Michigan Lawmakers block governor’s enviro order in rare move

Source: By David Eggert, Associated Press • Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Republican lawmakers blocked Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s bid to restructure Michigan’s environmental agency — the first time the full Legislature has rejected a gubernatorial executive order since 1977.

The GOP-led Senate voted 22-16 against the order along party lines, criticizing her attempt to abolish new rulemaking and permitting panels, and to establish an “environmental justice” office without defining what the term means. The Republican-controlled House voted down the order last week.

“It’s disappointing to see the party of limited government vote for more government bureaucracy, but the governor remains undeterred,” said Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown. “She is committed to reorganizing this department so we clean up our drinking water and protect public health.”

Whitmer is awaiting a legal opinion from Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel on whether the commissions created last year violate federal environmental law. One panel oversees environmental rulemaking — though the governor ultimately has the final say — while another can approve, modify or reverse permit decisions that have been challenged by companies or other parties. She has criticized the commissions as a nonessential layer of bureaucracy that “keeps us from actually cleaning up drinking water.”

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said Whitmer has a prerogative to reorganize the Department of Environmental Quality. But, he said, eliminating the commissions “was a step too far” because they were established under 2018 laws that were “rightfully passed and we think were important for the protections of transparency, accountability and giving citizens access for redress. I invite my governor to send us another EO with her recommendations on how to reorganize” the agency.

Democrats slammed the Senate’s vote to protect what one lawmaker called “polluter panels.”

The committees have the power to “veto actions that our professional scientists and our governor’s appointee have taken to discharge her responsibilities under the law and under our constitution,” said Sen. Jeff Irwin. “I think that’s fundamentally wrong. I think it’s a conflict of interest.”

Whitmer is empowered by the state constitution to change the organization of the executive branch. But the constitution also lets lawmakers turn down such an order if they do so within 60 days of its being issued.