Overhauling How Michigan Regulates Industry

  • Governor Rick Snyder speaking at the Michigan Farm Bureau in 2010. (Photo by Lindsey Smith)

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee just passed a bill that contains some pretty major cuts to Great Lakes funding.

There are a couple of things being targeted:

One is Great Lakes Restoration money. That’s being used to clean up pollution, restore habitat and fight invasive species. That pot of money is facing a 17 percent cut.

There are also much bigger cuts aimed at a program that helps cities upgrade their sewage treatment plants… and keep the sewage from overflowing into rivers and lakes. That program’s getting cut by 55 percent.

Jeff Skelding directs the Healing our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He calls the bill a huge step backward.

“And let me be crystal clear on the following point: gutting clean water programs will not save the country money. In fact, it will cost us more.”

He says problems like sewage contamination on beaches and invasive species are getting worse.

The bill could come up for a full House vote as early as this weekend.

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This is the Environment Report.

Back when Governor Rick Snyder was on the campaign trail… he promised to make dramatic changes to the way the state regulates businesses.

“Our regulatory system is backwards in this state. Not only the amount of regulation, but how people are being treated. Lansing is treating us as if we’re bad and should be controlled.”

Now the state Legislature is trying to make good on that promise. There are two packages of bills – one that has passed the House and one that has passed the Senate. They have similar goals. The bills would prohibit the Governor – and also any state agency – from making a new rule that’s more stringent than federal standards. For example… the federal government has laws to protect Great Lakes water, but Michigan might want to make those laws stronger.

If these bills pass, only the Legislature would have that power.

James Clift is the policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. He calls these bills a power grab by the Legislature. He says it could lead to lawmakers intentionally stalling on new regulations.

“We could potentially see I think an erosion of our environmental protections. Where because of gridlock in the Legislature places where the Governor would step forward and protect Michigan’s natural resources or public would be prevented. And unfortunately that Pure Michigan we’re advertising around the country maybe starts to not be so pure anymore and maybe we don’t become that tourist destination state.”


He says federal laws aren’t always one size fits all. He says there are cases where Michigan needs stronger laws to protect unique resources.

“Most of the environmental laws at the federal level are designed to be a floor. States can’t drop below this point. But why would we want to have the laws that were designed to protect water in Arizona or New Mexico be the laws designed to protect the Great Lakes?”

Those special state laws could still be put into effect. But Clift says it could become much more difficult to do so.

Some people say state agencies have too much power.

Russ Harding is with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He says the state’s regulatory system hurts businesses… and job growth. He says elected officials should be the ones in charge of making new regulations.

“And that doesn’t mean that Michigan can’t regulate let’s say a Great Lakes issue where the state might want to decide to be more stringent than the federal government. They can do that. All it says is that legislators need to vote on that and make that decision not some unelected bureaucrat that is not accountable.”

Harding says state agencies should enforce laws, but not be able to make new laws.

Michigan lawmakers are expected to take this issue up again when they return in the fall.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.