Senate limits state environmental protections
By Eartha Jane Melzer | The Michigan Messenger 05.06.11 |

State could not be stricter than feds

The Michigan Senate has passed a bill that would block state agencies from making environmental rules that are stricter than federal requirements, prompting concerns from environmental advocacy groups.

According to an analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency:

Senate Bill 272 would do the following:

– Prohibit an agency from promulgating a rule more stringent than the applicable Federal standard unless specifically authorized by statute.
– Require an agency to adopt Federal rules and standards if it adopted rules to implement a federally delegated program.
– Specify that a guideline, operational memorandum, bulletin, interpretative statement, or form with instructions would be advisory only and could not be given the force and effect of law.
– Prohibit a rule from exceeding the rule-making delegation in its authorizing statute.
– Require an agency to consider exempting small business from a rule under certain circumstances and expand the methods by which an agency must reduce the economic impact of a rule on small business.
– Revise a provision pertaining to a challenge to the validity or applicability of a rule.
– Allow a court to award up to 10 times the cost of any permit fees plus actual and reasonable costs for witness and attorney fees if the court determined a rule-processing violation had occurred.

The new law could benefit Dow Chemical, which is responsible for dioxin contamination in the city of Midland, the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers and Saginaw Bay.

In 2009 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took lead responsibility for enforcing clean up of the watershed section of the contaminated zone, leaving the state responsible for working with Dow on pollution in the city of Midland where dioxin pollution has settled over much of the city.

Under federal rules dioxin at levels of 1000 parts per trillion requires cleanup. State law requires clean up at 90 ppt. With pollution in Midland at around 300 ppt, the Senate law could allow Dow to avoid difficult and expensive cleanup of the city.

In an online discussion of the law, Lone Tree Council leader Michelle Hurd Riddick said that political leaders in Midland and Dow Chemical have long argued that the state should apply EPA’s 1,000 ppt standard for dioxin.

EPA has acknowledged that its 1,000 ppt cleanup level is outdated and the agency has promised to update dioxin cleanup requirements to comport with current scientific understandings of the chemical’s toxicity, she said. This process, however, has been stalled under pressure from the chemical industry.

Wetland permitting is another area in which state environmental rules are more stringent than federal rules.

In a 2003 presentation on the differences between state and federal wetland rules former Dept. of Environmental Quality Director Stephen Chester said that that approximately 930,000 acres or 17 percent of all state wetlands are “isolated” wetlands — those not adjacent to the Great Lakes or inland lakes or streams — that are not clearly protected under the federal Clean Water Act.

In 2008 the Michigan Farm Bureau adopted a resolution that criticized DEQ protocols and asked to be regulated under federal law which allows more agriculture in and around wetlands without permits.

Cranberry farmers have been particularly troubled by state wetland rules, the group said.

The Senate action will hamstring efforts to protect the Great Lakes, the Michigan Environmental Council said.

In 1976 Gov. William Milliken reduced the algae beds that were covering Lake Erie by issuing an administrative rule limiting phosphorus, the group said. Under the Senate law, the governor would be blocked from taking such action.

“Federal standards to protect water quality are designed to be a minimum standard below which states are not allowed to drop. They are not written by people who feel a stewardship responsibility over one of the world’s most important freshwater resource,” MEC policy director James Clift said Thursday.

“It seems inconceivable that politicians in the Great Lakes State believe Washington bureaucrats will protect the lakes better than those who live here,” Clift said. But that’s what they’ve said with today’s vote.”

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.