The Michigan Legislature voted on Feb. 14 to reject Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order reorganizing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). This was a historic move, as it’s been 42 years since the last time Michigan lawmakers rejected a governor’s executive order.
The would have restructured the MDEQ into the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. It also would have abolished three committees that were created by the legislature last year. These committees have the power to overturn and delay decisions made by the environmental agency.
Additionally, the order would put more emphasis on clean drinking water and responding to the looming threat of climate change.
The MDEQ is in desperate need of an overhaul. The agency came in 2015 for its role in the Flint water crisis. When presented with evidence of increased levels of lead in the water, the MDEQ failed to act appropriately.
As a pediatrician in Flint, Mona Hanna-Attisha saw first-hand what the effects of increased lead levels were having on the community. In her book “What The Eyes Don’t See,” Hanna-Attisha describes how Miguel Del Toral, an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency, met intense resistance when releasing a report about Flint’s water situation.
“At MDEQ, the memo was met with even more resistance and hostility,” Hanna-Attisha said. “State regulators painted Del Toral as a lone wolf and alarmist, ‘a rogue employee,’ who had grossly exceeded his authority.”
As the agency that is tasked with ensuring clean drinking water in the state of Michigan, the MDEQ should have instantly responded with more testing of Flint’s drinking water and issued a warning to the residents. This report should have been a major red flag. The agency failed to respond to the crisis outlined in the report.
A lack of transparency also became an issue while Hanna-Attisha was investigating Flint’s lead problems. When continuing to test Flint’s water for lead, the MDEQ failed to properly the tests. Proper methods for collecting samples were ignored and the process was very unorganized.
The MDEQ is clearly a corrupt and inefficient organization in need of a complete overhaul. The executive order issued by Gov. Whitmer tackled these issues and hopefully would have prevented another crisis like that in Flint from ever happening again.
The opposition from Republicans was due to Whitmer’s plan to abolish the three committees created by the legislature. The committees were created to give businesses more say in the process of environmental protections.
This is ridiculous, as most businesses do not have the public interest in mind when it comes to environmental protections. Oftentimes, these protections cost businesses money. Why should they have so much power over the protection of our environment?
GOP Rep. Jim Lower called the elimination of the committees an “abuse of power.”
The Michigan Constitution explicitly gives the governor the to reorganize the state government. While the legislature also has the power to overturn executive orders, Whitmer was completely within her scope of power. The move was clearly an attempt to obstruct progress in strengthening environmental protections in the state.
The MDEQ is in desperate need of restructuring, and we must ensure no city in Michigan is ever without clean drinking water. Additionally, it’s time for the state to take more aggressive action in fighting climate change. The executive order issued by Gov. Whitmer was a step in the right direction, and state Republicans must put the welfare of the state before party loyalty.