Michigan Dems renew push to kill panels that give industry say in regulations
- Michigan Democrats are continuing their push to repeal Snyder-era laws that limited state environmental regulators’ power
- They are considering a trio of bills to eliminate outside review panels that give industry a bigger voice in state decisions
Michigan Democrats are continuing their push to expand state environmental regulators’ power, this time targeting oversight boards created during the administration of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder that environmentalists call “polluter panels.”
On Thursday, a House committee considered Senate Bills 393 and 394 to repeal the Environmental Science Advisory Board and the Environmental Permit Review Commission, two of three bodies that Republicans created in 2018 to give industry a greater voice in state environmental decisions.
The panels are made up of appointees who can challenge decisions made by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy at the request of outside groups.
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Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, who is sponsoring the bills, called the permit review panels “just flat-out overhead” that waste time and money because members rarely disagree with regulators’ decisions.
Testifying Thursday, state officials said each petition can take hundreds of hours to review, forcing EGLE to dedicate multiple staffers to the panel.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has already abolished the Environmental Science Advisory Board, making Bayer’s bill to eliminate that body mere housekeeping.
The effort has support from environmental groups and opposition from some business groups, such as the Michigan Farm Bureau.
Those groups tend to argue that the commissions’ existence keeps state regulators honest.
“Decision-making for the environment is made with the thought that it’ll be filtered with that commission, so only good rules are being promulgated,” Rep. David Martin, R-Davidson, said at Thursday’s hearing.
The Democratic push is part of a struggle between liberal and conservative interests over how much power regulators should have to interpret and enforce laws.
Republicans generally argue that onerous regulations are bad for business, while Democrats argue strong rules protect the environment.
At the federal level, momentum in that struggle has recently shifted in conservatives’ favor, following years of effort to appoint conservative judges to the federal bench.
But liberals have the momentum in Michigan, where Democrats control both legislative chambers and the executive branch for the first time in decades.
In addition to the push to abolish the panels, Democrats are sponsoring bills that would restore EGLE’s power to make water quality rules and give regulators more power to force cleanups at contaminated industrial sites.
The bills considered Thursday have already cleared the Senate. But they’ll face longer odds in the House, at least until an April special election to fill two vacant house seats that have left the chamber evenly-split between Republicans and Democrats.
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