State representative, senator reintroduce polluter-pay bill

Thursday, February 21, 2019 - 7:12pm

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ypsilanti, assisted in reintroducing the polluter-pay bill Feb. 14.

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ypsilanti, assisted in reintroducing the polluter-pay bill Feb. 14. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Representative Yousef Rabhi and Senator Jeff Irwin reintroduced the polluter-pay bill to Michigan Legislature Thursday, Feb. 14.

The new bill would hold corporations and industries responsible for polluting Michigan air and water. State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ypsilanti, introduced the bill back in 2017 to the Michigan House of Representatives and teamed up with state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Petoskey, to reintroduce the bill to both the state House and Senate this year.

“What the polluter-pay law does is it re-establishes a law that we used to have in Michigan that says once a polluter makes a mess, they have to clean it up,” Rabhi said. “That’s the simplest way to put it.”

Irwin and Rabhi want to return to former Michigan laws that held pollutants more responsible. Michigan law was changed under the Engler administration. Currently, environmental policy works under risk mitigation which requires polluters to limit human exposure to pollutants rather than cleaning up the entirety of the pollution.

Irwin said this has caused more complications than solved problems. To highlight this, Irwin cited the Gelman lawsuit over the contamination of an Ann Arbor water supply.

“There was a company on the west side of Ann Arbor that polluted an aquifer under Ann Arbor and because the law only requires risk mitigation, the company was able to point to the fact that people living on top of that aquifer were drinking city water and because they weren’t actually exposed to that city water, they shouldn’t have to clean it up,” Irwin said.

The aquifer was sectioned off as a prohibition zone, or an area of natural resources that is sealed off for any future use due to its contamination.

Irwin said this bill is necessary for the health of Michigan residents, both present and future.

“We’re talking about how much of these toxic chemicals we’re going to leave in the ground and that has a translation to the number of people in the future who are going to be hurt as a result of this decision,” Irwin said.

Rabhi acknowledged this bill will not be easy to pass because the Michigan legislature is still controlled by Republicans.

“I think that there are significant hurdles,” Rabhi said. “Corporate polluters still have significant allies in the House with the Republican majority.”

Sometimes lawmakers forget residents when making decisions that benefit corporations, Irwin added.

“Sometimes in Lansing, I think it’s really easy to obscure the connection between the decisions we’re making to how much pollution is allowed and the very real cancers and other health problems people get as a result of these decisions,” Irwin said.

In Irwin’s point of view, current laws are rewarding companies that do not spend extra expenses on practicing cleaner operations.

“The additional hazard of allowing polluters to be let off the hook is that you have a whole universe of good corporate citizens out there, companies that are doing the right thing,” Irwin said. “Companies that are spending money to make sure that their operations are more sustainable and more in line with the public interest and are protective of public health.”

The Daily reached out to the University’s chapter of College Republicans, but they were unable to comment in time for publication.

Katie Kelly, communications director of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, believes this bill will help both Michigan’s environment and population.

“I think the new bills introduced by Representative Rabhi and Senator Irwin are a great step forward for our community,” Kelly wrote in an email interview with The Daily. “If corporations are dumping pollutants into our environment it should be their job to clean it up… . If this bill passes, I believe it will help clean up the environment as well as improve the health of those affected by corporate polluters.