Governor Snyder signs legislation amending Michigan’s wetlands protection law

17 Jul 2013

Ealier this month, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law Senate Bill 163 which, in part, makes changes to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA).  The law amends Parts 13 (Permits), 301 (Inland Lakes and Streams), 303 (Wetlands Protection), and 325 (Great Lakes Submerged Lands) of the NREPA.  The changes, which stem mainly from a 2008 audit by the EPA that cited numerous inconsistencies between Michigan law and federal law, include:

  • revisions to the standards used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to deny a permit – with an extension to any review upholding the Department’s decision;
  • revisions to a number of exceptions to the requirement for a permit under the parts pertaining to wetlands protection and inland lakes and streams, and revisions to the exemptions from regulation for wetlands protection;
  • the elimination of the October 1, 2015 sunset on provisions regarding wetlands protection preapplication meetings;
  • the addition of a rebuttable presumption with regard to feasible and prudent alternatives to developing wetlands not owned by the applicant, and prescription of the conditions that could be considered in determining alternatives;
  • the prescription of factors the MDEQ would have to consider in imposing wetland mitigation requirements; and
  • revisions in the areas of wetland mitigation banking and blueberry farming and production.

The new law also states that Michigan’s delegated responsibility to regulate waters only applies to “Waters of the United States” and “Navigable Waters” under federal law, court decision, or promulgated rule, and that determining whether additional regulation is necessary to protect Michigan waters beyond the scope of federal law is the responsibility of the Michigan legislature. 

Wetlands play a critical role in the management of Michigan’s water based resources and acre for acre, wetlands produce more wildlife and plants than any other Michigan habitat type.  Proponents of the new law say that it will simplify the permitting process to make it easier for developers and landowners to comply.  Critics believe that it will weaken the protections previously afforded under the law.  Let’s hope for our sake and Michigan’s, the critics are wrong.

 

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