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Michigan state receives a failing grade on enforcement of clean water laws
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Macomb Daily (Michigan, U.S.) by Chad Selweski

The state has received a failing grade for its enforcement of clean-water laws and the Granholm administration concedes that some of the criticism is deserved. An environmental organization, the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, gave the state an "F" on its report grading a cross-section of nine states for enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act.

PIRGIM concluded that Michigan deserves a failing grade in 10 of the 12 categories studied. Georgia and Wisconsin also were assessed as failures while New Jersey got the best overall grade, a B-plus.

"As the Great Lakes state, Michigan has a responsibility to be a leader on clean water enforcement," Kate Madigan of PIRGIM said. "It is absurd that 30 years after the Clean Water Act, our state does not have the necessary policies in place to keep our lakes and rivers safe."

State Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Patricia Spitzley admitted that some aspects of the poor report card cannot be disputed.

"Some of it's true, some of it's taken out of context. But in order to run an effective program we need more funding. We are underfunded," Spitzley said.

At issue in the PIRGIM report is the state's handling of 1,500 factories and municipal sewage plants that hold state-issued permits allowing them to dump liquid waste into the waterways.

Michigan received failing grades for its inspections of those permit-holders and the way it enforces and fines violators. The state was also chastised by PIRGIM for failing to make information about the wastewater discharges available to the public on the Internet.

The public has no ready access to the DEQ inspection reports and inspections of "minor" facilities are conducted once every five years.

PIRGIM continues to wage heavy criticism against the state for making taxpayers fund the inspection program. Michigan is one of eight states that charge no fees for discharge permits, instead relying on the general fund to subsidize the program.

Senate legislation up for consideration today by a House committee would charge $3 million in fees to permit-holders, reducing the general fund contribution to $2.2 million. Gov. Jennifer Granholm's budget had proposed $7 million in fees, with about a third of that amount earmarked to increase the number of inspectors enforcing the rules.

Spitzley said the Granholm administration is hoping the fee legislation, while far short of what was requested, will pass. In addition, the DEQ has plans to provide Internet access to inspection reports and hopes to eventually boost funding for enforcement.

"Some of those (problems) are left over from the last administration," Spitzley said. "We're only nine months into a new administration. Stay tuned. Next year, our grade will be different."


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