by Conan Smith, Michigan Environmental Council
Environmentalists Give Nod of Approval at Drain Bill’s Demise
Lansing – The Michigan Senate on December 6, 2000 shot down a convoluted revision of the Michigan Drain Code, the state’s forty-four year old law for managing water and water quality. Environmentalists welcomed the end of a process they noted was confusing, unfocused and restricted to insiders.
“While some genuine efforts were made to improve environmental protections within the Code, this version hardly reflected the overwhelming desire of Michigan citizens to make water quality the most important issue,” said Conan Smith, Land Programs Director at the Michigan Environmental Council. “In the end this bill became a patchwork of clauses geared toward special interests rather than a real modernization of the way Michigan manages water quality.”
Environmentalists objected to language within the proposal that preempted the ability of Drain Commissioners to make water cleaner than broad minimum standards set in the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
“This bill would have allowed citizens to be taxed to subsidize developments they didn’t want in their communities and would have blocked them from being able to clean up rivers and streams to a point where people could swim in them,” Smith said. “It was clear from the citizen outrage over this bill that the priorities in the legislation were way out of step with what the public wanted [to] see.”
Environmentalists see the bill’s defeat as a matter of process as much as content. No community task force meetings had been held on the Code over the last two years, and several leaders of the citizens’ movement opposing the revision were barred from closed-door negotiating sessions. Despite passing the state House on a near-unanimous vote, the bill did not address concerns that Senators heard from their constituents.
“A whole lot of hours were spent negotiating this bill, but often with the wrong people,” noted Smith. “Although citizens made it clear years ago that getting clean water was priority one, that message wasn’t heard by the term-limited House. Fortunately, the Senators remembered those concerns and sent this bill back to the drawing board.”
“The environmental community is ready to continue negotiating a new Drain Code,” said Smith. “We all recognize the importance of updating this law, and we hope this next time around that true reform will be the order of the day.”