Nothing short of a regulatory revolution is needed if there is any chance of Michigan climbing out of its current economic depression. Leadership from both the private sector and government has been conspicuously absent for the last several years, and with two of the Big Three automakers in bankruptcy and unemployment hovering around 13 percent, our state's economy is in a meltdown. There is still reason to harbor some optimism, however, for Michigan's future. 

Hope may be on the way in the form of several regulatory reform bills recently introduced in the Michigan Legislature. These bills may not be a "shot heard around the world," but they certainly put the bureaucracy on notice that regulation without representation is not acceptable if Michigan is going to attract jobs.

  • Senate Bill 434 would prohibit state agencies from promulgating rules that are more stringent than federal standards without legislative approval.
  • Senate Bill 435 would require state agencies to prepare an annual regulatory plan to identify existing rules and whether they should be continued (an improvement to the bill would be to automatically sunset existing regulations after five years unless the Legislature approves their continuation). The proposed legislation also requires agencies and legislative committees to review rules periodically to assess their impact on small business.
  • Senate Bill 436 would provide for an expedited review of permits and remedial action plans required under state environmental laws. If an applicant hires an engineer certified by the Department of Environmental Quality to prepare the permit application or remedial action plan, the agency must adjudicate the permit within 21 days or the application is considered approved.
  • Senate Bills 602 and 603 would transfer the forest program from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture and create a right to forest act. The DNR has consistently failed to offer enough timber for sale that even equals the amount of timber growth on state forest lands (foresters refer to this as the allowable cut).

These bills revolve around the common theme of making the bureaucracy accountable to elected officials, something I first called for more than four years ago. These changes also would provide certainty to businesses in the state that if they comply with the law they have a reasonable expectation of obtaining the necessary permits in a timely manner. Environmental groups will almost certainly oppose these bills, but the legislation deals primarily with streamlining processes and do not lessen environmental standards.

Regulatory permitting is the door that most Michigan businesses must pass through if they are going to locate or expand their operations in the state. It makes little difference what the tax policy or labor climate is in the state if you cannot get through the regulatory door with certainty and undue delay. If our elected officials are serious about making Michigan a more attractive place to do business, they need to seriously undertake a regulatory revolution.

Michigan is blessed with abundant natural resources; a significant factor in transforming the state from a wilderness into a powerful industrial center during the last century. Using those natural resources responsibly is essential in transforming Michigan's economy to be competitive for the future. If we continue the current policy of making these resources off limits to responsible development, we will shut the door to economic recovery in the state. The regulatory revolution needs to begin now.

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Russ Harding is a former director of the Department of Environmental Quality and director of the Property Rights Network at 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.

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