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Michigan's Republican Legislature Makes Moves Toward Undoing Whitmer’s DEQ Order

Feb 7, 2019

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with Yousef Rabhi in the background.
Credit Cheyna Roth / MPRN

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order to restructure the Department of Environmental Quality could be overturned before any changes are made.


Some Republicans don’t like that Whitmer’s executive order gets rid of several environmental oversight panels that were put in place by state law last year.  The state House passed a measure to undo the order Wednesday.

Representative Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance) chairs the committee that considered and then passed the measure.

“Nobody up here is debating whether or not the governor has a right to reorganize her departments,” said Sheppard.  “What we’re debating right now is that this executive order wipes out something that was done legislatively, just a few months ago, with the stroke of a pen.”

The House measure went from committee to a full floor vote within hours.  But the Senate decided to hold off for now on any measures to block the order.  Amber McCann is a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).  She said overturning the order is not his first choice, and he wants to continue discussions with Whitmer.

“The majority leader, I think has made clear with all things that process is important to him, that an open line of communication is important,” said McCann.

Some Republicans in the House also said they would prefer if Whitmer would rescind the order and sign an order that includes all the other parts but the part that gets rid of the panels.

Whitmer says she will not rescind the order.

“These are not essential,” Whitmer said of the panels.  “In fact, these are one more layer that keeps us from actually cleaning up drinking water and having real accountability.”

Whitmer’s Legislative Affairs Director, Greg Bird, sent a letter to the Legislature.  It says the order makes state government, “more efficient, responsive and effective by reducing bureaucracy.”

While the state House was considering its measure to undo the order, Whitmer announced that she had asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for her opinion on the legality of two of the panels.

“From high lead levels to PFAS contamination to foul-smelling emissions, the people of Michigan have faced increasing threats to our drinking water, air, the Great Lakes, and our overall public health,” Whitmer said in a statement.  “These commissions create unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that get in the way of our state government responding to problems with drinking water quickly, and their creation may violate federal requirements under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.  I look forward to hearing from Attorney General Nessel as we work to resolve this issue and ensure every community has clean, safe drinking water.”

Nessel said in a statement that her office will carefully evaluate the request.

The Legislature has 60 days to pass a measure in both chambers via a majority to block the order.

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—Cheyna Roth is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org