Michigan runs out of money pledged to environmental cleanup

Mar 4, 2017

Michigan has spent or obligated almost all of a dedicated source of funding needed to clean up and redevelop 7,000 polluted sites across the state, leaving lawmakers to question the Snyder administration on what, if any, plan there is to ask voters for permission to borrow more money.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A 1998 ballot measure authorized Michigan to issue $675 million in bonds for environmental protection along with waterfront and state park improvements. The money will dry up this year, and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing to shift nearly $15 million from another fund — one used to address 8,000 leaking underground fuel tanks — as a one-time "buffer" to continue the remediation of abandoned paper mills, foundries and other properties next year.

The proposal worries some legislators who already are upset about past raids on the tank cleanup fund, which is supported by a nearly 1-cent-a-gallon fee on gasoline and other petroleum products.

"I don't like it," said Sen. Mike Green, a Mayville Republican who chairs the Senate environmental budget subcommittee. He called the fund transfer a "Band-Aid" approach and, like other legislators from both parties, questioned why state officials have been slow to develop a long-term plan.

Green said he intends to craft legislation that would put another bond initiative on the ballot. It would need support from two-thirds of both the GOP-led House and Senate to get a public vote.

"That's about the only solution we have as far as cleaning up these bad sites that are everywhere," he said, also suggesting the possibility of shifting money from the state's rainy day fund, which could grow to $1 billion under Snyder's budget plan.

Rep. Scott VanSingel, a Grant Republican and a member of the House environmental budget subcommittee, said the state ideally could annually commit other money toward environmental cleanup to avoid taking on more debt that officials estimate would cost taxpayers $1.50 for each $1 borrowed. But "we tend to be short-sighted," he said, and such funding could be cut in future years.

Sites tainted with hazardous substances are in every county and half are "orphan" sites, so the state is responsible for the cleanup. The bond funds cover that work and also a small portion of cleanup at federal Superfund sites with some of the most contaminated land in the U.S.

"It's quite important that we do establish a permanent funding source. I am in favor of doing a ballot initiative," VanSingel said.