legislature spares most wetlands in lame-duck bill
By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer
TRAVERSE CITY, Dec. 21, 2018 (AP): An effort to drastically
curtail legal protection of Michigan wetlands fell short Friday
as the state legislature approved a scaled-down bill that
continues to require permits for degrading many bogs, marshes
and similar waterways but also makes key concessions to
The measure enacted in the waning hours of a frantic lame-duck
session rewrote a previous version that critics warned could
leave at least 550,000 acres of wetlands vulnerable to being
drained, filled or otherwise damaged, along with 4,200 lakes and
thousands of miles of streams.
The final bill discarded most of the regulatory exemptions the
earlier one had included. But some groups still urged Republican
Gov. Rick Snyder to veto it before he leaves office at the end
of December, saying it would weaken the Department of
Environmental Quality's ability to shield waterways that provide
wildlife habitat, prevent flooding and filter out contaminants.
``It's a net loss to the environment,”
said Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director for the
Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
Farmers, builders and property rights advocates have long
complained that too many wetlands are off-limits to development
and that regulators are heavy-handed and unreasonable.
Much of the debate focuses on how to determine whether
particular wetlands are eligible for protection, especially
those not directly connected to a navigable water body such as a
lake or river.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba
Republican, sought to substantially narrow the definition of
protected wetlands. It passed the Senate but drew fierce
objections from organizations such as the Sierra Club and the
Natural Resources Defense Council, along with those representing
hunting and fishing interests.
Early Friday morning, the House—and later the Senate—approved a
substitute version that left the protected wetland definition
largely intact. It also dropped provisions to deregulate inland
But it trimmed the list of ``rare and imperiled” wetlands that
would be assured preservation, deleting several types of swamps
and the northern wet mesic prairie. Other new provisions require
the DEQ to take extra steps when denying applications for
permits to degrade wetlands and when sanctioning violators.
The bill also would enable developers and landowners to recoup
some costs from the DEQ if they successfully challenge its
rulings, which Occhipinti said could make the department more
reluctant to rigorously enforce the law.
``It's leaps and bounds better than it was, but still not
something we're out there supporting,'' said Tom Zimnicki of the
Michigan Environmental Council.
The Michigan Farm Bureau supported the final version,
government relations manager Matt Smego said.
``Our primary interest is having a clear understanding of what a
wetland is,'' Smego said, adding that landowners applying for
permits don't want to be told by regulators that ``you'll find
out if it's a wetland when we tell you.''