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Legislation would raid bond money intended to keep sewage out of the Great Lakes

Taxpayers shouldn't be forced to bail out corporate polluters
Aug 18, 2010
The Michigan Legislature is considering a measure to snatch bond money approved by voters to keep sewage out of the Great Lakes, using it instead to bail out polluters who have walked away from contaminated brownfield sites.

A coalition of environmental groups announced opposition to the measure and support for an alternative method of funding brownfield cleanup. The bond money raid was the subject of a hearing this afternoon in the Michigan Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.

“Polluters need to clean up their own messes, and legislators need to stop treating the taxpayers’ water quality bond money like a corporate slush fund,” said James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council.

In 2002, Michigan voters approved Proposal 2 (the Great Lakes Water Quality Bond) dedicating $1 billion to help prevent sewage overflows. Most of these bond dollars are used by the State Revolving Fund (SRF) to provide loans to local units of government to improve sewer and stormwater infrastructure. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) in 2008 stated that over 40 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage are released annually into Michigan’s waterways.

“It’s appalling how the legislature has failed to address the shocking amount of raw sewage that threatens public health,” said Cyndi Roper, of Clean Water Action. “Redirecting this money away from its clean water mission is irresponsible.”

Environmental organizations also oppose provisions included in legislation passed on Tuesday that allow polluters to keep their sites secret. Under the law, a polluter could release up to 5,000 pounds of pollutants before they would have to tell the state. A series of small releases every day over a year would not trigger this requirement.

"As currently written this is a polluter protection law – not a polluter pay law,” said Clift. “Without knowledge that a contaminated site exists in your neighborhood, there is no way for Michiganders to protect their families from possible toxic chemicals in their drinking water.”

Instead of using Great Lakes Water Quality Bond money, members of the A Better Michigan Future (ABMF) coalition – including Clean Water Action, Michigan Environmental Council, the Sierra Club, Ecology Center and Michigan League of Conservation Voters – support a four-point priority plan for addressing budget shortfalls.

That plan calls for closing tax loopholes and giveaways, auditing government contracts, modernizing the state’s sales tax, and implementing a graduated income tax.

“Using the bond money to clean up the Great Lakes can bring billions of dollars in revenue to our state in coming years,” said Gayle Miller of the Sierra Club – Michigan Chapter. “And it would leave polluters, not citizens, as the responsible parties for cleaning their own messes.”
James Clift: 517-487-9539
RELATED TOPICS: water protection
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