Michigan Republicans fight to keep ‘polluter panels’ in charge of the state’s environment

On Feb. 6, Michigan’s Republican-led state House of Representatives voted to do something the state legislature hasn’t done since 1977: overturn an executive order given by a sitting governor. During the coming week, the state Senate, which is also in Republican hands, will hold hearings and possibly a vote to join them.

At issue is Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2019 -03, which, among other things, abolishes “polluter panels” of industry representatives who have been given veto authority over the state’s environmental regulators. In other words, the question is about who should have the ultimate power to set the state’s environmental regulations: experts appointed by a governor who has been elected by the state’s voters, or corporate interests who are beholden only to their shareholders?

The panels were created by the Republican legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018 over the objection of his own top environmental regulator, C. Heidi Grether, a former BP executive. On Feb. 6, Grether issued a letter supporting Whitmer’s move to abolish the panels.

Under the new law, one of the panels, called the Environmental Rules Review Committee, is to have a voting membership made up almost entirely of industry representatives, including proxies from the solid waste, oil and gas, and public utility industries. State regulators, on the other hand, don’t get a single vote on the panel, which has the authority to overrule any and all new environmental regulations proposed by the state.

Another panel was given the power to hear permit appeals, potentially making the process even easier for polluters.

Whitmer signed her executive order on Feb. 4, and a mere two days later the state House voted to overrule it by a straight 58-51 party-line vote.
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