Reps Introduce Bills to Restore DEQ Citizen Oversight Commissions

Oversight Commissions abolished by Executive Order 25 years ago could have prevented Flint public health crisis
Friday, February 26, 2016

LANSING — State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), State Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), and State Rep. Phil Phelps (D-Flushing) announced today that they are introducing legislation to restore citizen oversight commissions for air pollution and water quality that were abolished by former Governor John Engler in 1991.

          Rep. Chang’s bill would restore an Air Pollution Control Commission to oversee various functions of the MDEQ including the issuance or modification of existing permits and acting on complaints from residents.  “My district is home to the zip code with the highest rate of air pollution in the state; Southwest Detroit is home to and surrounded by a refinery, a coal plant, two steel plants, a waste water treatment, and an international bridge,” said Representative Stephanie Chang. “My residents and residents across the state deserve a true voice in overseeing the permit process for polluting companies, and department policies that impact the air they breathe every day. Michiganders need to know that their Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is really working to protect our air.”  

          Legislation introduced by Rep. Phil Phelps creates a similar body to oversee the MDEQ’s water pollution functions. “The Water Resources Commission created by my bill would not be toothless. It would have supervisory and investigatory power within the DEQ,” Representative Phil Phelps explained. “They can take action on water pollution claims, require an investigation, or require existing rules to be enforced if they aren’t, which is often the case. Yes, this bill means returning to something from 25 years ago that worked well while it existed. I’m fine with that. People in Flint still do not have safe drinking water right now.”

           In the case of both commissions proposed in this legislative package, the citizen oversight boards would each have 11 members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the State Senate, 2 individuals from local governments, 2 from commerce/industry, 2 with medical background in air or water illnesses, 2 from private environmental protection organizations and 3 from the general public. Additionally, the directors of the Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources would sit on the Water Resource Commission and the director of DEQ would sit on the Air Pollution Control Commission.

          Representative Sheldon Neeley’s bill will apply the same powers the Water Resources Commission has over pollution and environmental concerns to the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.  The Water Resources Commission would be empowered to hold public hearings and receive complaints related to drinking water. “People in Flint were ignored, dismissed, and ridiculed by the MDEQ.  In the future, they will have this commission to turn to --a commission which has members appointed from amongst the environmental community, health experts and the general public and can request the Attorney General take action if need be.” Neeley said, “We have to make sure something like the Flint Water Crisis can’t happen again.”