Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Michigan Gov. Whitmer signs executive orders, directive to protect water, combat climate change; legislators oppose her efforts

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. (Photo courtesy Office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer)

LANSING -- On Monday, Feb. 4, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed two executive orders and one executive directive to protect the Great Lakes, clean up our drinking water, and combat the impacts of climate change. Today, however, state legislators threaten to overturn her efforts.

Executive Order 2019-2 restructures the Department of Environmental Quality as the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The executive order also creates new offices within the department, including the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate, the Office of the Environmental Justice Public Advocate, and the Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team.

Executive Order 2019-3 strengthens the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) as an effort to inform the public about perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), locate contamination, and take action to protect sources of drinking water from these dangerous chemicals.

Executive Directive 2019-12 enters Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors from 19 other states that have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

"This is about finding real solutions to clean up our drinking water so every Michigander can bathe their kids and give them a glass of water at the dinner table safely," said Whitmer. "We have a chance to build a system that really works so we can protect our water and improve public health. We’ve also got to take action to protect our state from the effects of climate change. The science is in, and it’s time we get to work to mitigate the impact of climate change for the sake of our kids and future generations in Michigan."

Liesl Clark, who will serve as Director of EGLE, agreed that these executive orders mean the State of Michigan will be more responsive to protecting drinking water and the environment.

"By creating offices like the Clean Water Public Advocate, we can get to work solving the problems that dozens of communities are facing with their drinking water," Clark said. "I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work with Governor Whitmer to protect Pure Michigan and strengthen our economy."

Executive Order 2019-2 also creates a new office of climate and energy that will work with the governor to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and embrace more sustainable energy solutions.

This executive order will make state government more efficient, responsive and effective by transferring duties related to process improvement and good government to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB).

"DTMB is committed to developing and supporting meaningful process improvement and risk management tools across the state to make government more efficient and accountable," said DTMB Director Tricia Foster. "I look forward to working with all departments to enact Governor Whitmer’s vision of a more responsive and effective state government here in Michigan."

Michigan Environmental Council lauds Governor Whitmer's  directives

"It’s great to see the Whitmer administration following through on their campaign promises and making a concerted effort to protect the health of Michigan’s people and environment," said Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) Policy Director James Clift. "We hope this reorganization will return Michigan to a leadership position in protecting our residents."

Governor Whitmer also announced the elimination of the environmental rules review and permit oversight committees, which were created by the legislature and heavily dominated by representatives from industry and the regulated community.

"We commend Governor Whitmer for eliminating these undemocratic rule and permit panels," said Clift. "The removal of these committees puts the control of Michigan’s environmental protections back where it should have been all along, into the hands of elected officials who can be held accountable by voters."

MEC also commented on the directives creating offices of an environmental justice public advocate and drinking water public advocate to investigate complaints.

"An environmental justice public advocate and drinking water public advocate establishes accountability that has been sorely lacking in our state government and will allow the new environmental department to be more responsive to the concerns and needs of impacted communities," said Michigan Environmental Council Community Engagement Director Sandra Turner-Handy. "Minority and low income communities across our state are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation, and we thank the Whitmer administration for addressing some of the recommendations put forth by the 2017 Environmental Justice Work Group, and taking step towards preventing another environmental crisis from impacting the health of Michigan residents in the future."

MEC also praised Governor Whitmer for addressing climate change by creating an Office of Energy and Climate Change and pledging to keep Michigan committed to the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce carbon emissions in order to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

UPDATE: The Michigan Environmental Council today, Feb. 6, announced their awareness that the state legislature is trying to stop an executive order that will help protect the health of Michigan's people and environment. MEC asks citizens to email their state legislator and ask him/her to vote no on the resolution that would overturn Executive Order 2019-2 issued by Governor Whitmer on Monday, February 4. Click here for a form to help you take this action.

League of Conservation Voters applauds Governor Whitmer, challenges legislature to support her

On Feb. 4 the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) applauded Governor's Whitmer's announcement; and today, Feb. 6, Michigan LCV called on state lawmakers to support, not block, her recent executive order that restructures the Department of Environmental Quality to better protect our air, land and water.

On Feb. 4, Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan LCV, said, "Today’s announcement is a step toward ensuring Michigan cleans up toxic contamination in our drinking water, addresses climate change head-on, and is a regional leader in creating the jobs of the future."

However, on Feb. 6, warning that the Michigan House and Senate are poised to vote to overturn Governor Whitmer's Executive Order 2019-2 that reorganized the DEQ and dissolved the "Fox in the Henhouse" polluter panels, Wozniak said, "We need swift action to promote clean water, not legislative delays, political games or additional layers of bureaucracy. We urge the state Legislature to support and work with Gov. Whitmer to ensure state government can protect our water, Great Lakes and the health of Michigan citizens."

According to a Feb. 6 article posted this morning on MLive.com, "The legislature has 60 days from the signing of the order to decide whether to overturn it.

"Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said the Governor has broad Constitutional powers to reorganize government, subject to a legislative veto, 'including the power to support the action she took in EO 2019-2.'"*

* See "Lawmakers may overturn Whitmer plan to restructure DEQ" on today's MLive.com.  

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