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“No stricter than federal” repeal signed into law

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It will soon be easier for Michigan government agencies to come up with environmental regulations that go beyond federal standards.

That’s after Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer Thursday signed a repeal of the state’s “no stricter than federal” policy from 2018.

State Senator Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) sponsored the new law. He said it’ll let agencies properly respond to environmental threats, calling federal standards “the floor.”

“We are not a state that operates at a floor, at a minimum level of environmental protection. Especially considering all of our environmental resources, our water, our waterways, rivers, lakes, streams,” McCann said.

But critics say ending the no stricter than federal policy was unnecessary.

Amanda Fisher is the Michigan state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. She argues the 2018 law still let the state have rules that are tougher than federal standards, only with extra oversight.

“We’re not saying there are never times where that might be appropriate. We just want regulators to think through that,” Fisher said.

Typically, new regulations from state agencies need to go through the bureaucratic rulemaking process. That involves oversight from the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, commonly calledJCAR. It’s made up of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

“It’s very limited how the Legislature can use that to stop regulations. It’s not the panacea of regulatory oversight that you would hope it would be,” Fisher said.

She noted an attempt to pass a “no more stringent” law in 2011 was vetoed by then Republican Governor Rick Snyder for not giving the state enough leeway.

Fisher said the 2018 policy was a compromise that required agencies to defend their choices if they wanted to go tougher than federal requirements.

During the committee process, environmental groups largely supported the legislation to repeal it. Meanwhile, business groups like the NFIB testified against it.

McCann said there weren’t any new sweeping regulations waiting in the wings now that his bill passed. He dismissed concerns about new, heavy-handed rules as something he doesn’t believe will come to fruition.

“It simply removes barriers should Michigan want and need to enact tougher environmental restrictions on a faster basis,” McCann said.

He mentioned potential threats like pollution or toxic chemical exposure in drinking water as some areas were having more flexibility to create rules would be helpful.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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