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EGLE water rules bill voted out of committee

A Michigan bill to restore the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's (EGLE) water protection rulemaking authority advanced out of Senate committee Thursday.

For the last 18 years, the power to issue new water pollution and other standards has largely been in the hands of the state Legislature. A 2005 state law sharply curbed what was then the Department of Environmental Quality’s water rulemaking abilities after 2006.

Michigan League of Conservation Voters Government Affairs Director Nick Occhipinti said that’s led to the state's water-quality protections falling behind.

That affects a broad set of environmental measures, Occhipinti said, “from spill prevention, to pollution discharge limitation standard, to our industrial pre-treatment ... when industry and manufacturers are moving their waste to wastewater systems, all the way to our floodplain standards and programming,”.

Critics of changing the rulemaking authority back, however, say it could lead to overregulation.

Amanda Fisher is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business Michigan. She said lawmakers should be the ones responsible for creating new rules, rather than what she described as unelected bureaucrats.

“Anytime, the Legislature could pass a law, could pass a bill giving the department the necessary changes the department needs,” Fisher said.

She shared concerns that repealing the 2005 changes to the law could allow EGLE to further regulate water withdrawal practices, including ground wells on private property.

Fisher said the system has been fine as-is.

“I don’t think that there’s been any problem in getting the rules needed to protect the environment the way it should be,” Fisher said.

But bill sponsor, state Senator Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp), said lawmakers don’t know the science behind the development of water standards as well as experts at EGLE.

“I’m not worried about overregulation. Right now, I’m worried about EGLE being able to do the work we need done to protect us from contaminants, like PFAS coming down our rivers,” Shink said.

PFAS is a family of chemicals with a wide range of industrial and consumer uses and linked to a variety of health problems.

Shink said the current law has also kept the state from fully participating in federal environmental programs.

Her bill now heads to the full Senate for further consideration and a potential vote Shink said she hopes happens soon.

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