Michigan Senate votes to strip Michigan governor's authority, cede Great Lakes decisions to Washington

Pure Michigan takes a hit, say state’s leading environmental groups

Michigan’s leading environmental groups today blasted a move by the Michigan Senate to strip the authority of Michigan’s governor to protect the Great Lakes and the other natural resources that inspired the Pure Michigan campaign.

The State Senate today passed legislation (HB 4326) to prohibit the state’s governor from adopting any rule stricter than a federal standard unless authorized by the legislature. The bill will return to the State House of Representatives, which previously passed a similar version.

The legislation – if passed in its current version by the House and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder – would cripple governors’ authority to move decisively to protect the world’s greatest freshwater system.

It is bad policy that makes the health of the Great Lakes vulnerable to special interests promoting gridlock at the legislature, said a coalition of groups opposed to the bill. The groups include Michigan Environmental Council, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Clean Water Action, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, and the Ecology Center.

“Federal water quality standards are designed to be the floor below which states are not allowed to drop,” said James Clift, of the Michigan Environmental Council. “This law assumes that rules written in Washington for waters in other states are good enough to protect our Great Lakes. They are not.”

“This legislation was not written by people who feel a stewardship responsibility to the Great Lakes, which contain almost 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water,” said Alexis Blizman of the Ecology Center. “We believe Michigan’s waters are best managed by Michigan. Not by Washington D.C. bureaucrats.”

The governor’s authority was an essential tool in restoring Lake Erie to health in the 1970s when Michigan Gov. William Milliken made Michigan the first state to prohibit phosphorus in laundry detergent. Other states followed, and the rule helped restore clean water and recreational opportunities for thousands of people.

“Today’s action would eliminate Michigan’s ability to move quickly and proactively to deal with threats like the 1970s Lake Erie crisis,” said Dr. Grenetta Thomassey of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. “Water protection is a responsibility shared by the state’s governor, the legislature and the people of Michigan. We must not voluntarily give away control over our signature resource.”

The legislature already has the authority to overturn an action by the governor they disagree with.

"This action demotes the governor from being an equal partner with the legislature in protection of the Great Lakes,” said Ryan Werder of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “We need both, working together, to protect our Pure Michigan assets.”

"These bills send a simple message: The Michigan Senate thinks the Great Lakes aren’t worth protecting,” said Mike Berkowitz, of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “They’re saying Michigan is the same as Mississippi or Arizona, and that is just wrong. We urge Governor Snyder to veto this short-sighted folly.”

The state’s environmental community was unanimous in its opposition to the stripping of water protections in the bills.

“Michiganders have always been united in protecting our spectacular lakes,” said Cyndi Roper of Clean Water Action. “It’s mystifying why our own legislators would voluntarily throw out a valuable tool for safeguarding them.”

“The Great Lakes literally define Michigan and make up an essential part of our identity,” said Nicholas Occhipinti of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. “Any legislative action that decreases Michiganders’ ability to protect our cherished resources is an affront to our shared heritage and should be decisively rejected.”