The economies of the state’s large urban areas like Detroit and Flint are on life support. A bill introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, would effectively pull the plug on those cities, letting them silently die. House Bill 4901 would create an “environmental justice” regulatory regime. The concept behind environmental justice is that minorities are disproportionately affected by pollution in the areas in which they live.
Environmental justice was a much debated issue in the late 1990s. At that time, while serving as director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, I chaired an environmental justice committee on behalf of the state environmental commissioners and consequently was appointed by Carol Browner, then head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to a federal committee tasked to make recommendations on how to incorporate environmental justice concerns into environmental laws and regulations. After spending considerable time and effort, including meetings held around the country, the committee was unable to reach consensus on the controversial topic.
Environmental laws and regulations are designed to protect public health. How stringent environmental regulations need to be to protect public health is a matter of continuing debate. No matter what one’s view regarding the stringency of environmental standards; most people would agree that the law should be applied uniformly to all citizens. Drawing lines around core urban areas and applying more stringent environmental standards to those areas causes more problems than it solves.
HB 4901 is long on bureaucratic process with new boards and state government positions. If it were to become law, it would only serve to provide further divisions between cities like Detroit and Flint and their surrounding communities. The unmistakable message to job providers would be stay away from the cities, you are not welcome. Fewer jobs are the last thing that residents of Michigan’s urban areas need.