Businesses throughout the state consistently told former Gov. Jennifer Granholm that obtaining required environmental permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was an expensive, time consuming and frustrating experience. The former governor refused to make any meaningful regulatory reforms and arguably made matters worse by combining the DEQ and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources into one agency in the waning days of her administration.
Gov. Rick Snyder took a step in the right direction by separating environmental and natural resource functions into two agencies; mirroring the actions taken by former Gov. John Engler when he created the DEQ in 1995. Gov. Snyder also abolished the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth and replaced it with a new Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
The reorganization, however, falls short of what is needed to reform Michigan’s dysfunctional environmental permitting system. The sole government unit transferred to the DEQ from the new DLRA is the Bureau of Energy Systems. The Bureau of Energy Systems deals with energy policy, energy efficiency, alternative energy, green infrastructure, green programs and practices, low-impact design, sustainability and recycling. A better course of action would be to eliminate these non-essential functions rather than transfer them to another agency. The most important organizational change was left undone — moving environmental permitting out of the DEQ to the new agency.
Well intentioned politicians often believe that if they just put the right people in charge of government the problems will be fixed. This seldom works as department heads come and go but the problems remain. Unfortunately thus far, the Snyder administration has not made the necessary structural changes to the environmental regulatory bureaucracy that will remove barriers to job creation in the state.