Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed away the public’s ability to vet rules created by bureaucrats at the Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and Environment.

Whitmer’s signature on House Bills 4824, 4825, and 4826 to do away with the Environmental Rules Review Committee erases a layer of critical public oversight for the department created by the late Republican state Sen. Tom Casperson, of Escanaba, in response to widespread complaints from Michigan business owners.

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“The whole purpose of (the committee) was to force the department to listen to the voices of the public, science, and those being regulated by the department,” said Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, Casperson’s successor. “The committee was created by Tom in response to innumerable instances of the department promulgating rules that then created frustration and confusion across the board – treating spilled raw milk and dirt from sugar beets as ‘industrial waste.’

“Rules were forced upon citizens and business – even after they attempted to show the department how ineffective, non-scientific, or impossible the goals were,” McBroom said.

Casperson, who died of cancer in 2020 at the age of 61, established the 13-member committee – comprised of representatives from the public, business, agriculture, and environmental groups – though approved legislation in the final days of his service in the legislature. It was tasked with reviewing environmental regulations proposed by the department to offer input and revision before implementation.

Democratic sponsors of the House bills alleged that repealing the committee will streamline the rulemaking process. A Whitmer press release described the committee as “an inefficient, duplicative link in the environmental rules review chain.”

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Detroit Democratic Rep. Donavan McKinney, sponsor of HB 4824, contends the move clears the way to expedite the state’s government-imposed shift away from fossil fuels. The Whitmer administration aims to move the state to 60% renewable energy by 2035, and to 100% by 2040.

“The dissolution of the Environmental Rules Review Committee is the right thing to do for the future of protecting our environment and for the commitment we’ve made to putting people first,” McKinney said. “Over the years, we’ve seen countless examples of the committee becoming an overbearing obstacle in the process of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. This legislation removes this barrier and paves the way for us to meet the cleaner, renewable energy the people of Michigan want and deserve.”

Rep. Dave Prestin, R-Cedar River, disputed McKinney’s characterization of the committee as an “obstacle,” as well as comments from other bill sponsors about eliminating “red tape” in EGLE’s rulemaking process.

“How does explaining what the bureaucrats are planning to a group made up of citizens with expertise on the issues, presence in the community, and who represent the public – including environmental organizations – get slandered as a ‘committee of generalists,’ ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘red tape’?” Prestin said. “This is simply disingenuous and implies people like you and me are too dumb to know what’s really happening.”

Rep. Greg Markkanen, R-Hancock, said the legislation centers on expanding government control, citing prior legislation from HB 4825 sponsor Rep. Jenn Hill, D-Marquette, that favored renewable energy companies over local citizens.

“The administration and Rep. Hill first did away with our local abilities to stop huge wind and solar installations over local environmental or community concerns in the name of the environment,” he said. “Now they eliminate panels made up of experts and members of the public in the name of expediting the rulemaking.

“It’s less and less voice for us and more power for the government over our land, employers, farmers and businesses,” Markkanen said.