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E-M:/ deq employees blast wetlands program



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Enviro-Mich message from Dave Dempsey <davemec@voyager.net>
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For Immediate Release: Thursday, September 24,1998  
Contact: Rob Perks (202)
265-7337

WETLANDS PROGRAM A "PAPER TIGER", SAY DEQ EMPLOYEES
LAX ENFORCEMENT; 80 % OF VIOLATIONS IGNORED

Washington, D. C...Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
today released a  white paper written by employees within the Michigan
Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) detailing how the very agency
charged with protecting Michigan's diminishing wetlands has aided in their
illegal destruction, primarily by undermining essential law enforcement. 

In Michigan, thousands of environmentally sensitive acres of Great Lakes
shorelines, inland lakes and streams are being developed at a rapid pace.
Meanwhile, hundreds of citizen complaints of wetlands violations are
ignored by DEQ or never even entered into
the agency's computer tracking system.  An estimated 80 percent of all
registered complaints are simply closed without investigation.

"Michigan's wetland regulatory program had long been touted as one of the
bestin the country. According to DEQ employees, the program is now just a
shadow of its former self -- a paper tiger," stated PEER National Field
Director Rob
Perks.  "The less than six million acres of remaining wetlands in the state
are
jeopardized by poor management based on politics, not science or the law."  
 
The PEER report, entitled SEE NO EVIL: The Gutting of Michigan's Wetlands
Protections, traces how, under the Engler Administration, the DEQ has
systematically undermined the state's once-solid wetland protection program by
gutting wetland compliance efforts, diluting permit standards, intimidating
staff to issue questionable permits and discouraging any attempts at law
enforcement:   

* No Enforcement Personnel.  The split engineered by the Engler Administration
between the DNR and DEQ has effectively removed enforcement officers from
environmental regulatory matters within the purview of DEQ.  Fully 93
percent of
the trained law enforcement officers stayed with DNR, leaving the DEQ,
Michigan's premier environmental regulatory agency,  with only a handful of
cops on the beat.

* Disincentives to Enforce.   In DEQ, field biologists have been told that
enforcement should be one of their lowest priorities.  Field personnel who
persist in pursuing violations are transferred or reassigned, leaving
remaining staff with a clear message that enforcement cases are no longer
welcome.    
    
* Political Interference Strangles Even Isolated Enforcement.  The Engler
Administration has made it possible for elected legislators to intervene
into ongoing enforcement cases.  Pending criminal prosecutions are
routinely sidetracked, crippling both the credibility of the enforcement
program and the morale of field staff.  As a consequence, criminal
prosecutions for wetlands violations in 1996 fell to nearly half the
average number of cases filed in the previous five years.

"Since the creation of DEQ three years ago, efforts to protect wetlands have
been systematically undercut.  Employees have been pressured to issue
development permits and to ignore violations," commented Perks.  "As a
result, a
generation of wetlands protection in Michigan's wetlands has been largely
dismantled through policies instituted by appointees of Governor John Engler."

- - 30 - -

Copies of See No Evil are available upon request.

PEER is a national alliance of state and federal employees working within
pollution control, land management and wildlife protection agencies. Based
in Washington, D.C. and with a network of field offices from California to
Florida, PEER is working in twenty states and nearly a dozen federal
agencies to promote environmental ethics and governmental accountability.



Dave Dempsey
Policy Director
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette, Suite 2A
Lansing, MI 48912
davemec@voyager.net
www.mienv.org

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