New Tax Money Will Not Fix Brownfield Process

Lawmakers should reject a proposal from the Michigan Environmental Council for a 3/8-cent increase in the sales tax to fund the state’s dysfunctional contaminated site cleanup program. Throwing more taxpayer money at environmental cleanups will not fix what’s wrong with the state’s contaminated site cleanup program.

The environmental cleanup program in Michigan is a like that old song by The Eagles, “Hotel California” – where you can check in but you can never check out. Businesses in the state that want to invest in brownfield sites are plagued by a never-ending request for more information from DEQ officials. Even if a business is able to satisfy all of DEQ’s cleanup requirements, they still cannot obtain closure. DEQ maintains the right to come in after a completed cleanup and reopen the site if they discover additional information. One wonders why any business would make a financial decision to redevelop a site when they can be on the hook for cleanup up costs indefinitely into the future.

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Michigan voters have generously funded state cleanup programs by approving bond issues in 1988 and 1998 totaling more than $1 billion. Michigan still has a large structural budget deficit which must be dealt with if the state is to remain solvent. Asking recession-wracked Michigan households to swallow a tax increase to fund a dysfunctional program borders on criminal. If the Legislature cannot fix this program without additional cost, it should be allowed to expire.