There is little objective evidence that Michigan is facing a "sprawl" crisis: Less than 10 percent of the state is urbanized, and long-term trends show no dramatic changes in land use.
Michigan is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and the
state's environmental quality has vastly improved in the past three decades. All
areas of the state are currently in compliance with national ambient air quality
standards, and Great Lakes wildlife is thriving, indicating healthier waters.
The bald eagle population, for example, increased from just 50 nests in 1961 to
366 in 2000 (see Chart 1).1
Wild trout stocks have likewise rebounded: Hatchery lake trout comprise less
than 20 percent of the trout population in Lake Superior, for example.2
Forestland, too, is flourishing, now covering 44 percent of the state. The rate
of wetland loss, meanwhile, is in decline.
Smokestacks and tailpipes no longer constitute the gravest environmental
threats. Billions of dollars invested in new technologies have dramatically
reduced industrial emissions (see Chart 2).
Indeed, it is proof of our environmental progress that the regulatory focus has
largely shifted to more marginal sources of pollution, such as stormwater runoff
and dry-cleaning exhaust. More than releases of PCBs, DDT, or lead, the biggest
challenges include "natural" phenomenon such as the "invasion" by non-native
species of the lakes and inland waters.
Washington has long dictated the lion's share of environmental regulation.
And while laws such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act have produced
results, the costs to the economy, property rights, and state sovereignty have
been colossal. In his book "Clearing the Air: The Real Story of the War on Air
Pollution," author Indur M. Goklany documents that air quality had been
improving prior to federalization-and probably would have continued to improve
regardless of costly mandates from Washington. But states like Michigan do have
an important role to play as laboratories for more effective environmental
policy. This means relying less on the command-and-control regulatory regime
that stifles innovation and increases bureaucratic costs in favor of flexible,
incentive-based policies that yield greater benefit for every dollar spent.
7. Require legislative approval of major environmental regulations.
Environmental concerns understandably rank high among Michigan citizens, and
elected officials are, therefore, loath to be perceived as anti-environmental.
But voters also are pragmatic, recognizing the flaws inherent in the radical
policy prescriptions advocated by many in the green lobby. In juggling these
various interests, lawmakers often enact vague environmental statutes that
effectively delegate to regulatory agencies an enormous amount of discretionary
power. But such regulatory agencies have every incentive to promulgate the most
costly and complex rules. (Exacerbating matters is the fact that courts have
long deferred to the presumed expertise of agencies such as Michigan's
Department of Environmental Quality, even in the absence of statutory
authority.) More rational regulation likely would result if major regulations
were required by law to undergo legislative scrutiny and win approval before
taking effect. Not only would such a requirement restore accountability to the
Legislature, it would force the executive branch to prioritize its rulemaking by
slowing the proliferation of new regulations.
8. Privatize conservation of public lands.
In their report "Progressive Environmentalism: A Pro-Human, Pro-Science,
Pro-Free Enterprise Agenda for Change," authors Richard L. Stroup and John C.
Goodman describe the dramatic improvements in water quality achieved in England
and Scotland after private groups secured from the government exclusive fishing
rights in public waterways. Voluntary associations such as the Anglers'
Cooperative in England fiercely protect their waters to preserve fishing stocks.
But as Stroup and Goodman note, "In this country, virtually all state
governments have disallowed private ownership of stream flows on the theory that
government should hold these rights in `public trust.' As a result, public
streams are often subject to over fishing and pollution." In the interest of
improving the condition of inland lakes and streams, the Legislature should
authorize a pilot project involving privatization of fishing rights.
9. Neutralize government advantages in enforcement actions.
Regulators routinely exercise the option of filing enforcement actions in Ingham
County, the seat of state government, rather than the jurisdiction where the
alleged violation occurs. This choice of venue poses a disadvantage to citizens
because of the increased costs associated with a case being tried far from the
defendant's home or business. Moreover, government is shielded from the true
costs of enforcement actions and, therefore, is not fully accountable for the
number and types of cases adjudicated. Legislation is needed to require that
regulatory enforcement actions be filed in the jurisdiction where the alleged
violation occurs, unless the defendant agrees otherwise.
10. Eliminate incentives for "urban sprawl" and reform policies that induce
Continued development and the destruction of wildlife habitat often are
cited as threats to the environment. Consequently, a slew of legislative
proposals to limit land use are pending in the Legislature, while counties and
municipalities across the state are enacting ordinances to restrict development.
Yet there is little objective evidence that Michigan is facing a "sprawl"
crisis: Less than 10 percent of the state is urbanized, and long-term trends
show no dramatic changes in land use.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy study, "`Urban Sprawl' and the Michigan
Landscape: A Market-Oriented Approach," analyzes decades of statistics on
urbanization and land use in Michigan to offer five key recommendations for
rational land use policy:
Tax policies should be fair and uniform across the board so as to minimize tax-
Siting and other regulatory permitting should be streamlined to reduce the cost
of doing business in Michigan and to encourage wealth creation and investment in
all businesses and industries, including agriculture.
Full or "marginal" cost-pricing for public services and infrastructure should be
implemented to avoid indirect subsidization of "urban sprawl."
Land use programs should emphasize flexibility and voluntary participation.
Property rights must be protected to preserve liberty and rationalize markets
In addition, the redevelopment of core cities would be enhanced were local
governments to expedite deed clearance on tax-reverted and abandoned properties
by contracting with private experts to clear the backlog and with real estate
agencies to return the properties to private ownership.
For further information, please see
11. Allow judicial review of all environmental enforcement actions.
Several of Michigan's principal environmental statutes prohibit citizens from
seeking judicial review of enforcement decisions dictated by the Department of
Environmental Quality (DEQ). Regulators have justified their unchecked power by
claiming that litigation would delay clean-ups and other remediation orders,
thereby endangering public health and the environment. In fact, however, a great
many DEQ cases go unresolved for years at a time. And absent the check on its
enforcement powers, the agency is insulated from accountability. Establishing
the right to judicial review would inject discipline into environmental
12. Eliminate Michigan's Civilian Conservation Corps.
Modeled on Depression-era public works programs, Michigan's Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC) employs some 200 young adults each year for state park
maintenance. The majority of recruits are also fed and housed by the state,
making program costs per corps member more than $17,700-more than double the
amount of per pupil spending in Michigan. Participants who log 1,700 hours also
become eligible for a federal education grant of $4,725 (or $2,362 for 900 hours
of service). Enrollment suspends all payments due on outstanding student loans,
while accrued interest is covered in full by taxpayers. Thus, Michigan families
who may be struggling with their own college costs are subsidizing the
eligibility of others for federal tuition assistance.
The CCC program enables the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to avoid some
of the budget discipline that otherwise requires government agencies to
prioritize spending. If the DNR cannot properly fulfill its stewardship
obligations absent a corps of federally subsidized workers, perhaps some of the
state's vast land holdings ought to be returned to private ownership. Grappling
with the prospect of budget shortfalls, Michigan cannot afford the luxury of
such a costly make-work program.