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Whitmer’s plans to restructure DEQ are dead – for now

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

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to restructure the state Department of Environmental Quality is dead. The Senate voted to overturn the order on Thursday. That was the final vote the Republican-led Legislature needed to eliminate Whitmer’s order.

The main reason Republicans didn’t like the order is because it would have eliminated several environmental oversight panels they created last year. Those panels are able to, in part, overrule the DEQ’s decision on permits. Business organizations came out in favor of the panels.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) says those panels open the door for special interests having the final say on pollution.

"They just voted to allow polluters to have a free pass and the citizens of Michigan took it on the chin,” he says.

But Republicans say the panels protect citizens from potential overreach by the department. Senator Ed McBroom (R-Dickinson) chairs the committee that passed the measure to eliminate Whitmer’s order. He says the panels provide valuable oversight of the DEQ.

“Who’s taking the complaints about the department that abuses the people? Who’s watching the watcher?” says McBroom.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) says he’s open to continuing the conversation with Whitmer about restructuring the department.

“I think our process was very deliberate, very specific, very thorough,” he says.

Whitmer says she wanted to get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy. A spokesperson for the governor says Whitmer will continue to try to restructure the department to ensure clean drinking water and safeguard public health.

Whitmer has asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for an opinion on the legality of those panels.

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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