Wetlands reform signed into law

Legislation that will continue Michigan’s legacy of guarding its natural resources while encouraging responsible economic and agricultural development has been signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, said sponsor state Sen. Mike Green.

“The reforms in Public Act 98 of 2013 will guarantee that Michigan continues to be one of only two states in the nation that operates its own wetlands regulation program independent of the federal Environmental Protection Agency,” said Green, R-Mayville. “As a state, we have been doing this since 1984. The reforms bring Michigan in line with requirements of the federal Clean Water Act while preserving the efficiency, responsiveness and pro-jobs approach that only local control can offer.”

Under federal law, the EPA is responsible for regulating activities impacting air and water quality, including wetlands, but Michigan received a waiver in 1984 to operate its own program as long as it complied with CWA requirements. New Jersey is the only other state to also receive such a waiver. In 2008, the EPA issued a determination that Michigan’s program violated federal law in several areas and ordered the state to be in compliance. Failure to do so wouldhave resulted in federal regulators based in Chicago assuming control.

“The average time it takes for someone to receive a wetlands-related permit from the state DEQ is 21 days. The national average from the EPA for other states is over 9 months,” commented Green. “The need for the bill is obvious. If Michigan were to lose its independence on wetlands, the consequences and costs for Michigan job creators, farmers, local government and property owners would be devastating and could derail our state’s economic comeback, while doing nothing more to protect our natural resources.”

Green emphasized that the bill achieves a responsible balance among the needs to protect wetlands, property rights and lawful commerce. House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas, who also worked on the reforms for nearly two years, agreed.

“One of my top priorities since I took office was to make these changes to Michigan’s wetlands program, and I am pleased that Sen. Green’s bill has accomplished that goal,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “PA 98 makes the wetlands program more effective and efficient and protects property owners’ rights, and I am happy that it is now law.

“The legislators from the Great Lakes Bay Region came together to accomplish this, and I appreciate the bipartisan support that has gone into these updates to our wetlands statutes. They were a long time coming.”

According to the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB), the reforms being signed into law were important for Michigan agriculture, the second-largest industry in the state.

“Michigan farmers had a lot at stake with this bill,” said Matt Smego, legislative counsel for the MFB, in applauding the bill becoming law. In particular, Smego pointed out that state autonomy was especially important to a lot of farmers.

The legislation was crafted over years of negotiations involving stakeholders from every facet of the issue. In the end, the bill was supported by the Michigan and Detroit Chambers of Commerce, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners, major utilities, homebuilders, realtors and County Road Association of Michigan.