Democrats in the state Legislature say it’s time to restore citizen oversight panels to supervise air and water programs in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
The independent, appointed panels were eliminated 25 years ago by Republican Governor John Engler and were never brought back under his Democratic successor, Governor Jennifer Granholm, nor by Governor Rick Snyder.
But some lawmakers say now the Flint water crisis and air pollution surrounding an oil refinery in Detroit show it was mistake to scrap the boards. “We need another set of eyes,” says state Representative Phil Phelps (D-Flint). “We need another watchdog to make sure residents of the state of Michigan won’t have to worry about things we take for granted every day.”
“If we had these committees in place years ago, we might have been able to safeguard the people of Flint and of southwest Detroit,” says state Senator Coleman Young. “We literally would have saved lives.”
There was no immediate response from Governor Rick Snyder’s administration. But the Republican chair of the House oversight committee says the idea is worth a closer look. “I think what you find, especially in our term-limited era, is that bureaucracy becomes entrenched and empowered, and the citizens, and even legislators, unfortunately, need to find avenues to get around them when roadblocks are presented,” says state Representative Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan).