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Wetlands program saved, but state budget puts the Great Lakes and public health at serious risk

Oct 1, 2009
Lansing -- The legislature will return to Lansing today to put the final touches on a bill that will keep Michigan’s wetlands program running at the state level for an additional three years. Proposals had been made to send the program back to the federal government to operate on a limited basis.

Environmental groups applaud the efforts of the legislature to protect these critical resources. Wetlands protect neighborhoods from flooding, cleanse water before it reaches lakes and streams, safeguard the purity of well water and provide vital habitat for fish and other water-dependent wildlife.

“Keeping the program in Michigan is certainly an environmental issue, but it is also a very pressing economic issue,” said Grenetta Thomassey, policy director at Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. “Sen. Patty Birkholz, Rep. Rebekah Warren, and Rep. Dan Scripps all understood that and worked tirelessly to help keep the needed perspective. Relinquishing the program would have meant unacceptable work-related delays as our state climbs out of the recession, in addition to increasing the likelihood of damaging environmental violations. And keeping the program here, and funded, keeps our prospects much higher for being eligible for Great Lakes Restoration funding from the federal government which will also create jobs as it restores wetlands and provides clean water infrastructure.”

Unfortunately, the retention of the wetland program is the only good news for natural resources in a budget deal that includes drastic reductions in general fund support for Michigan’s public health, water protection and natural resources management. In the case of the Department of Environmental Quality the cuts amount to a 39% reduction in general funds for program designed to protect public health. We believe the legislature must explore more thoroughly options that increase revenues, either through the elimination of outdated tax breaks or new sources.

MEC President Chris Kolb noted that the budget does not give away Michigan’s wetland protection program to the federal government – a positive and important development. But he said even that silver lining is not enough to outweigh the damage that draconian budget cuts will have.

“We appreciate the sincere efforts of legislators, interest groups and others who have worked for months to maintain control of our own wetlands,” said Kolb. “But it may be a hollow victory due to other cuts to programs designed to protect the Great Lakes and protect public health.”

The proposed cuts will result in polluters not being inspected, complaints from the public not being investigated and increases in illegal toxic discharges to Michigan’s waterways and landscapes. Recently the MDEQ has seen the return of practices not experienced since the 1970's -- burying barrels in the back field, fish kills due to illegal dumping in streams and contamination of drinking water sources from illegal and virtually unmonitored pollution.

The cuts also will slow the issuance of permits to businesses and stop the redevelopment of contaminated brownfield sites that are necessary to revitalizing our cities and towns.

"If Michigan is trying to sell 'Pure Michigan' -- it needs to bolster these programs or our water wonderland will be in serious trouble,” said Kolb. “Failure to fund these programs damages the public’s health and hurts Michigan's ability to recover from this recession.”
James Clift, 517-256-0553
RELATED TOPICS: legislation, water protection
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