Michigan Republican Senator: I’m no anti-environmental villain

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, spent more than two decades working alongside his father in the family log trucking business. In the final month of his 16-year political career, he’s pushing a litany of proposals to loosen environmental regulations.

Update: Michigan DEQ staffers to Gov. Snyder: Veto bill to weaken cleanup standards
Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

LANSING — A powerful Republican pushing to allow development on wetlands and more radioactive waste in landfills says he’s not a “dastardly guy who wants to destroy the environment.”

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, on Wednesday said he’s been unfairly portrayed by environmentalists and reporters during the Michigan Legislature’s frantic lame duck session.

“It’s unfair to label it and frame it that each person who disagrees with the environmental community is radical,” said Casperson, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

“They’re the ones, in my opinion, who are radical,” he added, referring to environmental groups.

Casperson, who is term-limited, is behind a slew of bills that would loosen state environmental regulations in favor of industry, developers and other private property owners. The efforts include opening more wetlands and lakes to unregulated development, allowing landfills to accept more low-level radioactive waste and preempting local control over tree cutting and removal.  

Casperson’s push comes in the final weeks before Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is to be sworn into office along with a more Democrat-heavy Legislature, and it has angered environmentalists and local government leaders.

The comments came after Casperson announced rare welcome news for some of his critics: He was scrapping Senate Bill 1210.

That legislation would have barred local governments from regulating mining activities and paved the way for a 500-acre gravel mine to open in the quaint village of Metamora, which residents had contested for 30 years.

Mining industry officials had pushed for the legislation, saying local opposition was threatening Michigan’s supplies of aggregate materials used in construction.

Casperson said he didn’t have enough information to comfortably advance the bill in the session’s waning days, and he was moved by the passionate opposition from Metamora residents.

The community, southeast of Flint, is already home to four gravel mines, and residents feared one more mine — far bigger — would ruin the town.

“They were heartfelt and they were sincere about it, and I certainly don’t want to disrupt their lives,” Casperson said, adding that a compromise solution to the fight is still needed.

Still, Casperson objected to how environmentalists and news media portrayed his efforts on mining and other environmental issues, where he sees himself standing up for “little guy” property owners against overzealous regulators.

“Most of the [news] stories I hear are framed in a way that look like our stance is unreasonable, based on what you’re hearing from them,” he said. “That’s unfair. Why not down the middle, saying people are concerned about personal property rights...and the environmental community’s concerned about the wetlands?”

On Tuesday, the Senate sent one of Casperson’s most loudly contested proposals to the House. Environmental critics say Senate Bill 1211 would open thousands of acres of wetlands and thousands of lakes to unregulated dredging, filling or construction.

"Despite public outcry, lawmakers are rushing this damaging legislation through lame duck. It literally paves the way for eliminating lakes and wetlands that provide vital water quality protections and important recreation resources for our state,” Tom Zimnicki, agriculture policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said Tuesday.

Casperson this month is capping a 16-year career in state politics, He previously spent two decades in a log trucking business his family owns — an experience that helped shape his pro-industry, pro-private property rights views.

His legislation over the years has regulated metallic mining in Michigan, capped how much land the state can own and cut red tape for those wishing to groom beachfront property. Earlier this year, legislation he sponsored gave industry representatives a larger role in environmental regulation.

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Wed, 12/05/2018 - 4:09pm

If he doesn't want to be portrayed as an anti-environmentalist, he should probably stop auditioning to be a Captain Planet villain...

Darcie Livingston
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 6:06pm

Love it.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 4:27pm

I'm sure Snyder would rather be remembered as a tough nerd than the cowardly rubber stamp he was for many of the policies advanced and legislation enacted by Casperson and his caucus. Snyder and Casperson, while they can thwart the will of voters and ignore results of elections, cannot escape history or hide the fact that they have done a great deal to damage the environment in Michigan.

Karen Dunnam
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 5:09pm

Earlier today I looked up Euclid v. Ambler Realty to help a commenter understand why the government is, in fact allowed to control what you do with your own property. Perhaps this senator needs to look into that ...plus PFAS contamination...

Susan Robertson
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 5:39pm

Methinks he doth protest too much.

Darcie Livingston
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 6:04pm

These statements by Casperson are a joke. When you legislate to allow people and corporations to damage the environment by destroying wetlands, beaches, mining, or storing toxic wastes, or support trophy hunting of wildlife without just cause after the people of the state have clearly and loudly indicated that is not what they want, you don't get to complain about your reputation with the environmental community. I couldn't be more pleased that he has termed out, and if he had any moral integrity he would back off of these lame duck bills, and leave the office with some dignity and consideration for the people of this beautiful state. Good riddance to bad governing.

chris young
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 6:36pm

Well if it quacks like a duck- it might be a lame duck.

Dave Smethurst
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 8:26pm

"We" have science on our side, but I guess t that doesn't mean much to some if it conflicts with thier political beliefs.

John Q. Public
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 8:34pm

Why do politicians spend entire careers screwing as many people as they can for money, then object when people call them whores?

John Stegmeier
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 9:07pm

Yes you are an anti environmental villain, you have worked hard for that reputation and you chose this particular piece of legislation to cap off your career. If you do not want to go down forever in history as an environmental villain, withdraw this bill and stand for something that will actually preserve some part of Michigan's natural beauty and functioning environment.

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 7:18am

So, are term limits a good thing now? Or is it just dependent on the politician in question? I can't keep track of where you guys stand on this.

John Stegmeier
Sun, 12/09/2018 - 3:51pm

I think term limits are a bad thing. If you find a representative you like, who does a good job, you are unable to keep them. If you find a representative unworthy they simply can be voted out of office, we have elections for that purpose.

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 2:09pm

First Casperson complains that environmentalists call their opponents "radical."
Then he calls the environmentalists "radical."
I guess for Casperson name calling is only an issue if it's incoming, not outgoing.

Alex Sagady
Fri, 12/07/2018 - 12:51am

Senator Tom Casperson's worst attack on the public health and environment of the people of Michigan wasn't mentioned in this article.

SB 1244 is legislation to mandate official scientific misconduct in the toxicology and risk assessment review of toxic chemicals contaminating industrial and brownfield sites. SB 1244 prohibits the state of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality toxicologists from considering all available data, including the most up to date data available, on the environmental toxicity of such chemicals at such industrial contamination sites.

Passage of SB 1244 will lead to a weakening of presently existing and published environmental remediation site environmental cleanup criteria because, for some chemicals, it will mandate reliance on out of date chemical and health reviews as much as up to 30+ years old rather than more recent up to date reviews.

For some chemicals, like ethyl benzene, SB 1244 will end up disregarding the fact that more recent health reviews recognize some such chemicals as environmental carcinogens (cancer-causing). For classes of chemicals that are pesticides and herbicides, SB 1244 will mandate use of out of date chemical health reviews for virtually this entire class of chemicals.

SB 1244 will eliminate present requirements of Michigan DEQ to consider developmental toxicity in direct soil contact environmental cleanup criteria critical for pregnant women and their fetuses. This is certainly an odd result for Michigan republicans who fancy themselves as the fetus protection political party.

For the most toxic chemical contaminants, like polychlorinated dibenzo-dioxins/furans, SB 1244 mandates official disregard for certain human exposure environmental pathways....a gift for Dow Chemical Company who have had the most serious issues of PCDD/PCDF contaminated sites in the state of Michigan.

In lying testimony to Casperson's committee, representatives of the Michigan State Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Chemical Council falsely claimed that existing environmental remediation cleanup criteria have obstructed brownfield and contaminated site cleanup and that SB 1244 embodies some kind of concensus policy. In reality, SB 1244 is a bill to relax these environmental remediation cleanup requirements for chemical contamination sites so that responsible parties can leave more chemical contamination in place unremediated thus jeopardizing public health and environment from redeveloped brownfields....that are most common in heavily populated urban and suburban areas.

SB 1244 has passed the Senate and is now awaiting consideration in the Michigan House Committee on Michigan Competitiveness.

Jim Malewitz
Fri, 12/07/2018 - 7:28am

Thanks for reading, Alex. We didn't mention SB 1244 in this story because Casperson didn't sponsor it. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland. Our coverage of that proposal is here

David Swan
Fri, 12/07/2018 - 8:40am

Senator Casperson claims SB1211 is needed for ‘private property rights.’ That is an oxymoron. The bill will allow property owners to ignore their private property responsibilities; responsibility to their community, their neighborhood, and the health of our shared water which represents our sixth Great Lake.
Senator Casperson wants to legally protect property owners who want no responsibility for their actions.

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 3:35pm

Casperson is absolutely malicious.

John Slivon
Fri, 12/14/2018 - 7:24pm

Good Riddance!

Sat, 12/22/2018 - 9:19pm

Then don't vote in favor of dropping regulations and increased pollution by big business.