Food Service & Agriculture, Government, and Sustainability

Businesses decry lack of change at MDEQ

Gov. Whitmer’s order would have reorganized department charged with water quality.

February 22, 2019
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Area business owners are bemoaning the Michigan Senate’s decision to maintain private oversight of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The Michigan Senate on Feb 14 voted 22-16 against an environmental executive order signed the week prior by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The order was intended to better position the government to protect the health and safety of families across the state.

Most notably, Whitmer’s order would have abolished the private-interest panel possessing veto power over the rulemaking process of the MDEQ, which is the primary state authority for regulation of water quality.

The order would have reorganized the MDEQ into the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, and would have created an Interagency Environmental Response Team to act as an advisory body within the department and consisting of ex-officio members.

The order also included provisions for the development of an Office of Clean Water Public Advocate, Office of Climate and Energy, Office of the Great Lakes and an Office of the Environmental Justice Public Advocate.

The department would have reserved the right to create one or more science review boards to advise it and the governor on scientific issues relating to the authorities, powers, duties, functions and responsibilities of the department, including those relating to protecting Michigan’s environment, the Great Lakes and the safety of drinking water.

For business owners whose capital relies on clean water, the decision is disappointing.

“It’s disappointing, to say the least,” Brewery Vivant co-owner Kris Spaulding said. “Clean water is the foundation of our state and many businesses like ours that rely on decision-making geared toward the long-term view of protecting the health of our environment and our people.”

Brewery Vivant’s water is only as good as what it receives, as the company uses city water in its brewing process. Spaulding said the brewery does not adjust the water for cleanliness, only for the type of beer being brewed.

Despite being a business owner, Spaulding said she approved of Whitmer’s intent to remove business oversight on environmental matters. Spaulding also is a member of the Great Lakes Business Network, which advocates for the protection of the Great Lakes from environmental threats.

“I think it’s easy for us in this state to take for granted our natural resources. I thought it was awesome that she was going to try to shuffle the deck a little bit, try to remove the oversight from the business community despite the fact that I am a business owner. We need to look toward the long-term impacts,” Spaulding said.

“We’ve seen implications of what happens when priorities are in the wrong order,” she added. “We keep hearing about the water crisis in Flint … what a tragedy that our state, surrounded by all this amazing clean water, is also known for Flint.”

Garry Boyd, owner of the Unicorn Tavern in Grand Haven, also condemned the Senate’s vote against Whitmer’s order.

“Freshwater is the foundation of the community in which our family resides and where we do business,” Boyd said. “Without investing in the long-term health of our Great Lakes and in the quality of our drinking water, we are perpetuating an environment that is bad for business, our economy and the health of Michigan."

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