New Governor: New Priorities; New Organization

4 Feb 2019

Soon to be a relic of the past?

Governor Whitmer is moving quickly to put her stamp on an agency that is important to her goals. Given her campaign slogan of “fix the damn roads” it is somewhat of a surprise that her second and third Executive Orders relate to the MDEQ – or as it will be known going forward, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (DEGLE or EGLE?).

It is not uncommon for new governors to try to recreate the MDEQ in their own images. In 2009, Governor Granholm merged the DNR and DEQ into one agency  and, in 2011, Governor Snyder split them up again.

In addition to the name change, Executive Order 2019-2 also creates new offices within the Department including the offices of: (i) Climate and Energy; (ii) the Clean Water Public Advocate and (iii) the Environmental Justice Public Advocate, as well as the Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team. There is a focus on “assuring that all Michigan residents benefit from the same protections from environmental hazards” and integrating environmental justice concepts into agency decision making. The Clean Water Advocate appears to be both an ombudsman and a change agent relating to drinking water concerns. The Office of Climate and Energy is to focus on both improving governmental mitigation of climate impact and climate change adaptation and to provide guidance and assistance for greenhouse gas reduction. The old Office of the Great Lakes housed in the DNR and the Agency for Energy are now housed in the DEGLE. Also, the Permit Review Commission created last summer is abolished.

Executive Order 2019-3 attempts to strengthen the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) created by Governor Snyder to help inform the public about perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), locate contamination, and take action to protect sources of drinking water from these chemicals.

Executive Directive 2019-12 enters Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors from 19 other states that are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

These actions are consistent with Governor Whitmer’s focus on Flint during the campaign, her campaign promises and Director Clark’s past experience and expertise in alternative energy. At this point, with no new resources, how the reconstituted agency will take on these new roles or what functions will receive less priority will be questions that Governor Whitmer and Director Clark will have to answer.

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