Guest Column

2013 changes to environmental regulations proved significant

January 10, 2014
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Although there were not many changes to environmental regulations in 2013, they were significant — and 2014 could bring more meaningful changes in key areas.

Important changes in 2013 include:

Wetlands legislation: The legislature passed long-anticipated revisions to Michigan’s wetlands program that had been a product of considerable negotiation over many months. Key changes included revisions to the permit process that will provide clarity to businesses, revisions to many permit requirements and exemptions, and authorizing the DEQ to develop streamlined general permits for certain activities.

Cleanup criteria: Throughout 2013, the DEQ and key stakeholders pursued — and eventually approved — new rules regarding environmental cleanup that contain some important updates. These changes provide more clarity for businesses that are attempting to address contamination at a site, especially sites with contamination from fuels such as gasoline.

Other changes: Two other changes that are relatively smaller but still important include the reinstatement of an exemption from cleanup responsibilities for contamination resulting from historic agricultural operations, and legislation that addressed a problem with how the DEQ was addressing releases by businesses of sodium and chloride into municipal wastewater treatment facilities, which was over-burdensome and a possible deterrent to new businesses relocating to certain areas.

It is anticipated that 2014 will usher in more changes to environmental regulations that could include:

Beneficial-use legislation: For more than a year, the DEQ has been working with stakeholders on legislation that would provide a regulatory framework for the beneficial use of industrial byproducts. This legislation likely will be introduced in the first quarter of 2014. This legislation will authorize businesses to use certain industrial byproducts for beneficial uses such as construction fill, road base, farm applications, components in bonded materials and waste treatment.

Additional changes to cleanup criteria: The DEQ is expected to begin to work with stakeholders on additional changes to the environmental cleanup criteria. This will be a continuation of the discussion that occurred throughout 2013 and could include further evaluation of toxicity values, exposure factors, vapor intrusion, soil gas and other issues.

Amendments to Michigan’s environmental remediation law: In addition, we expect to see legislation introduced to amend Part 201, Michigan’s environmental remediation law. It will contain various changes aimed at addressing issues that have arisen over time with the law, including what it means to be a facility, restrictive covenants and institutional controls, source control and other issues.

Amendments to Part 31, Michigan’s water resources protection law: In 2006, the legislature amended Part 31 to prohibit the DEQ from making any further rules or rule changes, but a need has now arisen to change the rules. The legislature may move regulations that will contain many of the needed or desired changes to the rules, consistent with a recommendation made by the Office of Regulatory Reinvention Environmental Advisory Committee in 2011, which included suggested changes that would be critical to businesses such as significantly reducing the burdens of release reporting.

Recycling reform: In 2013, the DEQ worked with stakeholders to develop a recommended approach for comprehensive recycling in Michigan. This approach sought a convenient, comprehensive and cost-effective recycling system for all Michigan residents. We expect to see the conversation continue in the coming year.

Liquid industrial waste: Changes to regulations governing liquid industrial waste may be developed in 2014. These changes could make the process of handling these materials more streamlined and cost-effective for businesses.

Air toxics program: The regulated community feels that changes to Michigan’s air toxics regulations are necessary to level the playing field with other states by eliminating or clarifying requirements that unnecessarily heighten public anxiety, delay permit issuance and cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be put to better use. The DEQ and the regulated community will continue to work toward developing changes to the regulations governing Michigan’s air toxics program.

Troy Cumings is a partner at Warner Norcross and Judd and chair of the firm’s government affairs practice group. He works extensively on environmental policy issues in Lansing and has served on the Office of Regulatory Reinvention Environmental Advisory Rules Committee. He can be reached at tcumings@wnj.com.

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