Current law has enabled polluters to stick taxpayers with the burden of cleaning up over 10,000 “orphaned” sites

LANSING, Mich., Oct. 25 2023 – Today, State Rep. Jason Morgan (D-Ann Arbor) and Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), along with Reps. Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit), Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint), Penelope Tsernoglou (D-East Lansing) and Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) introduced a seven-bill Polluter Pay legislative package in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature. The legislation, House Bills 5241-5247 and Senate Bills 605-611, 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 the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to know what is going on at polluted sites,” said Irwin. “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,” said Morgan. “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 most marginalized communities often bear the brunt of contamination from corporate polluters, and we’ve seen the damage contamination can cause in Southeast Grand Rapids from vapor intrusion that continues to threaten our health,” said Marshall Kilgore, director of engagement for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC). “We are proud to support the polluter pay package to hold polluters accountable for paying to clean up their messes and move us closer to a future of environmental justice for all.”

“Michigan’s precious groundwater has been seriously degraded because polluters have not been held accountable. Forty-five percent of Michigan’s people drink groundwater, but it’s been declared off-limits in over 3,000 locations across the state because of contamination,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of For Love of Water (FLOW). “These bills are a needed line of defense for a critical source of drinking water in our state.”

A new report from 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 House Committee on Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation, chaired by state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, chaired by state Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo).

Bill descriptions:

HB 5247 (Koleszar) / SB 605 (Irwin) will give EGLE and the public more information about cleanups and polluted sites.

HB 5242 (Morgan) / SB 606 (Moss) 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.

HB 5245 (Arbit) / SB 607 (Chang) will enable EGLE to set cleanup criteria without easily blocked APA rulemaking.

HB 5246 (Tsernoglou) / SB 608 (Geiss) will require businesses with large amounts of potentially polluting materials to post up-front financial assurance to cover any cleanup.

HB 5243 (Neeley) / SB 609 (McCann) 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.

HB 5241 (McKinney) / SB 610 (Shink) 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.

HB 5244 (Skaggs) / SB 611 (McMorrow) will set a fairer clock for people harmed by pollution to access justice through the courts, starting the statute of limitation period when the person discovers the claim.