The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337

Michigan Threatens to Fumble Obama Great Lakes Initiative

State Plan to Abandon Wetlands Protection Undercuts New Great Lakes Effort


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.


Read the Michigan DEQ analysis of impact of state wetlands repeal

Look at the 2007 Gov. Granholm letter defending the state program

See the outline of the Obama Great Lakes Initiative

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.