Michigan citizens value a healthy environment, and generously support
government programs to protect natural resources. The Clean Michigan Initiative,
however, unnecessarily inflates the state's debt load, fails to adequately
address Michigan's most pressing environmental problems, and lacks realistic
This failure stems in large part from a policy grounded more in politics than
science. The CMI is predicated on the notion that suburban sprawl is
environmentally hazardous and publicly funded brownfield cleanups will slow
"greenfield" development. In fact, many developers and their clients
prefer the suburbs for a variety of entirely rational reasons, including better
city services, lower crime rates and higher educational standards. Thus,
environmental contamination appears to inhibit urban reinvestment less than a
host of other thorny economic, regulatory and social problems plaguing some
We also note that funding decisions on brownfield sites were made prior to an
independent evaluation of potential results. Thus, the Departments of
Environmental Quality and Natural Resources essentially guessed whether tens of
millions of dollars invested in specific brownfield cleanups and recreation
grants would spur private investment and job creation as promised. Government
has not proven its ability to outguess private investors.
Unlike a number of other states, Michigan restricts CMI grants to public
entities. But entrepreneurs are, in general, far better equipped than civil
servants - no matter how resourceful - to judge development prospects and
maximize cleanup efficiency.
The CMI funding priorities, in some respects, may actually thwart program
goals. For example, state officials favored cleanups "likely" to
attract large industrial development over smaller sites suitable for commercial
growth. This conflicts with current investment trends, while expanding already
substantial corporate subsidies.
By creating two dozen new programs, the CMI has further enlarged government
bureaucracy and exacerbated environmental politics - both of which frustrate a
judicious allocation of funding. For example, requiring a "fair"
geographic distribution of CMI funds skews environmental priorities. And apart
from the CMI, the DNR already administers $60 million annually through some 20
other recreation grant programs - in addition to $3.45 million in federal funds.
The DEQ, meanwhile, has allocated more than $766 million toward environmental
cleanups in the past decade
Seemingly more justified is allocation of $90 million for water quality
improvements. But given the hundreds of millions of dollars already funneled
through a multitude of international, federal, state and local Great Lakes
programs, the CMI provisions are redundant. Consolidating and prioritizing these
various efforts would likely produce more results.
Stricter environmental enforcement against local units of government would
also prove productive - albeit politically problematic. For example, of the 315
so-called escalated enforcement cases initiated by the DEQ between 1991 and
August 2002, some 43 percent involved government entities such as municipal or
county-run water and sewerage systems.
The balance of CMI funds may return some marginal benefits. But indulging in
large-scale borrowing eases the budgetary discipline that otherwise demands
spending priorities. It also strains government's ability to maintain adequate
oversight of programs, which seems to be lacking in the Clean Michigan
Lacking fiscal discipline, well-reasoned priorities and realistic goals, the
Clean Michigan Initiative represents unsound public policy. To the extent more
substantive environmental issues go unresolved, the CMI may actually undermine
natural resource protection.