Washington, DC — The State of Michigan has given formal notice to the federal government that the state is beginning the process of withdrawing its wetlands protection program and the federal agencies must prepare to take over permitting and enforcement, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Michigan’s Legislature is still considering whether to adopt Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s proposal to scrap wetland protections in her state.
Federal regulations require the state to provide at least 180 days notice of a transfer of authority. The March 31, 2009 letter from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Steven Chester to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson indicates that the state wetlands program may be defunct as of October 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year, thus necessitating immediate notice.
The regulations also require Michigan to “submit a plan for the orderly transfer of all relevant program information…such as permits, permit files, reports, [and] permit applications” necessary to run the wetlands program. Michigan has yet to develop this transition plan, however. DEQ Director Chester instead asked for permission to develop an unspecified “alternative transfer scenario”. Chester writes that DEQ will have to figure out how to achieve “a minimally disruptive process for all parties involved” for –
- Federal take-over of all current, pending and proposed permits that DEQ has issued;
- The Army Corps and EPA assuming jurisdiction over wetlands violations, making such enforcement matters literally into federal cases; and
- Suspension of federal grant funds to Michigan, return of unspent grants and accounting for incomplete projects.
“This move by Michigan promises to be a major headache that will eat into whatever small savings the state hoped to achieve,” stated PEER Executive director Jeff Ruch, noting that the state projects an annual savings of only $2 million by repealing its 30-year wetland law, considered a national model. “The Corps has only a handful of people in Michigan. It is likely that many construction projects will face long delays until the Corps can staff up to cover the added workload.”
One additional problem is that the state law is far more protective than federal law – and the scope of federal law is in flux, subject to sharp disagreements and litigation. Unfamiliarity with both federal rules and officials will compound uncertainties, as indicated by the fact that even the top DEQ wetland official did not know how to contact the Secretary of the Army to send the required transfer notice.
“Local officials know local conditions and therefore often deliver the best, most responsive service to the public,” Ruch added. “Michiganders will rue the day they gave up local control to a distant federal government.”