November 30, 2010

Statement on Governor Elect Rick Snyder’s Quality of Life cluster announcement

November 30, 2010 
Contact: Anne Woiwode, 517-484-2372 

Statement on Governor Elect Rick Snyder’s
Quality of Life cluster announcement

From the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Director Anne Woiwode

Protecting the health, water and air quality, natural resources and food systems for the state ofMichigan are among the most important responsibilities of the Governor of Michigan.  While the directors of the agencies overseeing these key issues are important, the most important job the Governor has is to clearly articulate the values that he/she expects these directors to embody in their day to day decision making.

The announcement by Governor-elect Rick Snyder of plans to create a Quality of Life cluster of agencies (including the re-split Department of Natural Resources and Environment and Department of Agriculture) and appointment of Dan Wyant as both the executive of this cluster and Director of the re-created Department of Environmental Quality is a surprising one. These agencies touch every person in Michigan virtually everyday, and are critical to our well-being and economic stability as a state. Long term, connecting these agencies with the goal of enhancing protection of health and the environment could be a positive step. However, the re-splitting of the DNRE just a year into its reorganization, the loss of large numbers of staff through early retirement and the  substantial and growing funding shortfalls that threaten their legally mandated requirements to implement federal and state laws, will likely add to the huge hurdles faced by the agencies in the next year or more.

The choices of Rodney Stokes as the Director of the re-created Department of Natural Resources and of Keith Creagh as the Director of the expanded Department of Agriculture puts individuals with long histories and experience in their respective agencies at the helm. Their respective experience will help direct these agencies at a time when overwhelming uncertainty will be a way of life.

The appointment of Dan Wyant as Director of the recreated Department of Environmental Quality and executive of the Quality of Life cluster raises a number of critical questions that Governor-elect Snyder must address.  Mr. Wyant was a major player in the strategy executed by the administration of Governor John Engler to remove all environmental, land use and public health policy protections from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) during the 1990’s.  In the 1980’s Michigan was respected as the state with the best tools for protecting the health of rural residents, and preventing contamination of fisheries, drinking water and recreational waters, but by 1999 the state was notorious for having the worst program in the nation regarding CAFO pollution.

In 2002, the US Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush came within a day of beginning proceedings to remove Michigan’s authority over the Clean Water Act because of the decisions made by Mr. Wyant and his colleagues in the Engler Administration. Specifically, the Engler Administration’s decision to transfer authority over water quality from regulation under the DEQ to voluntary compliance under the Department of Agriculture and to resist requiring water quality permits for even badly polluting CAFOs led to a citizen petition to USEPA in 1999 asking for the federal agency to revoke Michigan’s delegation under the Clean Water Act.

The impact of the Engler Administration’s refusal to regulate water and air pollution from CAFOs was largely responsible for the extraordinary difficulty the state of Michigan has even today with forcing the clean up of badly polluting CAFOs, including the Vreba Hoff Dairy CAFOs in Hillsdale and Lenawee County.  Mr. Wyant’s statements as recently as 2005 regarding his belief that the state should not require permits for CAFOs raises important questions about Governor-elect Snyder’s policy direction with regard to implementing, enforcing and complying with federal environmental laws.

We look forward to Governor-elect Snyder sharing with the people of Michigan his intentions regarding these issues, and look forward to the public having a substantial role in shaping the policies that will affect our public health, food quality and resources in the coming years.