House, Senate Democrats Introduce Bills to Restore DEQ Citizen Oversight

Commissions could help prevent problems with pollution, pipelines
Friday, February 10, 2017

LANSING — State Reps. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), Phil Phelps (D-Flushing) and Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), along with state Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) and Sens. Hoon Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) and Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) introduced legislation today to restore citizen oversight commissions for air pollution, water quality and oil and gas. Michigan had air and water quality commissions at one time, but they were abolished by former Gov. John Engler in 1991.

“These bills go hand-in-hand with the first water quality package of bills we introduced two weeks ago,” said Chang, the sponsor of House Bill 4200. “We are committed to improving the air and water quality in our districts — my House District 6 is home to the ZIP code with the highest rate of air pollution in the state — and restoring citizen oversight commissions is an important component in this effort. Our residents deserve to have a voice in the permitting and rule-making process for companies that pollute our air.” Chang’s bill would restore an Air Pollution Control Commission to oversee various functions of the MDEQ including the issuance or modification of existing permits and acting on complaints from residents. “Every resident of Michigan should have the right to breathe clean air, and my bill will take us in the right step in that direction to ensure that there are proper checks and balances when it comes to our air quality.”

"Air pollution is directly linked to an increase in heart and respiratory ailments, as well as a host of other health complications," said Hopgood, the sponsor of Senate Bill 156. "The quality of the air we breathe is not a partisan issue." Hopgood is the sponsor of the Senate bill to restore the Air Pollution Control Commission.

Sen. Ananich and Rep. Phelps are sponsors of the Senate and House bills to create the Water Resource Commission.

“The state can never be too cautious when it comes to the safety of our drinking water,” said Ananich, the sponsor of Senate Bill 154. “Reestablishing a Water Resources Commission will add a new layer of accountability that is clearly needed in Michigan. Access to clean water should be a right, and the legislature needs to affirm to residents that we take that right seriously.”

 “Having a water resource commission could have gone a long way to, at the very least, force officials to respond more quickly to the water crisis as it unfolded in Flint,” said Phelps. “This commission is important because it would have supervisory and investigatory power within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, so its members could have a real impact on ensuring that we protect our water from pollution and polluters.”

In the case of the air pollution control and water resources commissions proposed in this legislative package, the citizen oversight boards would each have 11 members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate, two individuals from local governments, two from commerce/industry, two with medical background in air or water illnesses, two from private environmental protection organizations and three from the general public. Additionally, the directors of the Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources would sit on the Water Resource Commission and the director of MDEQ would sit on the Air Pollution Control Commission.

Rep. Neeley’s and Sen. Young’s bills would apply the same powers the Water Resources Commission has over pollution and environmental concerns to the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act. The Water Resources Commission would be empowered to hold public hearings and receive complaints related to drinking water.

“This is a critically important issue for my constituents who were for too long ignored, dismissed, and ridiculed by the MDEQ, and many of whom are still having to rely on bottled drinking water,” said Neeley, the sponsor of House Bill 4201. “We have to make sure something like the Flint water crisis can’t happen again, and these powers would give us the tools to prevent it.”

"We need to activate our experts and our citizen activists to oversee critical environmental issues in this state," said Young, the sponsor of Senate Bill 155. "Citizen oversight commissions increase accountability, and encourage strong and thorough processes within state departments."

Finally, Rep. Moss’ bill would give members a say in the permitting and rule making process concerning oil and gas pipelines, as well as receiving complaints and requesting that the attorney general take action.

“We need to make sure that the Department of Environmental Quality once again actually cares about environmental quality instead of the profits driving the issuance of oil and gas drilling permits,” said Moss, the sponsor of House Bill 4202. “My community expressed a collective outcry against a drilling permit in a residentially-zoned area of Southfield but the MDEQ instead sided with big oil developers. A citizen commission will give oversight to decisions made by Lansing bureaucrats by allowing Michiganders to voice their concerns, get their questions answered and see the commission take action when necessary.”

Moss’ proposal would create a 16-member commission comprised of the MDEQ director and 15 members appointed by the governor. These members would include commerce and industry representatives, local government officials, medical experts, water resource and geology experts, members of environmental organizations and the general public. They would have supervisory authority over the issuance, denial, revocation, suspension or modification of permits. The commission would also field complaints and concerns from local communities and could require the MDEQ to take investigative or enforcement action, or could request the state attorney general to take action.