The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337

Michigan Give Feds Notice of Surrendering Wetlands Program

U.S. EPA and Army Corps to Begin Take-Over of State Permits and Enforcement


The State of Michigan has given formal notice to the federal
government that the state is beginning the process of withdrawing its
wetlands protection program and the federal agencies must prepare to
take over permitting and enforcement, according to a letter released
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Michigan's Legislature is still considering whether to adopt Gov.
Jennifer Granholm's proposal to scrap wetland protections in her state.

Federal regulations require the state to provide at least 180 days
notice of a transfer of authority. The March 31, 2009 letter from
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Steven Chester to
U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson indicates that the state wetlands
program may be defunct as of October 1, the beginning of the next
fiscal year, thus necessitating immediate notice.

The regulations also require Michigan to "submit a plan for the
orderly transfer of all relevant program information...such as permits,
permit files, reports, [and] permit applications" necessary to run the
wetlands program. Michigan has yet to develop this transition plan,
however. DEQ Director Chester instead asked for permission to develop
an unspecified "alternative transfer scenario". Chester writes that DEQ
will have to figure out how to achieve "a minimally disruptive process
for all parties involved" for -

  • Federal take-over of all current, pending and proposed permits that DEQ has issued;
  • The Army Corps and EPA assuming jurisdiction over wetlands violations,
    making such enforcement matters literally into federal cases; and
  • Suspension of federal grant funds to Michigan, return of unspent grants and accounting for incomplete projects.

"This move by Michigan promises to be a major headache that will eat
into whatever small savings the state hoped to achieve," stated PEER
Executive director Jeff Ruch, noting that the state projects an annual
savings of only $2 million by repealing its 30-year wetland law,
considered a national model. "The Corps has only a handful of people in
Michigan. It is likely that many construction projects will face long
delays until the Corps can staff up to cover the added workload."

One additional problem is that the state law is far more protective
than federal law - and the scope of federal law is in flux, subject to
sharp disagreements and litigation. Unfamiliarity with both federal
rules and officials will compound uncertainties, as indicated by the
fact that even the top DEQ wetland official did not know how to contact
the Secretary of the Army to send the required transfer notice.

"Local officials know local conditions and therefore often deliver
the best, most responsive service to the public," Ruch added.
"Michiganders will rue the day they gave up local control to a distant
federal government."

Read the Michigan DEQ letter to EPA

View the federal regulations governing the wetlands transfer

See the DEQ request to find the Secretary of the Army

Look at the consequences for Michigan wetlands

Examine the opposition of former Gov. Milliken to wetlands repeal

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.