Gov. Jennifer Granholm issued an executive order on May 24 to abolish Michigan’s distinguished Environmental Science Board. The action is necessary, the governor claims, to "contribute to a smaller and more efficient state government." But elimination of the MESB will result in higher costs to taxpayers. The Legislature should restore the state’s most cost-effective and reliable source of scientific expertise.
The MESB was created by Gov. John Engler in 1992 as an independent state agency for the express purpose of providing expert advice on environmental protection and natural resources management. The all-volunteer board is comprised of an executive director and nine members appointed by the governor who have expertise in one or more of the following disciplines: engineering, ecological sciences, chemistry, physics, toxicology, pharmacology, biological sciences, human medicine, statistics, risk management, geology, economics and other academic disciplines as necessary. The board has no paid staff.
The MESB is unique to state government for the following reasons:
The science board does not advocate for or against environmental or public health policies. Its sole purpose is to provide scientific or technical advice entirely divorced from the personal opinions or professional interests of its members.
All conclusions and recommendations by the MESB are based on consensus supported by compelling scientific data and rationale.
The MESB only operates when given an investigative charge by the governor. The only costs associated with the board are for travel reimbursements and the publication and distribution of reports.
Since 1992, the MESB has prepared 18 scientific reports on a variety of issues, including evaluations of the environmental and human health impacts of mercury, chlorine and lead; the efficacy of directional drilling under the Great Lakes; and the probability of occurrence of certain types of cancer among fire fighters. The board’s reports have served as the scientific underpinning of state environmental policy, and its expertise and credibility have been recognized by numerous government agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
During the past four years, the Granholm administration has consulted only once with the board’s experts. In 2003, the governor requested an evaluation of a study proposal from the Department of Community Health concerning human chemical exposures in Michigan. The board concluded that DCH’s proposal failed to demonstrate a basic understanding of "biomonitoring" as well as an understanding of the basic principles of toxicology necessary to conduct valid research. The proposal was never revised.
Following this assessment, the MESB never again was asked to assist in the scientific evaluation of any policy issue. Instead, the Granholm administration has paid considerable fees to private consultants for advice on such pressing state issues as the exposures to dioxin in the Midland area and along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers; the environmental impacts of mining in the Upper Peninsula; mitigation strategies for the emerald ash borer; and the effects of groundwater withdrawals. The cost of private consultants is estimated to run some 20 times more than the cost of an MESB report.
Absent the MESB, the state will continue to pay considerably more to private consultants for scientific assistance on complex environmental and public health issues. Thus, lawmakers should reject Executive Order 2007-21 and re-establish the science board, or request that the governor transfer the MESB to the Legislative branch.
Keith G. Harrison served as executive director of the MESB from 1992 until 2005. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fisheries/wildlife biology from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in ecology from Western Michigan University. He is licensed as a registered sanitarian and registered environmental health specialist, and is certified as a senior ecologist. He is a former director of special environmental projects for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Mr. Harrison is founder of KGH Environmental PLC, and currently serves on the Ecological Effects Subcommittee for the U.S. EPA’s Advisory Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis and as a science adviser for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.