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E-M:/ UPDATE: DEQ/DNR BUDGET VOTES IN SENATE FAIL TO FIX MNFI PROB



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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SENATE VOTES ON DEQ & DNR BUDGET BILLS -- MICHIGAN NATURAL FEATURES PROGRAM
STATUS REMAINS IN LIMBO -- MICHIGAN HOUSE NEXT STOP

Enviro-Mich readers:

Thanks to all who have already taken actions to seek to assure the integrity
of the Michigan Natural Features Inventory Program (MNFI)!! Despite a
widespread outcry and a concerted effort to address the concerns raised by a
key Senator, the fate of the MNFI program looks only slightly more secure
today than it did last week.  The debate will now shift to the House of
Representatives after their spring break next week, and concerned supporters
of MNFI should make their points of view known to their own representatives!

Three appropriations bills affecting MNFI's fate were passed by the full
Senate this week, failing to resolve the gravest concerns, specifically
whether this program (whether part of The Nature Conservancy or not) will be
able to continue to function in its unique integrative role as Michigan's THE
comprehensive database for information about sensitive species and ecosystems.

In addition, as word about the potential fate of the MNFI's relationship with
state agencies has spread, it was has been pointed out to me that the language
as it now appears in these bills could put state agencies in a bind with
regard to meeting federal and/or state mandates related to numerous
environmental and natural resource laws and involving federal funding for
these programs.  Ironically, an unintended consequence of an effort to ensure
that "perceived conflicts of interest" do not taint the state's environmental
permitting process might be that permitting by the state could be put into
jeopardy, or slowed to a snail's pace as alternative arrangements are put into
place.

At the heart of this issue continues to be the contention by Senator Loren
Bennett that a "perceived conflict of interest" exists in TNC both running the
MNFI under contract with the state and TNC acquiring land for protection
purposes.  Compounding the problem is a clear belief that everything currently
done by MNFI can be broken up into little pieces and done by someone else
without the state missing a beat.  It is this second issue, the lack of
comprehension that this program is in fact much more than the sum of its
individual parts, that may pose the largest threat to the state's ability to
fulfill its mandates under federal and state law.

Details:

The three appropriations bills involved are the DEQ FY00 Budget Bill (SB
364), the DNR FY00 Budget Bill (SB 370), and the Supplemental Appropriations
Bill for FY99(SB 68).              

TRANSITION PLAN TO BE PREPARED BEFORE 9/30/99:

SB 68, the Supplemental Appropriations Bill offers the only positive news of
the three.  An amendment to this bill that was adopted on the Senate floor
directs the DNR to "prepare a transition plan for the maintenance of the
Michigan Natural Features Inventory database" to be presented to the
Legislative committees no later than 9/30/99 (end of FY99).  Both DNR and The
Nature Conservancy (TNC) have been open to the possibility that the MNFI could
be moved, intact, to a separate institution (either DNR, a university, or some
other appropriate agency), and this language at least allows for a "transition
plan" to be prepared.  The language, however, goes on to prohibit any
consideration of continuing the current arrangement between TNC and MNFI
("This plan shall not include a contract, for this purpose, with a
non-governmental organization that acquires land for endangered species
habitats.") This language would preclude even a study of continuing the
current arrangement, despite the fact that TNC may well be the best and
cheapest option. 

PERMIT REVIEWS BY MNFI PROHIBITTED:

SB 364 and, most likely, SB 370 will have provisions as they leave the Senate
that would prohibit the DEQ and DNR respectively from using the MNFI for
conducting any reviews of permits under consideration by the state as of
9/10/99.  With THOUSANDS of permits reviewed by MNFI every year to assure
compliance with the laws regarding sensitive species, the question is
beginning to emerge about who will do permit reviews, if not MNFI.  There is
good reason to believe that any alternative to MNFI will likely delay permit
consideration and decision making, and add cost to the review process for any
permits.  The quality of the information provided in the reviews might also be
expected to drop, at least temporarily, leaving permits increasingly
vulnerable to challenges in court or through demands for federal review.

TIME FRAME FOR TRANSITION MAY BE WAY TOO SHORT, THREATENING INTEGRITY OF MNFI
PROGRAM FUNCTIONS

SB 370 also prohibits any contracts between the DNR and the Nature Conservancy
for maintaining the MNFI Program functions as of September 30, 2000, without
allowing flexibility for the transition, or deciding to stay with TNC.  While
there is generally agreement that MNFI could theoretically be severed from TNC
without any negative impact on their functions, the deadline and lack of
flexibility raise grave concerns about maintaining MNFI's integrity.

An effect of a harming MNFI's integrity that seems to have been ignored to
date is that such a move could jeopardize the conditions of federal approvals
for the state's Threatened and Endangered Species Program.  In exploring this
concern I contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Service, whose job it is to
assure compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act and oversee the
delegation of authority to the state of Michigan.  At this early stage the
agency is not in a position to fully consider the potential consequences of
the language currently in the bills, but in answer to my questions some big
concerns were identified.  It was explained to me, for example that one
fundamental element of the delegation of authority and allocation of funds to
the state of Michigan over this program is the existence of "an accurate and
active" database system.  Compromising the ability of the state to assure the
existence of this information puts the state program at risk.  The
compromising of the state program delegation or funds could have effects on
state actions on state lands, such as timber sales on state forest lands, as
well as the permitting issues raised above.  

Another set of concerns raised in discussions with both the Forest Service and
the USF&WS is that in fact these federal agencies depend on the integrity of
the MNFI database for their work.  For example, the Forest Service is required
on any project to consider environmental effects, and the MNFI database is
what gives them requisite information for decisions on everything from timber
sales to campground design to Kirtland Warbler management.  The same is true
of every other agency that does management.  Again, while the specific
location of MNFI is not a critical concern, its integrity and function is, and
the language in the Senate passed version of SB 370 threatens that integrity.


ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE:

Contact you State Representatives now and during their spring break next week,
especially if they are on the House Appropriations Committee.  It is clear
that concerted efforts to craft a workable solution in the Senate fell short,
so it should be expected that the issue will demand a great deal of attention
in the House.

House Appropriations Committee (I don't have the subcommittee list here, but
the chair of the Subcommittee that will consider these issues is
Representative William Byl).  All addresses are House of Representatives,
Michigan State Capitol, Lansing, MI  48909.  All phone numbers start 517-373 

Name                                   phone # (all start 517 373 )
Chairman: Terry Geiger                  -6979
VC: Jon Jellema                         -8728
Cameron Brown                           -6970
William Byl                             -8728
Sandy Caul                              -5491
Patricia Godchaux                       -5965
Mark Jansen                             -7590
Ron Jelinek                             -5918
Janet Kukuk                             -5974
Charles LaSata                          -0256
David Mead                              -5919
Mickey Mortimer                         -5945
John Pappageorge                        -8660
Mike Pumford                            -9430
Judith Scranton                         -8728
Tony Stamas                             -6970
Laura Toy                               -5945
Minority Vice Chairman Hubert Price     -5061
Deb Cherry                              -8728
Hansen Clarke                           -5746
A.T. Frank                              -8728
Tom Kelly                               -5748
Lynne Martinez                          -9432
Steve Pestka                            -8881
Michael Prusi                           -5746
Keith Stallworth                        -7316
Paul Tesanovich                         -5746


END


















Senate Bill No. 364, DEQ Appropriations Bill

1.   Amend page 27, line 1, following "Sec. 218." by striking out the
balance of the section and inserting "Funds appropriated in part 1 for permit
review shall not be provided to a non-governmental organization that acquires
land for end angered species habitats. This prohibition does not apply to
universities or oth er educational institutions.".



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