GUEST COMMENTARY – Sierra Club concerned with new Michigan environmental laws

SUBMITTED BY THE SIERRA CLUB

Governor Snyder Signs Bills Giving Polluting Industries Control Over Environmental Protections in Michigan

Today Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law two bills which allow industry lobbyists to rewrite the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) rulebook and overrule MDEQ permit decisions.

Now signed into law, Senate Bills 652-653 will ultimately lead to more environmental and public health disasters like the Flint water crisis, toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, Nestle’s massive Great Lakes water withdrawal, and toxic air pollution hot spots in Detroit.

Over two thousand Sierra Club activists contacted Gov. Snyder since the bills were passed to demand that he veto these dangerous bills, but he failed to do so.

These bills will prevent impacted communities and residents concerned about industry pollution from having any say in permit and rule decisions.

“Michigan, like the rest of the nation, has already been robbed of our best protections against dangerous air and water pollution since Scott Pruitt took control of EPA,” said Rhonda Anderson, Organizing Manager for Sierra Club. “Now that this legislation has been signed by Governor Snyder, we’ll have our own Pruitt right here in Michigan, with polluting industries in direct control of our state environmental agency. Communities are already facing unacceptable levels of toxins and pollution in our state. The crisis in Flint has yet to be addressed. Now that Governor Snyder has given away control of our environmental protections in Michigan to big polluters, we are facing an unprecedented crisis of environmental injustice and public health.”

Gov. Snyder has also failed to implement recommendations developed by the Environmental Justice Work Group that he himself created following direct recommendations from the Flint Water Advisory Task Force and the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee’s Policy Subcommittee.

The Work Group, which includes many prominent environmental justice community leaders, submitted their recommendations in March but have yet to see any response from the Governor.

“These bills give industry lobbyists and special interest groups overreaching powers into public health decisions,” said Michelle Martinez, Statewide Coordinator for the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition.

“The levels of cancer and cardiovascular disease for our elders, and asthma in children, in areas of Southeast Michigan are costing our families billions of dollars every year, and for some residents forcing them to make harsh decision between medication and other life essentials. Why continue to roll back protections for clean air and clean water now after such staggering crisis like Flint? Instead we should be looking at implementing the Environmental Justice Recommendations put forth– which have been sitting on Snyder’s desk since March– they provide real solutions, and steps to protect the Great Lakes and safeguard their residents today and in the future.”

MDEQ already has a slipshod track record on public health.

Allowing polluting industry officials to regulate themselves sets the state up for further health crises and long-lasting environmental degradation.

“The lack of transparency, poor responsiveness to public concerns, and continued negligence of the Michigan DEQ violates basic human rights,” said Mike Berkowitz, Legislative and Political Director for the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

“A public forum for community members to call attention to dangerous environmental problems, and to hold in check political pressure on agency staff is absolutely essential. Governor Snyder’s decision to sign these bills is a slap in the face to front-line communities dealing with environmental injustices and will further degrade the DEQ’s already terrible pattern of not listening to citizen concerns.”

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