The Michigan Senate has voted to keep the state wetlands program targeted by Gov. Jennifer Granholm for return to the federal government. The vote was along party lines with the Republicans voting to keep the program and the Democrats voting against the legislation. Once again, legislators from both parties have come to the wrong conclusion.
By supporting the retention of state wetland permitting, Republicans are relying on state regulators to be more business friendly. That is a badly misplaced trust given the state's track record on wetland permitting. Directing that the Department of Environmental Quality cannot be more stringent than federal regulators is a step in the right direction, but is not good enough.
The Senate Democrats opposed the legislation, albeit for the wrong reasons. Their concern is that the bill erodes the strong wetland protection in current state law. Those so-called strong wetland protections are a threat to property rights within the state and serve to impede economic development, killing much needed jobs in the state.
State wetland regulators under the Senate legislation will still be free to make ridiculous demands of state property owners and businesses. There is nothing in the legislation that will prohibit DEQ from continuing its practice of requiring property owners to purchase other land for their development to satisfy the agency's definition of a reasonable and prudent alternative to filling wetlands.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is right in opposing the legislation that passed the Senate. To make matters worse, the Senate uses Clean Michigan bond funds to pay for the program - a clear stretch in the legal use of those funds.
Gov. Granholm is correct - on this and other certain issues - the state wetland program should be returned to the federal government to bring Michigan in line with 48 other states. Michigan can save more than $2 million in general fund tax dollars and send a much-needed signal to business and property owners that real regulatory reform is happening. The status quo that the Senate legislation represents will only lead to the continuing economic decline of the state.