Last Wednesday, Feb. 7, Republicans in Michigan’s House of Representatives voted down an executive order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, leaving in place a controversial law skewing power toward industry leaders in crafting environmental policy.
Whitmer’s order aimed to eliminate a law signed last year by former Gov. Rick Snyder, coined the “Polluter Panels” bill, which created an environmental consulting panel largely composed of leaders in private industry. This panel was given the power to review certain environmental policies and overrule decisions by the director of the Department of Environmental Quality.
In a Feb. 6 Twitter post, Gov. Whitmer labeled these panels as irresponsible and detrimental to progress on environmental reform.
“These commissions create unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that get in the way of our state government responding to problems with drinking water quickly.” Whitmer wrote.
In a separate tweet in the same thread, she wrote, “Their creation may violate federal requirements under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.”
Almost immediately, however, Whitmer’s executive order faced backlash from members of the state legislature. According to House Republicans, the attempt to eliminate last year’s legislation by executive order represented a misuse of executive power and disregarded the need for legislative input.
In a statement to the Detroit Free Press, state Rep. Triston Cole, R-Gaylord, stressed that Whitmer’s executive order attempted to take drastic steps without consulting members of the House of Representatives.
“I feel the governor is usurping the rights of the Legislature on an already passed piece of legislation,” Cole said.
Kinesiology junior Jackson Schleuning, secretary of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans, echoed Cole’s sentiment, explaining that Whitmer’s use of an executive order to strike down a previous policy was unjust. Schleuning said with relation to environmental policy, industry leaders deserve a seat at the negotiating table.
“We don’t feel that this is something that should be unilaterally eliminated by executive order,” Schleuning said. “College Republicans and the party in general definitely take a stance toward less regulation and making things as easy as possible on business owners and industry, while also protecting our environment — protecting the Great Lakes.”
Whitmer’s order specifically aimed to address several issues the Department of Environmental Quality has attempted to tackle in recent months. In Flint, many citizens are still facing a lack of access to clean drinking water, while across the state, reports of PFAS chemicals in the water supply has drawn the public’s attention. While the DEQ has taken steps to resolve these crises, industry panels have been able to delay action until more industry-favorable resolutions are crafted.
Public Policy junior Katie Kelly, communications director for the College Democrats, pointed toward the ability of the panels to delay policy measures as a source of increasingly threatening environmental issues.
“One of the major problems of Governor Snyder’s industry-dominated panels was that they allowed for businesses to put their interests over the well-being of the environment,” Kelly said. “We are at a point in time where the future of our world is at stake. Actions must be taken now to ensure that polluters do not have the right to harm our environment further.”
In response to the lack of change on the state level, a number of student groups at the University have been pushing University administration to adopt environmental policies that would positively impact the state as a whole. Nonetheless, students remain concerned about the continuation of air and water problems that have plagued the state for the past several years.
LSA junior Julian Hansen, a spokesman for student environmental group Climate Action Movement, explained in a statement the rejection of Whitmer’s executive order should be concerning to members of the public.
“Overall, the Climate Action Movement at the University of Michigan is frustrated by the Michigan House of Representatives’ rejection of Governor Whitmer’s executive order,” Hansen wrote. “CAM stands firmly in support of Whitmer’s state-wide attempts to ameliorate Michigan’s environmental issues. Especially in Michigan, the issues of clean air, clean water and environmental justice are of the top priority, right alongside decreasing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.”
Despite the rejection of Whitmer’s order, bipartisan reform has not been taken off the table. According to Schleuning, environmental protection and protection of Michigan’s natural resources remains a key issue to Republicans.
“There’s nobody that can look you in the face and say that they don’t care about clean air, clean water and protecting our beautiful resources,” Schleuning said. “I do think this is something that we can all come together on.”