One polluter panel down, one to go

If you’ve been following our Polluter Rulebook campaign, you’ll know that we have been hard at work taking a red pen to the 15 words that are keeping Michigan stuck in 2006

Unfortunately, that one sentence isn’t the only thing keeping the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) from protecting our environment to the fullest.

The Polluter Panels

During the final days of Rick Snyder's tenure as Michigan governor in 2018, two groups were created to further oversee the rulemaking process of EGLE: a 12-member Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC) and a 15-member Environmental Permit Review Commission (ERPC). Before certain rules could be passed—for example, limits on the amount of the 'forever chemicals' PFAS in our drinking water—they'd have to get the green light from these panels.

Proponents of these review boards say that they provide an opportunity for public accountability and transparency.

The thing is, EGLE’s rulemaking process already calls for transparency and accountability. Just like all other Michigan agencies, it provides time for stakeholder engagement, public engagement and comment.

The addition of the ERRC, however, made EGLE’s rulemaking process unlike that of all other agencies. The extra layer of oversight is uncommon and disturbs EGLE’s ability to meet timeline requirements set by federal law.

The ERRC can also shut down a rule at any point, even overriding the decision of other reviewing bodies to do so.

In theory, these review panels were made to give small businesses and average people a say in these new expectations of environmental responsibility. In reality, they were stocked with industry representatives that are often responsible for the very pollution EGLE combats.

The function of these—perhaps aptly named—'polluter panels' is, at best, redundant. At worst, the added delays can be used as a weapon to shoot down any progressive environmental rulings.

Review from these boards takes time. They meet infrequently and potentially add months to an already lengthy process—a process that can already take up to a year with all of the review that is in place even without these polluter panels. 

This extra time is not accounted for, though, on the backend of Michigan and federal law. EGLE is required to follow timelines set at a federal level, which cannot be amended just because Michigan decides to add another step of review. 

When a deadline cannot be met, the rule dies and must start over from the beginning of the process, meaning stalling is an effective tactic to render EGLE unable to act. In addition, this added time hampers EGLE’s ability to be agile and react to new environmental information. A past example has been slowing its ability to pass appropriate PFAS standards for drinking water.

The first domino

This past winter, Gov. Whitmer dissolved one of these panels: the ERRC. 

This is huge news in our movement’s goal of eliminating the several prohibitive remnants of Michigan law that have been clipping EGLE’s wings. The ERRC was a body that loomed over EGLE and probably held too much power in the review process.

With its dissolution, not only does EGLE get some breathing room to make a real difference bettering Michigan’s environment, but the pendulum swings further in favor of those who wish for a healthy people and a healthy environment. 

The other polluter panel, the ERPC, is next in line to get the ax via the Michigan Legislature. 

Next in the queue is the 15-word sentence that has kept Michigan stuck in 2006.

While some believe that increasing environmental protections means sacrificing economic benefits, we know that our state is home to beautiful resources that attract people to recreate and live here—when properly protected for generations current and future. These moves help us work towards more seamless environmental protections and the positive economic rewards that come as a result.

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