After standoff, GOP leaders bless Whitmer’s new environmental order

Lake Ovid | Susan J. Demas

Top GOP legislators in Michigan signed off Thursday on an updated executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that would reorganize the state’s environmental regulatory body.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs environmental measures alongside Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and DEQ chief Liesl Clark, Feb. 4, 2019 | Nick Manes

The leaders of both the GOP-led House and Senate indicated that they’ve reached “consensus” on an order Whitmer issued Wednesday that would transform the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) into the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

There was a tense process to get there. The Legislature dumped Whitmer’s first measure just 11 days after she signed it. It was the first time in more than 40 years that the body had taken such action.

In a tweet Thursday, state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), thanked Whitmer for her willingness to work with the Legislature on Republicans’ concerns after both chambers voted last week to overturn her initial order.

Similarly, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) announced on Thursday that the state Senate won’t hold hearings on Whitmer’s new executive order.

Republican legislators had opposed Whitmer’s previous order because it eliminated three DEQ oversight panels put in place last year that aimed to give business interests and other stakeholders a seat at the policymaking table.

Whitmer’s new order eliminates one panel, the Environmental Science Advisory Board. It keeps in place two others, the Environmental Rules Review Committee and the Environmental Permit Review Commission, pending an opinion from Attorney General Dana Nessel on their legality.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Sen. Ed McBroom talk to reporters after rejecting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, Feb. 14, 2019 | Nick Manes

That’s good enough for Shirkey and other senators.

“The Governor has presented a revised plan for the Department that takes into account many of the concerns expressed by our caucus and I appreciate her willingness to extend this act of bipartisanship,” Shirkey said in a statement. “The newly issued executive order preserves the ability for citizens to defend their rights against the overreach of bureaucracy and provides our caucus opportunity for policy development.”

Likewise, state Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), a vocal critics who chairs the committee that voted to overturn the previous version, offered his blessing on Thursday.

“After a thorough review of the details of the new E.O., I have concluded that committee hearings are not warranted,” McBroom said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on how the Senate can contribute to the policy-making process to ensure safe drinking water and responsible use of our state’s natural resources. We will work to assure reasonable regulations are in place and that we are making sure that regulators aren’t taking non-statutory rules too far.”

Lee Chatfield | Nick Manes photo

The decision to not hold hearings — which the Legislature has the right to do for 60 days — is a reversal from where Shirkey was at on Wednesday.

“The Majority Leader sincerely appreciates the Governor’s willingness to present a different option for reorganization. The Senate will consider the order and review the details through the committee process,” Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann told the Advance on Wednesday night.

Additionally, Shirkey had repeatedly said that he wanted to see the phrase “environmental justice” better defined in any order.

Under Whitmer’s order, EGLE “will be focused on improving the quality of Michigan’s air, land, and water, protecting public health, and encouraging the use of clean energy,” according to the governor’s office.

Much of the order is aimed at protecting the Great Lakes and mitigating — and preventing — ongoing environmental problems such as the PFAS outbreak and Flint’s water crisis.

“Every Michigander deserves safe, clean drinking water, and I’m not going to let partisan politics slow down the important work that needs to get done right now to protect public health,” Whitmer said in a statement on Wednesday.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.


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