Current law has enabled polluters to stick taxpayers with burden of cleaning up over 10,000 ‘orphaned’ sites
LANSING, Mich. (Oct. 25, 2023) — Today, Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Representative Jason Morgan (D-Ann Arbor), along with Senators Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp), and Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) introduced a seven-bill Polluter Pay legislative package in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature. The legislation (Senate Bills 605-611, House Bills 5241-5247) will set more stringent cleanup standards, increase transparency, prevent sites from becoming “orphaned” and make it easier for those harmed by pollution to seek justice. The legislators were joined at the press conference by environmental advocates, business owners, and representatives of people and communities impacted by pollution.
“Michigan’s current laws make it very hard for the public and even for EGLE to know what is going on at polluted sites,” Sen. Irwin said. “A corporation can spill a toxic chemical, clean it up on their own recognizance and never tell anyone. Senate Bill 605 would end these secret cleanups and make a wide range of information public, including baseline environmental assessments and cleanup plans.”
“We cannot allow polluters to leave contamination in place, making ever-growing portions of our land and water unusable,” Rep. Morgan said. “If you are responsible for causing pollution, you should have to pay to clean it up. This legislation makes it clear that fencing off the land or closing drinking water wells is not a substitute for removing as much pollution as possible. Let’s reclaim our state and ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay to clean up their messes.”
“The City of Ann Arbor is dependent on the Huron River for supplying drinking water to more than 140,000 people in the Ann Arbor area,” said Molly Maciejewski, Ann Arbor Water Treatment Services Manager. “Detections of PFAS in the river from upstream polluters forced the City to install treatment to remove PFAS, and the river continues to be vulnerable to contamination. A plume of groundwater contaminated with 1,4 dioxane is spreading, putting our drinking water supply at further risk. Our state needs this legislation to hold polluters accountable and compel them to undertake real cleanups.”
“As a small business owner in an industry that has all-too-often left communities to deal with polluted sites, I made the decision to protect people and our environment by switching to a much safer process,” said Tami Parks, owner of Great Lakes Clothing Care and member of the Great Lakes Business Network. “Businesses that are doing the right thing have to compete against bad actors who believe they won’t have to bear the costs of cleaning up any pollution they leave behind. This legislation would put us on a fair footing by requiring businesses to carry cleanup insurance that prices in the environmental risks of their operations.”
A new report from For Love of Water (FLOW), “Making Polluters Pay: How to fix state law and policy to protect groundwater and Michigan taxpayers,” provides in-depth context for the history of Michigan’s pollution cleanup laws and the need to prioritize cleanup rather than defaulting to restrictions on water and land use. Ninety-five percent of Michigan voters support requiring corporations who cause contamination to pay to clean up their pollution, rather than having taxpayers foot the bill, according to polling commissioned by Progress Michigan in August.
The seven bills in the Polluter Pay package are expected to be referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, chaired by Sen. McCann, and to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation, chaired by Rep. Laurie Pohutsky.
- SB 605 (Irwin) HB 5247 (Koleszar) will give EGLE and the public more information about cleanups and polluted sites.
- SB 606 (Moss) HB 5242 (Morgan) will require polluters to pay for land and water to be restored to usable condition as much as technically feasible, so that restricting access to polluted areas does not substitute for cleanup.
- SB 607 (Chang) HB 5245 (Arbit) will enable EGLE to set cleanup criteria without easily blocked APA rulemaking.
- SB 608 (Geiss) HB 5246 (Tsernoglou) will require businesses with large amounts of potentially polluting materials to post up-front financial assurance to cover any cleanup.
- SB 609 (McCann) HB 5243 (Neeley) will empower the state to bring claims on behalf of the public to cover cleanup costs and damage to natural resources due to contaminants like PFAS not known to be harmful at the time the limitation period expired for other contaminants.
- SB 610 (Shink) HB 5241 (McKinney) will enable people exposed to hazardous substances to bring a claim against the polluter to cover the costs of medical monitoring needed to detect a condition linked to the exposure.
- SB 611 (McMorrow) HB 5244 (Skaggs) will set a fairer clock for people harmed by pollution to access justice through the courts, starting the limitation period when the person discovers the claim.