Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and other future governors would have a tougher time adopting stricter environmental and other state regulations under a Republican-backed bill sent to Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday.
He vetoed similar legislation in 2011, but this measure — unlike that one — includes an exception that would let regulators still impose rules tougher than federal standards if there is a “clear and convincing” need. The bill cleared the GOP-controlled House on a narrow 57-51 vote in the lame-duck session, with Democrats and some Republicans in opposition.
Democrats said Michigan should be free to impose more stringent water and air pollution regulations than the federal government. They pointed to the need to strengthen the limit for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — industrial compounds that have been found in high levels in communities across the state.
“We would be unable to do what we know is right for Michigan and would be at the mercy of an often slow and unresponsive federal government,” said Rep. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids. She said the legislation would tie the hands of Whitmer, “stopping her from taking action to do what is right for Michigan families and continuing the current lame-duck playbook of stripping authority away from duly elected Democrats and subverting the will of the people.”
Republicans countered that the bill would stabilize the regulatory environment, particularly for businesses, and allow department directors to put stricter regulations in place as long as they justify them.
“Right now we have unelected bureaucrats that place rules that have the power of law that circumvent elected officials like myself and the rest of my colleagues,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Triston Cole of Mancelona. “This offers some transparency into why they’re making these rules, which would take us introducing legislation to undo.”
He said efforts to more tightly regulate PFAS would not be limited by the legislation because it would only apply in situations where the federal government has a standard, and there is not one for the contaminants that were used in products like firefighting foams and carpets.
Under the measure, a state agency could not adopt or promulgate a non-emergency rule more stringent than the applicable federal standard unless specifically authorized by state law or unless the agency director determines there is a clear and convincing need to exceed the applicable federal standard. The agency would have to explain the “exceptional circumstances” necessitating the tougher standard.
Seven years ago, Snyder — a Republican — vetoed a bill that would have prohibited stricter rules unless allowed by state law. He expressed concern that it would have hampered the ability to protect the environment and agriculture, and he said he could not support an across-the-board prohibition against any regulation more stringent than federal minimum standards.
He specifically cited Michigan’s ballast water treatment standards that are tighter than federal rules that he says failed to protect against invasive species. He also pointed to Michigan’s cattle-tracking system to stem bovine tuberculosis.
Cole said he worked “very closely” with the Snyder administration to make sure the governor’s concerns were alleviated. Snyder spokesman Ari Adler did not say if he will sign the legislation, only that he needs to review it. He said Snyder will look at a number of factors, “including whether the Legislature addressed the concerns that led to his veto last time.”
House Bill 4205: http://bit.ly/2B93uc5
Source: The Associated Press