The most troubling
aspect of the growth of government in the past 50 years has been the expanding
scope of unelected government bureaucracies and their near-monopoly on
interpreting many of the laws that govern us.
A new Mackinac Center publication addresses this with reforms to relocate this
regulatory power where it belongs — with the people's elected representatives
in the Legislature.
Released just in time for a new governor and many rookie
legislators, “Environmental Regulation in Michigan: A Blueprint for Reform”
lays out the changes needed to restore accountability to the regulatory
process. Russ Harding, the Mackinac Center’s senior environmental policy
analyst, proposes general principles for a good regulatory system, then
suggests statutory and structural changes to protect the environment while also
fostering a flourishing economy.
necessity for sensible regulatory policies amidst great economic competition
between the states, the Blueprint explains that businesses take regulatory
restrictions seriously in choosing where to invest and create jobs. The
Blueprint reforms would transform Michigan’s harsh regulatory climate into
a system responsive to Michiganders’ needs.
The principles in the
Blueprint focus on the need for regulatory agencies to be limited in their
power, accountable to the people and fair to those seeking permits. Currently,
the Legislature writes generic laws and lets unelected regulators determine the
specific applications of the laws.
As such, these administrators, who are not accountable to the people,
essentially have the power to create the rules that affect all individuals and
businesses in Michigan.
Proposed changes in
statute include requiring legislative votes on regulations rather than allowing
unelected bureaucrats to set the rules, imposing deadlines for permit-issuance
to expedite the regulatory process for individuals and business, preparing
fiscal reports on all regulations so the full costs are known to residents and
policymakers, and enacting a Regulatory Bill of Rights as a guarantee that all
will be treated fairly and promptly in the regulatory process.
The Blueprint also
suggests administrative changes. Shedding permitting power from the Michigan
Department of Natural Resources and Environment to a separate agency
responsible for all permitting would prevent a conflict of interest between
issuance and enforcement, both of which currently fall to the DNRE.
Furthermore, reallocating responsibility for certain programs to the local or
federal level can help improve the environment and reduce costs. Wetland
permitting can be effectively managed by federal agencies, as is done in the
vast majority of states. Landfill regulation, on the other hand, would be best
managed on the local level, as local governments have the most interest in
properly regulating them. Finally, privatization opportunities should be
explored for functions like environmental laboratories and certain aspects of
For the Blueprint, Harding drew on his extensive
experience in the realm of environmental regulation and analysis, particularly
his seven years as the director of the Michigan Department
of Environmental Quality.
The Blueprint’s case
for change and specific reforms have caught the attention of many. Harding has
discussed the document with incoming Gov. Rick Snyder’s transition team and
incoming Attorney General Bill Schuette. The Blueprint was covered in MIRS
News, and Harding discussed it during radio interviews with WJR’s Frank
Beckmann, WTCM’s Ron Jolly, WMKT’s Greg Marshall, WOOD radio and Michigan
Radio. He also spoke about the Blueprint to an economic development group in
Saginaw, and wrote related Op-Eds for the Lansing State Journal and
The Oakland Press.
Harding has emphasized the immediate importance of the
Blueprint: “We hear a lot about the loss of jobs to foreign competition,” he
said. “But a far greater threat is the loss of jobs to other states that have
fewer regulatory barriers.” Harding’s proposals would improve both Michigan’s
natural and economic environment.