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E-M:/ DNR and DEQ Budgets Pass Senate: Env. Amendments Fail

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.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 
 was completed.
 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 
 very effective.
 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 
 Anne Woiwode
 Sierra Club

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