Gov. Whitmer signs law allowing Michigan to pass stricter environmental rules
- Michigan can now set stronger environmental standards than the federal government
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the new law Thursday, repealing a 2018 law limiting the state’s regulatory power
- Environmentalists argue the repeal helps rein in pollution; businesses counter it discourages economic development
LANSING — Michigan will now be able to set harsher environmental regulations than the federal standard, after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation expanding the state’s regulatory power Thursday.
The new law reverses a 2018 state law — also known as the “no stricter than federal” policy — that limited state authority, not allowing Michigan to set more stringent rules than the federal government in most cases.
The 2018 law — championed by Republicans and business groups but criticized by environmentalists — passed during the final days of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration. Under that law, agencies were required to follow federal standards unless they could demonstrate a “clear and convincing need” under “exceptional circumstances” for stricter regulations.
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Supporters of the Snyder-era law have long argued that, if the state adopted rules far more stringent than the national standard, it would risk discouraging investments and bring uncertainty for companies subject to those rules.
Amanda Fisher, lobbyist and state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, argued in a June 8 letter to lawmakers that federal regulations already “disproportionately” affect small businesses, which were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allowing the state to apply further restrictions, she said, would give “unelected bureaucrats more power with less justification and accountability to both legislators and taxpayers, including small business owners.”
But environmental groups and Democrats have said the 2018 law restricted the state’s ability to rein in certain types of chemical pollution, for which the federal government doesn’t have a standard, such as the spread of 1,4-Dioxane — an industrial compound used as a solvent to produce other chemicals — in drinking water in Ann Arbor.
Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer at the Michigan Environmental Council, urged lawmakers to repeal the 2018 law in a June 8 letter, calling it “clumsy” and “harmful.”
She said the law stripped the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy of the power to rein in air pollution, for example, when locals complained that the Ajax Asphalt plant in Flint and the Stellantis Detroit Assembly Complex worsened air quality.
“We should not have laws in place that tie our hands when overcoming challenges and threats that impact our state,” Jameson argued.
Repealing the “no stricter than federal” law was one of several environmental policy priorities for Democrats, as they gained control of both the governor’s office and the legislative majority in January for the first time in 40 years.
On Thursday, Democrats celebrated the signing of the law, arguing it would allow state agencies to better protect Michigan’s natural resources and tailor the policies to the state’s unique needs.
“We recognize that federal standards should be viewed as the floor, not the ceiling,” bill sponsor Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, said in a Thursday statement. “This law will ensure our state can act swiftly with the best science available in the future.”
But Republicans railed against the law, arguing it would enable the state to implement “harsh, complex, burdensome regulations.”
“We should be focused on helping people thrive while protecting the health and safety of Michiganders, but left-wing environmentalists want to cripple businesses with over-the-top regulations that are completely unnecessary and burdensome,” House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, said in a Thursday statement.
Other states already have adopted more stringent rules than the federal standards. California, for example, has stricter air emission standards under the federal Clean Air Act, which allowed a carve-out for the Golden State. The state has some of the strictest environmental rules in the country.
Whitmer on Thursday also signed several other laws into effect, including measures to encourage solar energy use, promote energy-efficient projects through collaborations between local governments and private businesses and help low-income families pay energy bills.
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