justice response team.

Environmental groups called this a great first step.

“We know these things need to happen, and now we have kind of the groundwork to move forward,” said Sean Hammond of the Michigan Environmental Council.

Hammond said they’re also pleased the new restructuring will eliminate several boards and commissions created by the Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Snyder last year to oversee rulemaking in the DEQ.

“We opposed those panels throughout as really removing the authority from the governor to make decisions and putting it in the hands of these unelected panels,” said Hammond. “So this brings it right back to where it should be.”

Whitmer also entered Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance. That’s a bipartisan group of governors from more than a dozen other states focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The goals of the alliance are similar to those of the Paris Agreement, which President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of.

Whitmer pointed to the recent major fluctuation in temperature in Michigan – from polar vortex to mild, spring-like temperatures – as a reason to enter into the alliance.

“No one who’s lived here for the last five days can deny that we are in unique times and it calls for more aggressive action,” she said. “Thoughtful, informed, but swift action.”

Whitmer's office described the executive orders in a press release:

Executive Order 2019-2 restructures the Department of Environmental Quality as the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The executive order also creates new offices within the department, including the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate, the Office of the Environmental Justice Public Advocate, and the Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team. Executive Order 2019-3 strengthens the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) as an effort to inform the public about perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), locate contamination, and take action to protect sources of drinking water from these dangerous chemicals. Executive Directive 2019-12 enters Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors from 19 other states that have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Republican Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield has not yet gone over the new measures.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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