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House plan lets Michigan protect Great Lakes and state’s wetlands

Sep 28, 2009
LANSING, MI – Michigan’s environmental community today applauded efforts in the Michigan House Great Lakes and the Environment committee to preserve state-based protection of Michigan’s wetlands and Great Lakes waters.

A competing State Senate plan – which would keep the program here, but would cede authority to the federal government – is unacceptable because of the giveaway of authority to the federal government, the state’s leading environmental organizations agree.

“We are encouraged by recent efforts of the House Great Lakes and the Environment Committee, which passed legislation Friday to keep Michigan's landmark wetland protection law run by the state,” said James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council. “The environmental community believes having the state continue administration of the program is the best way to protect the Great Lakes and eliminates barriers to the recovery of Michigan's economy.”

“The Senate would lock Michigan into the same wetland protection rules that would apply in Nevada,” said Anne Woiwode of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “As stewards of the world’s greatest freshwater resource – the Great Lakes – the folly of begging Washington, D.C. bureaucrats to swoop in and regulate our greatest natural asset is an outrage and an embarrassment.”

Saving the state’s wetland program is still a key question being considered under the broader context of the budget crisis. Because returning this program to the federal government would bring serious economic consequences to home builders, homeowners and others who need permits to work in wetlands, the debate about saving it is still front and center.

Wetlands are considered nature’s kidneys, protecting neighborhoods from flooding, cleansing water before it reaches lakes and streams, safeguarding the purity of well water and providing vital habitat for fish and other water-dependent wildlife.

It is essential that Michigan have the freedom to regulate its vital wetlands without federal restrictions that would be applied by the Senate bill. Such flexibility proved its value when the state restricted discharges of ballast water to prevent invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. Michigan, tired of foot dragging at the federal level, passed a law requiring oceangoing ships to install pollution control mechanisms to ensure any invasive species are eliminated. This requirement is more restrictive than federal law – and exercises the authority granted the State under the Clean Water Act.

“During negotiations to save the wetlands program there were numerous attempts to completely dismantle one of the fundamental principles of Michigan’s wetland law; that is, the ability to make decisions that are Michigan-specific,” said Dr. Grenetta Thomassey, policy director at Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. In the end, provisions in the Senate bill significantly weakened the state’s ability to administer these kinds of analyses, which are critical to avoiding and minimizing adverse impacts to Michigan’s wetlands.

The House bill includes provisions of the Senate bill that streamline the permitting program, especially as it pertains to smaller projects.

Many business groups support keeping Michigan wetlands under Michigan control, including Michigan Homebuilders Association.
James Clift, Michigan Environmental Council: 517-256-0553
Dr. Grenetta Thomassey, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council: 231-838-5193
RELATED TOPICS: legislation, water protection
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