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E-M:/ MI on course to turn env. protection back to the Bush EPA?

One of the most important arenas for debate about the future of Michigan’s badly frayed and desperately underfunded environmental protection infrastructure is also one of the least accessible and least engaging:  Appropriations hearings in the subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.


This week, at last, there is increasingly good documentation by the DEQ of the REAL consequences of taking the path advocated in testimony by the Michigan Manufacturers Association, Farm Bureau and others suggesting that there is room to cut a lot more “fat” out of the DEQ budget.  Comments at hearings before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Environmental Quality over the past few weeks have contained many jabs at DEQ programs with sweeping and often misleading information.  


At yesterday’s hearing DEQ Director Steve Chester and other top level staff presented clear documentation, both written and verbal, about the impact that additional cuts or failure to reauthorize a range of fees charged for permits designed to pay, in some cases entirely, for enforcement, permitting etc. to protect the environment.  Many who have watched this list know that the DEQ’s General Fund dollars today are less than 1/3 what that environmental battering ram Russ Harding had to work with when he ran the show.  The state is increasingly dependent on fees for a variety of environmental programs to fund programs to prevent and protect us from water pollution, air pollution, etc. 


Like an economic perfect storm on top of the overall generic mess of funding state government that is capturing headlines regarding schools, prisons, healthcare, etc., the DEQ is facing the expiration of multiple fees, the drastic underfunding of many programs even with fees, and the problem of raging ideologues for whom the best gov’t appears to be no gov’t at all. Damn the pollution, cut back our fees!


Yesterday, at long last, a compilation of the actual impacts of the thousand small cuts that are causing protection of our land, water and air to bleed to death was provided in a way that helps explain a bit better the real consequences of following the ideologues’ way.  Below I have pasted in JUST the wetlands program piece, but this will give a very good idea of what is up.  There is also information that I hope DEQ can post and let us know about on Air quality, Groundwater, NPDES programs (including debunking claims on the voluntary MAEAP program vs. CAFO NPDES permitting). 


PLEASE take a moment and let the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee members that Michigan needs a strong, appropriately funded DEQ, that you oppose decisions that will force the return of programs to the Bush EPA, and that reauthorizing fees and adequately funding Michgian’s environmental enforcement efforts is essential!  Contact the Subcommittee members at:

Senator Valde Garcia, Chair, at: SenVGarcia@senate.michigan.gov,

Senator Alan Cropsey at SenACropsey@senate.michigan.gov and

Senator Liz Brater at SenLBrater@senate.michigan.gov)


(The below document was prepared by the Michigan DEQ and submitted at the May 31 hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Dept. of Environmental Quality budget)


Benefits of Administering a Federally Authorized State Wetland Permit Program



Since 1984, the DEQ has been approved to administer a combined state-federal wetland permit program under Michigan’s Part 303, and Section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act.  If the wetlands program were returned to the federal government, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) would resume administration of permit applications for the entire state, under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversight.


·   Michigan’s Section 404 program would be rescinded by US EPA.   The 4,000 or more individuals and businesses that need inland lakes and streams permits for construction activities would then need to obtain separate Section 404 permits from the Corps.  


·   There is no statutory deadline for processing of Corps permit applications.  The number of days to receive a permit from the Corps as compared to that in Michigan under the LWMD program are:


Corps              LWMD

General Permits                                                      313                    49

Individual Permits (Public Notice Required)           788                    99


·   Legislature would have to repeal Part 303 – Wetlands Protection, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.


·   Parties who contest regulatory decisions would have more limited appeal options through federal rather than state courts.   State and local officials would have significantly less input into permit decisions and timing.


·   Even if the state program is eliminated the Corps would still be required to obtain a state water quality certification from the DEQ under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act before a federal permit could issue.   Applicants would also have to obtain certification from the DEQ that the projects was consistent with the State’s coastal management program.   These processes are currently handled by LWMD as part of the state-administered consolidated permit program.


·   The Corps would still require applicants to coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act, and with the State Historic Preservation Office under the National Historic Preservation Act, prior to permit issuance.  Under the current state-administered program, the DEQ incorporates coordination with these agencies into its routine permit review.

·    The DEQ currently coordinates issuance of permits for transportation projects with the MDOT and other public transportation agencies.  State transportation projects would be faced with significant delays. 


·     Two recent studies highlight the economic value on these wetland benefits:

o  As reported in March 2006, Ducks Unlimited hired an expert economic consultant to help determine the economic importance of Great Lakes coastal marshes.  This study concluded that present day value of Saginaw Bay wetlands for recreation alone is $239 million. 

Based on a literature review, the value of other ecosystem services provided by wetlands (such as flood storage and water quality protection) was estimated at $10,573 per acre per year.

o  In April of 2007, the State of New Jersey reported on the economic value of all of their natural resources.   Wetlands provided the largest dollar value of ecosystem services:  $9.4 billion per year for freshwater wetlands.   Valuable services provided by wetlands included buffering of floods, storm surges and similar events, and water filtration and water supply for freshwater wetlands. 


The bottom line:  Return of wetland regulation to the federal agencies would mean relinquishing control of this component of Michigan’s economic portfolio to federal agencies that are beyond the control of the state. 



Anne M. Woiwode, State Director, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter  - 109 E. Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906

517-484-2372    fax 517-484-3108 -- anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org 

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter celebrating our 40th Anniversary on September 9, 2007

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