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Michigan Threatens to Fumble Obama Great Lakes Initiative
State Plan to Abandon Wetlands Protection Undercuts New Great Lakes Effort
WASHINGTON - March 3 - Just as President Obama proposes a half-billion dollar partnership to improve the water quality of the Great Lakes in his ambitious new budget plan, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is moving to jettison key wetland protections in her state. The net result will be a huge loss of wetlands and water quality protections that will yield only minimal savings for the fiscally challenged state, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In her February 3, 2009 State of the State speech, Gov. Granholm proposed to drop Michigan's 30-year old law for protecting wetlands, considered among the best in the nation:
"I will recommend returning enforcement of wetlands protections to the federal government where more staff exists to effectively safeguard our natural resources."
In fact, the federal agency that would be left with the responsibility, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is not staffed to assume the state role. More significantly, since the state wetland law is much stronger than federal laws, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality estimates the Governor's plan will -
- Remove legal protections for nearly one million acres of Michigan wetlands - more than one-sixth of all the wetlands in the state that are classified as "isolated" and thus beyond federal jurisdiction;
- Strip safeguards for wetlands adjacent to more than one-third (36%) of all Michigan streams; and
- Leave wetlands surrounding more than 26,000 inland lakes and ponds vulnerable to development.
Gov. Grantham appeared to be making these same points in a December 12, 2007 letter to the Michigan congressional delegation, stating that her state's program "somewhat buffered" the effects of a U.S. Supreme court decision reducing federal wetland jurisdiction. She added that "we believe that it is entirely appropriate that states share responsibility for management of water resources that lie within their borders..." concluding that "My message to you must be as clear as Lake Superior..."
Significantly, both the Michigan Home Builders and conservation groups oppose repeal of Michigan's program. Moreover, this reversal occurs just as the Obama administration is calling for a historic $475 million partnership to "accelerate the restoration" of the Great Lakes and surrounding habitat. Instead of President Obama's call for an increased commitment, Gov. Granholm would abandon any state role in shielding or enhancing vital wetlands. Oddly, the total savings from this cutback, an estimated $2.5 million, will have no appreciable effect on the state's fiscal situation and pales beside the nearly half-billion dollar federal contribution.
"At the precise moment when President Obama calls on the Great Lake states to step up, Michigan is turning its back," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that not only are federal wetlands rules substantially weaker than Michigan's but federal wetlands law is currently in chaos, leaving a big question mark over the legal status of millions of acres of Michigan wetlands. "Michigan cannot benefit from a partnership if it has closed up shop."
The state legislature begins consideration of the wetlands repeal next week, starting on March 10th.