Vetoed bill comes back
Friday, April 14, 2006
JEREMIAH STETTLER THE SAGINAW NEWS

Once vetoed as a poor protection of public health, the Homeowners Fairness Act is back at the state Capitol with designs to restrict the state's ability to label any property as contaminated.

Since Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm rejected it in December, lawmakers are taking a slightly different approach that they believe will keep an "out-of-control" regulators from trouncing on homeowner rights.

Three Republicans have introduced three bills that would keep the state from including any property in a contaminated "facility" without testing it. The bills also require regulators to use peer-reviewed studies about dioxin uptake and exposure when devising cleanup plans.

By having three bills and "engaging" the governor a second time, legislators say they are banking on better results that will protect property rights along the dioxin-tainted Tittabawassee River and throughout Michigan.

One bill deviates from the original Homeowner Fairness Act by proposing that the state adopt a higher threshold for dioxin cleanup. Instead of going with the state contamination standard of 90 parts per trillion, legislators want to adopt the federal action level of 1,000 parts per trillion.

"There is no question that the (Department of Environmental Quality) is out of control," said state Sen. Michael J. Goschka, a Brant Republican who is sponsoring one of the bills. "It is a department run amok. I want to give the governor something she will sign."

Goschka, state Rep. John A. Moolenaar and state Sen. Tony Stamas are leading the charge. Moolenaar and Stamas are both Midland Republicans.

State law now denies homeowners due process and exposes communities to considerable economic harm, they say.

"This continues to be an open sore," Moolenaar said. "For people who would like to move to mid-Michigan or invest in mid-Michigan, uncertainty is a barrier. We have opportunity to constructively solve this problem and give residents the confidence that we are doing our job."

The DEQ remains vigorously opposed to the legislation as a destructive change to the state's cleanup laws. "These bills are not the right answer for Michigan," said Robert McCann, a DEQ spokesman.

Instead, the legislation could drive up cleanup costs and slow the state's response to contamination, he said.

McCann said the proposed package adds a particular problem to the law -- the adoption of a relaxed cleanup standard for dioxin. He said the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry never intended its 1,000 parts per trillion action level to serve as a standard for long-term cleanup.

If adopted at the state level, he said, it could keep the state from dealing with contamination completely.

The federal action level is based on better science than the 90 parts per trillion the state uses, said Moolenaar, who added the standard also will give regulators the "flexibility" to set site-specific cleanup levels.

"We are offering an opportunity for the governor to work with us and get this done for the people of Michigan," he said. v

Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.
 


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