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Lawmakers propose expansion of EGLE water authority

LANSING -- Michigan’s environmental agency could soon receive new authority under a proposal that would expand its power over water regulation.

The legislation allows the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to issue further rules pertaining to groundwater waste disposal, an authority that’s been frozen since 2006.

Supporters say the change would modernize the state’s public health protections and allow authorities to better respond to emergencies — but the legislation has faced opposition from lawmakers raising concerns about the power of state agencies.

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“Without this legislation, EGLE cannot create new rules or regulations relating to the protection of water resources, including pollution of surface and underground water,” said Sen. Sue Shink, D-Northfield Twp.

Supporters say the restriction has left Michigan’s environmental regulations decades behind.

Officials also say the restrictions on EGLE make it difficult to use the latest technologies for water treatment and chemical risk assessment, as well as prevent the agency from regulating the storage of recently recognized materials like PFAS

“The inability to issue updated rules not only places the state out of alignment with federal standards, but also compromises Michigan’s capacity to protect the environment and public health,” Shink said.

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Supporters say that the lack of proper authority could make it difficult to respond to environmental emergencies. EGLE has maintained that any decisions made under their authority would be conducted with public input.

Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Twp., said the legislation would enable further restrictions from a department with a frustrating track record.

“Who here went door to door and said to their district, ‘I can’t wait to get to Lansing and give the departments and the bureaucracy of this state more power over your daily life?’,” he said.

A representative from the Michigan Farm Bureau also spoke against the bill, saying the legislature would prove more transparent and reliable in its regulation process.

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“Michigan needs thorough science civic and economic review of potential water quality standards, as well as the transparency and opportunities for stakeholder input that the Legislature currently provides,” said Ben Tirrel, legislative counsel for the Farm Bureau. “The Legislature should not relinquish this authority and responsibility.”

The bill passed the Senate in a party-line vote and could be considered by the House in the coming months.

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