Whitmer keeps intact 2 environmental panels in new order

FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2018, file photo, Michigan Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer hosts a post-election news conference in Detroit. Whitmer on Thursday, Dec. 27, named much of her Cabinet, including officials who will be involved in her two of her top priorities, cleaning up drinking water and improving roads. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press
LANSING — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday changed direction — for now — and issued an environmental order that keeps intact two business-backed panels that are charged with oversight of state rule-making and permitting.
The move came less than a week after the Republican-led Legislature took the rare step of rejecting her original order to reshape and rename the Department of Environmental Quality, largely because it would have abolished the two commissions that were created under 2018 laws enacted by the GOP. Whitmer, who contends the committees will add bureaucracy to the regulatory process, noted that she is awaiting Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s determination on whether the panels are legal.
Nessel’s opinion would bind state agencies unless it was reversed by a court.
“Every Michigander deserves safe, clean drinking water, and I’m not going to let partisan politics slow down the important work that needs to get done right now to protect public health,” Whitmer said in a statement.
One panel oversees environmental rule-making — 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.
GOP lawmakers and business lobbyists say the commissions have not yet had a chance to operate and will give people a chance to challenge overzealous regulators. Democrats and environmentalists say the “polluter panels” are stacked with too many industry officials and will hamper Whitmer’s efforts to address the discovery of chemical compounds known as PFAS in at least 40 locations across the state.
Whitmer’s new order is largely the same as her initial one. It renames the agency as the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and creates new public advocacy offices for clean water and “environmental justice” to investigate complaints about water quality and help ensure fair consideration of low-income and minority community interests.
The order also eliminates the Environmental Science Advisory Board and forms a new office on climate policy to seek ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and promote renewable energy while helping Michigan adjust to a warmer world. The order will take effect April 22 unless it is rejected by legislators.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, “sincerely appreciates” Whitmer’s willingness to present a different option, said spokeswoman Amber McCann. GOP Rep. James Lower of Cedar Lake, who sponsored the resolution blocking the initial order, issued a statement saying he is glad Whitmer “realized she needed to come to the table and work with us on this issue.”
Environmental groups backed Whitmer’s latest move.
“We urge the state Legislature to support this common-sense reorganization that puts public health first and not quibble over unnecessary layers of bureaucracy that will only delay, block or slow down real contamination cleanup efforts,” Lisa Wozniak, executive director at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

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