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.