Legislation would restore water, air oversight commissions to protect public’s health

LANSING, Mich. — Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D–Flint) along with Senators Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D–Taylor) and Coleman A. Young II (D–Detroit) today called for the restoration of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) citizen oversight commissions for air and water quality.

“Air pollution is directly linked to an increase in heart and respiratory ailments, as well as a host of other health complications,” Sen. Hopgood said. “The quality of the air we breathe is not a partisan issue.”

The failings of the MDEQ that led to the Flint water crisis as well as the department’s support of projects that run counter to the best interests of Michigan citizens — including an expansion of the Marathon Oil refinery in Detroit and plans to build a nuclear waste repository on the shores of Lake Huron — spurred the creation of these bills.

Specifically, their proposed legislation would do the following:

  • create a Water Resources Commission with the capability to issue, deny, revoke, suspend or modify permits, as well as receive and forward drinking water complaints for investigative action;
  • create an MDEQ Air Pollution Control Commission with the capability to issue, deny, revoke, suspend or modify permits, as well as receive and forward air quality complaints for investigative action; and
  • give the Water Resources Commission additional powers related to the Safe Drinking Water Act. This would allow the Commission to hold public hearings, receive public comments, and treat complaints as water pollution complaints.

These bills also include provisions governing the formation of each commission in addition to the ability to request direct assistance from the Attorney General.

According to the Legislative Services Bureau, as of 2013, 32 states had some form of environmental policy-making board to provide oversight for environmental quality agencies.

“We need to activate our experts and our citizen activists to oversee critical environmental issues in this state,” Sen. Young said. “Citizen oversight commissions increase accountability and encourage strong and thorough processes within state departments.”

In 1991, Gov. Engler eliminated the MDEQ commissions by executive order. Had they still been in place, public health and environmental crises such as the Flint water disaster could have been prevented or acted upon much earlier — with no loss of human life.

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