Surrounded by the Great Lakes, the world’s largest source of fresh water, and boasting more than its share of natural beauty, Michigan has an attractive environment that is well worth protecting and preserving.
But a package of bills passed by the heavily Republican state Senate under a dishonest claim of “helping the business climate” aims to reduce the state’s ability to protect the environment for the public good and provide leadership on Great Lakes issues.
These bills would prevent state agencies from issuing environmental rules that are more stringent than federal regulations, unless authorized by the legislature; require state agencies to analyze the impact of any new environmental rules on small businesses; require new environmental rules to be compared to those of other Great Lakes states; and allow time-consuming and cumbersome legislative committee hearings on proposed environmental rules.
The Senate package illustrates the usual conservative attitude that the world is our toilet and business owners are free to be slobs if it improves their short-term profit margins. This short-sighted and narrow-minded approach completely ignores the widespread benefits of maintaining a clean environment and preserving natural beauty, such as avoiding cleanup costs and preventing harm to human health and safety.
As it is, Michigan governors have had to take action exceeding federal requirements on their own to protect the environment when the legislature failed to act. Three of the most prominent such actions were taken to improve water quality. In 1976, then-Gov. William Milliken, a Republican, banned phosphate-laden detergents, a major contributor to algae growth in Lake Erie. This move helped to save the lake, which was becoming moribund. More recently, former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm required reduced mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, which harm fish; and tightened permit requirements for waste lagoons maintained by huge animal farming operations.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder claims to be environmentally friendly. This package of bills is now before the state House, where it deserves to die, but given the large Republican majority, has a good chance of passage. Should the House approve the package, Snyder will face a major test that will demonstrate whether he really cares about the environment and has the backbone to stand up to his fellow Republicans, who want to tie his hands. Would a veto be forthcoming?