Conflicts of interest plague review panel decisions on PFAS water protections

Public health, community, and environmental groups call for transparency, ask member with financial stake in outcome to recuse himself 

The Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC) -- created in 2018 by the Republican-led legislature and signed into law by Governor Snyder -- is heavily dominated by representatives from industry and the regulated community. Members of the ERRC are likely to have direct, financial conflicts of interest during their service on the Committee depending on which rule set is being taken up. Despite disclosure of conflicts of interest and recusal from decision-making being common good governance procedures, the legislature did not include these requirements in the statute that created the ERRC.

Last week, the ERRC needlessly delayed vital public health protections regarding PFAS contamination of drinking water. In response, public health, community, and environmental groups today sent a letter to the ERRC calling on members with financial conflicts of interest to recuse themselves from any further voting. It is unclear how many ERRC members have financial conflicts with the PFAS drinking water rule package. However, the groups point out that at least one committee member -- Grant Trigger- has a clear financial conflict. Mr. Trigger is employed by Racer Trust, an organization that owns properties contaminated by PFAS, and is responsible for the design, implementation and cost of remediation of those properties. Stronger, more protective drinking water standards will have a direct impact on Racer Trust’s cost to remediate those properties, but he has not publicly disclosed that conflict nor recused himself from the committee’s vote. In fact, it was Mr. Trigger who made a motion at a previous ERRC meeting to unnecessarily delay the rule package from moving forward. 

“In addition to stacking the deck with industry representatives, the legislation that created the Environmental Rules Review Committee has a glaring omission: members are not required to disclose financial conflicts of interest, nor must they recuse themselves from decisions when they have a financial interest at stake,” said Charlotte Jameson, Michigan Environmental Council Program Director for Legislative Affairs, Energy and Drinking Water. “These are common safeguards for public decision-making that exist across all manner of governance institutions. Without them, it’s impossible to ensure that decisions are being made in the best interests of the public rather than private self interest.”

In the letter, groups asked the ERRC to adopt a policy that requires members to disclose conflicts of interest and recuse themselves from decisions when those conflicts exist, making transparency and good governance standard practice within the Committee’s operations. 

“At minimum, there’s an appearance of impropriety when a representative of the public acts on a matter in which he has a financial interest,” said Tony Spaniola with Need Our Water (NOW). “That’s the case here, and there should be an immediate recusal.”

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