Updated: Snyder to decide on deregulating wetlands

Wetland in Meridian Twp. | Susan J. Demas

Gov. Rick Snyder will now decide on a plan to deregulate some small wetlands that could be filled and dredged after the Legislature approved the bill during a marathon session stretching into early Friday morning.

But the bill was dramatically scaled back in the version the Michigan House voted on late into the last Lame Duck session of the year. The original plan would have stripped state protection from at least 550,000 acres of wetlands and at least 4,200 inland lakes, according to a Department of Environmental Quality analysis obtained by Bridge.*

Tom Casperson

It’s unclear how many wetlands might be impacted by the new bill because the DEQ has not completed another analysis. But the revised legislation removed many of the exemptions that would have allowed the logging and mining industry to fill and dredge wetlands without state oversight.

Still, House Republicans pushed past Democrats’ objections to approve Senate Bill 1211, sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), in a 61-46 vote that would deregulate wetlands across the state. The Senate passed the bill earlier this month, as the Advance reported.

Casperson has said the legislation was spurred by an elderly couple — friends of his — who were fined by the DEQ when they tried to fill their “frog pond.” SB 1211 would allow the logging and mining industry to fill and dredge wetlands and inland lakes. The Senate approved that plan early December in a 23-14 vote along party lines.

The term-limited senator has said the legislation is needed to protect his constituents from state regulator overreach.

“It’s just crush, kill and destroy when it comes to a little frog pond next to somebody’s house and no development whatsoever,” Casperson said in a Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing in early December.

“I’m protecting my citizens that have been attacked by the government,” he said.

The House also voted on SB 1244, sponsored by Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), that would make it harder for environmental regulators to toughen cleanup standards. Critics say that bill could also delay efforts to lower a current threshold for PFAS contamination that some say is too lenient, according to the Michigan Environmental Council.

As the Advance reported, 82 DEQ state employees wrote a letter to Snyder asking to veto the bill.

Wetlands in DeWitt, Michigan | Susan J. Demas

Environmentalists have been vocal in their opposition to the bills. They also have criticized another bill awaiting Snyder’s signature or veto. House Bill 4205, sponsored by Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona), would bind state officials from adopting state standards more stringent than federal regulations.

As the Advance reported, Snyder already vetoed a similar bill in 2011. Both bills now require Snyder’s signature before becoming law. The term-limited GOP governor has not yet indicated his stance on the legislation.

If Snyder signed the bill, that would stop Michigan regulators from adopting a tougher PFAS standard.

“The governor will carefully review the final version of the legislation and decide whether to sign it,” Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said.

Rick Snyder and Brian Calley at their year-end press conference, Dec. 11, 2018 | Ken Coleman

Snyder has requested $43 million in additional funding to tackle contamination from the chemicals.Michigan currently has a cap in place that requires groundwater cleanup if PFAS levels top 70 parts per trillion. But neither Michigan nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have a PFAS action level for drinking water. The state groundwater standard is also already tougher than federal standards, which are a guideline, not an action level that requires reducing PFAS levels.

“Michigan remains committed to being a leader in the proactive response to PFAS contamination and protecting the public from this emerging class of contaminants,” Snyder said in a statement Tuesday, when the DEQ released a 90-page report outlining 20 new recommendations on combatting PFAS, such as testing municipal water supplies and further study.

Correction, Dec. 22, 2018: The original story reported that the legislation would have impacted 600,000 wetlands and 4,500 inland lakes. The legislation was revised before being sent to Gov. Rick Snyder and it’s now unclear how many wetlands and lakes would be impacted.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.
Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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