[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]
E-M:/ DNR and DEQ Budgets Pass Senate: Env. Amendments Fail
Enviro-Mich message from firstname.lastname@example.org
The Senate today, on third reading, debated various amendments to the DEQ
Budget, shooting down all that were offered.
First, Alma Wheeler Smith moved an amendment to require the DEQ to
promulgate a rule to get on handle on the airborne mercury pollution
problems from coal-fired power plants in particular in Michigan. Citing
that 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan are contaminated with mercury to the
extent of needing advisories about eating the fish from those lakes, Smith
argued that such a rule was long overdue.
Senator Harry Gast, Chair of the Appropriations Committee speaking in
Senator Bennett's absence, said there is no information about the cost and
we should be concerned that such a rule could potentially lead to costs
that make electric rates in the state non-competitive.
Senator Ken Sikkema raised objections as well: 1) The legislature does not
have control over administrative rules any more, 2) this is a policy
decision that would go beyond current Federal Regulations (and he
challenged anyone on the floor to come up with what the fed regs currently
are) so should be assigned to the standing committee, not done through
amendment on an appropriations bill, and 3) Senator Peters had introduced
a bill just yesterday to address a similar issue.
Senator Alma Wheeler Smith responded that the legislature clearly has
power to act legislatively to direct a Department to promulgate rules.
More than that she noted the importance of taking action to protect public
health and natural resources, reiterating the statistic of 11,000 mercury
contaminated lakes -- "Should we sit by as we have the last 10 years, do
nothing and watch the resource decline?"
Senator Sikkema suggested that if they state embarks on this process,
they should not do it "willy-nilly", but should look comprehensively at
the whole mercury emissions process. Referring it to his Environment
Committee would do that.
Senator Alma Wheeler Smith pointed out that it is already known that
coal-fired power plants emit 33% of the mercury emitted in Michigan.
While hospital incinerators, as in the Peters bill, also emit mercury the
amount is about 10% AND local units of government are working with
hospitals to shut these down.
Senator Virgil Smith also rose to speak for the amendment, citing reports
just today in the papers about serious pollution problems. He called on
the Senators to vote for this step toward cleaning up a serious problem.
On a roll call vote the amendment failed, and the vote will be recorded in
the Journal for folks to check later.
Second amendment was by Senator Gary Peters seeking to reinsert language
from the House that would require the state to protect small, critical
wetlands on its own lands. He pointed out this effects only state lands,
so has no effect on private owners, but that these are important natural
resources and should be protected.
Senator Gast again spoke against the amendment. He pointed out first that
with the language having passed the House it is possible it could be
restored in the Conference Committee. But then he noted that a complete
inventory was needed of wetlands, not just on public lands but of all
wetlands, and said this type of policy should not be adopted until that
Senator Sikkema expressed sympathy for the issue, but was concerned about
the process, questioning if this should be done in the Appropriations
Bill. He committed to doing a thorough review in the Environment
committee, but also suggested the wetlands information must be updated.
Senator Peters thanked Mr. Sikkema for committing to take up this issue in
his committee. He pointed out that there is an inventory of wetlands, and
while it is old chances are the changes are in wetlands that have
disappeared since we aren't seeing new wetlands emerge. He called for
action before we lose more.
Roll call vote, 15 -22, FAILED (I don't think the vote was recorded)
Lastly, Senator Alma Wheeler Smith offered another amendment to prohibit
the DEQ from using Environmental Conservation Officers for security
purposes at meetings of the Department. She noted that in increasing ECO
staffing in past years the legislature did not intend that these staff be
used to provide security for the Director of DEQ or personnel at meetings.
There are many enforcement issues that these folks were hired to address,
and to use them in this way suggests that we have too many folks in these
jobs, which is simply not true.
Senator Gast again rose to oppose the amendment. He asked how prevalent a
problem this is? Is it based on one single incident? Unless there is
widespread abuse, the legislature should not tamper with this function.
He said such an issue does not warrant enactment of law.
Senator Joanne Emmons, on the other hand, opposed the amendment because
she thinks ECOs SHOULD be used for security. She didn't know about the
specific meeting Sen. Smith was dealing with, however in her area a lot of
angry people have shown up at DEQ meetings on controversial issues. She
said they need to protect DEQ employees, and unless they are going to
direct local police to provide protection at an untold cost, then she
wants the DEQ to have ability to use ECOs for this purpose.
Senator Alma Wheeler Smith said that legislators often go to meetings
where constituents are upset, but they don't take security with them. The
specific incident that raised this issue for her was at the Detroit Metro
Airport. The DEQ, for some reason, "imagined" a huge conflict was going
to occur over a closed meeting being held at the Airport. In fact, she
said, it was a completely peaceful demonstration protesting the meeting.
The boilerplate merely addresses a one year direction to the DEQ that the
ECOs were not hired to perform security functions at meetings, and they
should not be diverted from the important functions they are to serve.
DEQ exercised extremely poor judgement here, and this is direction from
the legislature not to do that again.
Senator Gast spoke again, using what he noted was a clumsy comparison. He
spoke of the incident in the Capitol last year where there was an uproar
created by people attending a hearing on taking away authority over
Detroit Schools from the School Board. He said he was glad that they had
had security there, and that the use of ECOs in limited situations can be
The amendment failed on a vote of approx 7 to 17 (don't think it was
Then the full DEQ budget passed.
The DNR budget came up, with one amendment added by Senator Jaye to
prohibit the redirection of funds from program areas to things like fixing
up the Director's office without seeking approval of the Senate
Appropriations Subcommittee. This was supported by the Subcom Chair,
George McManus, and passed the full Senate.
No other amendments were offered -- so the bill, with the infamous timber
mandate virtually unchanged from the House version, was passed by the full
ENVIRO-MICH: Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action. Archives at
Postings to: email@example.com For info, send email to
firstname.lastname@example.org with a one-line message body of "info enviro-mich"