LANSING, MI — Newly empowered Democrats in Michigan’s Legislature say they plan to repeal a four-year-old law that prevents the state from developing administrative regulations that are stricter than most federal peers.
Republicans passed the law, commonly described as no stricter than federal law, during the 2018 lame duck session, to the chagrin of groups who wanted Michigan to have the ability to pass stricter environmental protection measures than federal law requires.
That law “restricted our departments from proceeding with standards that may be a little more progressive and effective than the federal level,” Majority Chairman Sen. Sam Singh said during a Jan. 25 Bridge Michigan webinar on environmental priorities for Democrats , who now control the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Office of the Governor.
“We’ll save that.”
The 2018 law, sponsored by former Mancelona Republican Rep. Tristan Cole, largely prohibited the state from setting stricter rules than federal unless an agency director determined there was a “clear and compelling need.”
It was one of several pieces of legislation passed at the end of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s term that weakened or curtailed environmental, z-current toxicology in regulating pollution cleanup.
The law was opposed by environmental groups who said it would prevent Michigan from enacting state-specific regulations like tighter controls on ballast water pollution and lead in drinking water, which are stricter than federal norms.
A bill to repeal the law, SB 14, was introduced Jan. 17 by Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, who chairs the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) says it supports the repeal.
Charlotte Jameson, Michigan Environmental Council’s chief policy officer, said demand for rules the state can’t pass hasn’t built in the past four years, but the repeal of the law gives Michigan the flexibility to go beyond one-size-fits-all federal norms .
Without the law, Michigan would not have to reconsider its regulations should the Supreme Court change which wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act, she said.
“There’s no pent-up list of rules that we couldn’t implement,” Jameson said. “It’s more like this is a nonsensical way of creating environmental legislation. No one in their right mind thinks that federal standards should suffice under all circumstances. They should apply nationwide. We have the Great Lakes. Arizona not.”
Supporters of the law said it should provide regulatory certainty for the industry and improve Michigan’s competitiveness in attracting business and investment.
Mike Alaimo, director of environmental and energy affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said the law is an “important vehicle for setting the tone that regulators should not go beyond federal restrictions.”
“To be honest, this law was pretty watered down when it was originally passed,” Alaimo said. “We oppose (repeal) but it’s not something our members feel is an existential crisis.”
On Wednesday, Singh said Democrats would be eyeing other environmental reforms but indicated they would likely follow the initial push, priorities like repealing Michigan’s “right-to-work” laws, passing a tax break for working families and address cutting state taxes on old-age pensions; and repealing decades-old laws restricting access to abortion.
Filling vacancies in agencies like EGLE will be a priority when budgeting for the fiscal year, he said.
Singh also identified the development of a nationwide septic code as a priority, as well as additional budgeting to address the upcoming expiration of pandemic moratoria on water shutoff for residents who cannot afford to pay.
A bill in the Senate Housing and Human Services Committee that would require state agencies to establish criteria by which utilities would develop a water affordability plan for low-income customers, called the Human Right to Water Act, was introduced by Senator Rosemary Bayer , D., submitted -Ann Arbor, 18 January.
“We have a two-year window here,” Singh said. “We will use this time very systematically; Use of our committees, especially use of the budget.”
“I think our first look at water policy will be the budget,” Singh said. “The governor will be releasing this budget in two weeks, and you’ll see some of our subcommittees start looking at some of the water issues right away.”
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