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Bill to make it tougher to pass regulations in Michigan heads to Snyder

Update: Gov. Snyder signs Michigan lame-duck bills opposed by environmentalists​
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

LANSING — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will decide whether to make it harder for state agencies to adopt regulations stricter than those of the federal government.

In a 57-51 vote Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House signed off on minor Senate amendments to House Bill 4205, which supporters say would help Michigan attract and maintain businesses that want uniform standards.

Critics call the measure part of power grab in the lame-duck session that would limit powers of Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and her ability to craft unique solutions to Michigan’s problems — including the industrial contamination being found in drinking water.

Related: In lame duck, all eyes are on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

The bill applies to all agencies, but exempts rulemaking related to special education.

It would allow new rules stricter than Washington’s only if an agency shows a “clear and convincing” need due to “exceptional circumstances.” The legislation also exempts temporary rules adopted during emergencies.

“This is helping transparency and helping elected officials, if you will, be more in charge of this process versus unelected bureaucrats,” bill sponsor Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, told reporters Tuesday.

Democrats contend the legislation would hamstring Whitmer from creating drinking water standards, especially as they relate to the PFAS chemical threat. That’s because the federal EPA lacks any standards on the once-common chemicals used in a host of materials from non-stick cookware to firefighting foam.

This legislation is a direct threat to our ability to protect residents from harmful water coming out of their taps,” Rep. Winnie Brinks, D- Grand Rapids, said on the House floor.

Industry groups such as the Farm Bureau and Michigan Manufacturers Association have supported the bill. They say agencies would retain flexibility over rules, as long as they offered sound justification for doing so.

Critics call the “clear and convincing” standard a high bar to meet in court, and contended the rule would make agencies more vulnerable to litigation.

Cole said he did not intend to impede state action on PFAS or another contaminants. He told Bridge last week he was working on language to clarify that Michigan could easily adopt its own standards when Washington has none.

But Cole made no such changes on Tuesday, telling reporters they were unnecessary, based upon conversations with other House members and legal counsel.

Following the House’s narrow vote, Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, asked to be removed as a cosponsor of the bill. She was among a group of Republicans who voted against the legislation.

The bill now heads to Snyder’s desk. His signature would cap the proposal’s sudden revival after Whitmer defeated  Republican Bill Schuette last month in the governor’s race.

Cole proposed the bill in February 2017. It cleared the House the next May before languishing in the Senate.

The Senate abruptly amended and approved the bill last week.

Snyder vetoed similar but more rigid legislation in 2011. The previous bill that did not allow agencies to offer any argument for crafting regulations stricter than those of the federal government.

Snyder has not said whether he will sign the new bill on his desk, but Cole said he worked with Republican governor's office. 

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