Michigan lawmakers passed a trio of bills Tuesday evening would create a panel to oversee the actions of the state Department of Environmental Quality. The legislation is now on its way to Governor Snyder’s desk.
The oversight panel will be made up of private industry representatives from sectors such as solid waste management, the oil and gas industry, and statewide environmental organizations, among others. It will also include two individuals who represent the greater public interest.
Proponents of the bill say it will help hold the MDEQ accountable and give citizens more say in the state’s environmental regulation.
But opponents of the bill, like Representative Yousef Rabhi, worry it will put the state's worst polluters in charge of the environment.
The MDEQ worked with corporations to set new standards for dioxane levels in the water in Rabhi’s district a few years ago. He says the corporations postponed the update for so long that some families ended up drinking poisoned water. He worries the creation of an oversight panel will make issues like that one more common.
“They delayed it a year, and they delayed it another year, and they delayed it another year, and it took us five, six years before we actually got an update on our one pollutant.”
Rabhi also thinks the panel could undermine the goals of the MDEQ.
“We had contaminated rivers, garbage everywhere, smokestacks that were spewing toxins into the environment. So we created laws to protect ourselves. And now we're basically saying those laws don't matter anymore.”
Senators David Robertson and Tom Casperson, sponsors of the bills, and Representative Lee Chatfield, the bills’ lead House supporter, were not available for comment.
Governor Snyder now has the final say on the bill, and Rabhi and other democrats and environmentalists are hoping he'll veto it.