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E-M:/ MESB vs MERB vs "sound science" vs ???

One of the problems we face as the E-M debate rages over the Michigan Environmental Sciences Board is getting to the question that really matters -- how does Michigan deal with setting policies in a way that actually takes into account objective, supportable scientific documentation?  The best information in the world can have an effect on policy ONLY if there is a way to assure it must be compiled, properly vetted and applied to address the issues or opportunities at hand. 


One of the more insidious problems with establishing the MESB was that it was intentionally designed to be a selective tool used by politicians to direct a debate one way or another. The scientists were not free to take on the issues they thought should be tackled -- its like telling a doctor to only look for one or two diseases instead of being free to come to her or his own conclusions.  It almost doesn’t matter whether the science was sound -- its design allowed politicians to divert attention away from the real issue, which is that bad policy makers make bad policies.  As I was told early in my career in Michigan, too often when it comes to policy and legislation, facts don’t matter.


The recent stripping by the MI Supreme Court of the ready access to courts to any person to protect the environment of Michigan should send us back to look not only at the Michigan Environmental Protection Act but at the executive orders signed by Governor William Milliken which actually implemented environmental review requirements for Michigan.  The Michigan Environmental Review Board and an interagency panel of state departments were established by Milliken to try to assure that “facts” would matter in policy decision making by allowed the requirement of environmental impact studies and consideration of the many factors that may come into play in causing environmental problems.  


MERB never worked entirely the way it should have, but at its best it provided a public forum for raising and addressing the legitimate concerns of anyone regarding a proposed on on-going issue.  When Governor Blanchard dissolved MERB, NOTHING took its place -- we have been without environmental review as a fundamental concept of proper consideration of environmental issues for more than 15 years in Michigan.  Blanchard’s decision was supposed to lead to an alternative -- the brief tenure of the Council on Environmental Quality, headed by Dave Dempsey, produced a draft environmental review policy that was never signed by Blanchard, although it reportedly was on his desk when he lost his re-election to John Engler.


As important as it is to look back and see what did and did not work, our goal has to be to do it better, to assure that the best possible decisions are made on the most complete, current information.  We have both moved forward and slipped back many times, but it is abundantly clear that many components have had an impact here -- lack of funds, lack of legal authority, lack of skill, lack of will as well as lack of accurate and complete information have all been players in our shortcomings.   I would suggest that the demand should be to move toward getting it right.






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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