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Republican Legislature makes moves toward undoing Whitmer’s DEQ order

Michigan Capitol building in Lansing on a summer day.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order to restructure the Department of Environmental Quality could be overturned before any changes are made.

Some Republicans don’t like that Whitmer’s executive order gets rid of several environmental oversight panels that were put in place by state law last year. The state House passed a measure to undo the order Wednesday, before a Senate committee reviewed the order Thursday.

Representative Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance) chairs the committee that considered and then passed the measure.

“Nobody up here is debating whether or not the governor has a right to reorganize her departments,” said Sheppard. “What we’re debating right now is that this executive order wipes out something that was done legislatively, just a few months ago, with the stroke of a pen.”

The House measure went from committee to a full floor vote within hours. Now a Senate committee has held a hearing on the order. 

Amber McCann is a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). She said overturning the order is not his first choice and he wants to continue discussions with Whitmer.

“The majority leader, I think has made clear with all things that process is important to him, that an open line of communication is important,” said McCann.

Some Republicans in the House also said they would prefer if Whitmer would rescind the order and sign an order that includes all the other parts but the part that gets rid of the panels.

But Thursday's Senate hearing moved the order one step closer to passage. Democrats in the Legislature are fighting the move. Senator Jim Ananich (D - Flint) says he’s fine with the Senate committee reviewing the executive order. But he says it would be a bad idea to get rid of it.

Ananich says, “I think there’s ways to get together and say okay is there a way to get the result we wanted?”

If the Senate also passes a concurrent resolution, Whitmer’s order will be overturned. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R - Jackson) says the Legislature has a responsibility to consider orders enacted by the governor.

“These kinds of things are important, they’re big, they’re broad, and if we don’t spend enough time on them there could be things…unintended consequences. Either direction.”

Whitmer’s Legislative Affairs Director, Greg Bird, sent a letter to the Legislature. It says the order makes state government, “more efficient, responsive and effective by reducing bureaucracy.”

While the state House was considering its measure to undo the order, Whitmer announced that she had asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for her opinion on the legality of two of the panels.

“From high lead levels to PFAS contamination to foul-smelling emissions, the people of Michigan have faced increasing threats to our drinking water, air, the Great Lakes, and our overall public health,” Whitmer said in a statement. “These commissions create unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that get in the way of our state government responding to problems with drinking water quickly, and their creation may violate federal requirements under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. I look forward to hearing from Attorney General Nessel as we work to resolve this issue and ensure every community has clean, safe drinking water.”

The Legislature has 60 days to pass a measure in both chambers via a majority to block the order.

This post was updated Thursday, Feb. 7 at 4:50 p.m.

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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