It appears to be a done deal that Michigan’s Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality will be combined into one agency. Now it appears that the Department of Agriculture may also be rolled into a new tripartite “super agency.” The very mention of this should frighten any Michigan resident involved in agriculture.
Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry. According to a 2007 study prepared by Michigan State University’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources, agriculture contributes $71.3 billion to Michigan’s economy and grew at a rate of 11.9 percent between 2006 and 2007, a growth rate more than five times that of the general economy in the state. Burying agriculture in the bowels of a large bureaucracy (the DNR’s budget is approximately three times larger than the Department of Agriculture’s and DEQ’s is over four times larger) does not bode well for agriculture, currently the best performing sector in the state’s economy.
If the three agencies are combined, I would highly recommend that someone from agriculture be selected to head up the agency. A DNR type who is consumed with hunting and fishing issues or, even worse, an environmental regulator who views Michigan agriculture as a threat to the environment appointed as director of the combined agency would be a disaster for the state’s second largest industry. Additionally, the DNR has consistently sided with sportsmen regarding the issue of deer overpopulation in southern Michigan, resulting in large deer herds and significant crop damage.
The DEQ is not above reproach, either. During the last several years, DEQ wetland regulators have been issuing wetland permit decisions that undermine protections afforded farmers under the Right to Farm Act. Under a combined agency, farmers should expect tougher restrictions on combined animal feeding operations and an erosion of water rights.
In my former capacities as deputy director of the DNR and director of the DEQ, it is evident to me that large bureaucracies are inherently inefficient and slow to respond — precisely what is not needed to revitalize the state’s economy. Governor Granholm — who is so high on the creation on new green jobs — should not ignore the green jobs the state currently enjoys in agriculture. Combining agriculture with the DNR and DEQ would do precisely that.