Michigan Wetlands Overhaul Subject of Upcoming EPA Hearing

Crosswinds Marsh in Sumpter Township (Photo c/o MLive.com)

Recent amendments to Michigan’s oversight of protected federal waters will soon be subject to an EPA-sponsored public hearing. On Wednesday, December 11 in Lansing, the EPA will hear arguments for and against the proposed changes to Section 404 of Michigan’s Clean Water Act that passed as Public Act 98 in July.

In 1984, the State of Michigan assumed administrative control for dredge and fill permits in its inland waters and wetlands, which qualify as protected “waters of the United States,” according to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). While the EPA maintains oversight authority, Lansing is allowed a degree of freedom in its permit administration unique to only Michigan and New Jersey. In 2008, the EPA determined shortcomings in Michigan’s program and established a Wetlands Advisory Council the next year to come up with recommendations.

The recommendations, released in 2012, were addressed earlier this year in what was originally known as Senate Bill 163, sponsored by State Senator Mike Green, a Maryville Republican who represents the 31st District. Sen. Green’s legislation addresses the state’s inconsistencies by clarifying permit requirements. The bill passed the Michigan legislature on a mostly party-line vote and was signed into law as Public Act 98 by Governor Rick Snyder on July 2. Before the changes can take effect, the law must be approved by the EPA Regional Manager in Chicago. In addition, because of federal regulation in regards to changing CWA Section 404, additional requirements include public notice, public hearing, and consultation with other federal agencies.

Supporters of Public Act 98 say it will simplify the permit process and ease compliance for developers and landowners. Sen. Green points to his bill’s balance between protecting the wetlands and creating Michigan jobs, all while keeping wetland control in state hands. He stresses the importance of keeping local wetland control: whereas the wait time nationally for wetlands-related permits from the EPA averages more than nine months, permits in Michigan are processed by the State Department of Environmental Quality in around three weeks. Gov. Snyder also highlighted his administration’s commitment to keeping Lansing in charge of the program, saying “Michigan is best served when people right here in Michigan make decisions regarding our resources.”

Detractors of Public Act 98 include the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, which says the law will weaken environmental protections and put the state in further conflict with EPA standards. Citing the importance of wetlands to keep Michigan’s vast levels of freshwater clean, the Michigan LCV rails against the legislation’s creating more development exemptions, allowing woodchips to be used as filler material, and rewriting the definition of contiguous wetlands, 50 percent of which has already been depleted. While also stressing the importance of keeping state control of the permit program, the League claims the law’s conflict with federal regulation will make an EPA takeover more likely, countering Sen. Green’s assertions to the contrary.

The December 11 hearing will be held at the Crowne Plaza Lansing West, formerly the Lexington Lansing Hotel, at 925 South Creyts Road in Lansing. An informational meeting is scheduled for 6:00 p.m., and a formal public hearing will follow at 7:00 p.m. Public comment on the proposed revisions is currently being accepted and will be until December 18. To leave a comment, visit the EPA docket at this page on regulations.gov. The online docket is the preferred method of public comment, but comments may also be emailed to the EPA or sent to the following address:

EPA Docket Center

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Mail Code 28221T

1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20460

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