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Great Lakes Article:

Polluter fees up in the air
Conference committee to meet today
By Brian McGillivary
Traverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY - For the last four months, state legislators watched as funding dried up for an agency that monitors 1,400 polluters of Michigan's lakes and rivers.

The Legislature appropriated $2 million of $5 million needed for a Department of Environmental Quality program that monitors businesses and municipalities with wastewater discharge permits.
The remaining $3 million was to come from new permit fees upon which the Legislature can't agree.

"If we don't get a fee package we could be looking at not having a program," said Liz Boyd, spokeswoman for Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
If that happens, the federal Environmental Protection Agency would take over the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program now managed by the state.

It could take a year before EPA monitoring was up and running, leaving state polluters free to purge wastewater unregulated.
Environmental groups are so alarmed that they worry the monitoring program will collapse and polluters won't receive any state scrutiny.
"We have an extremely weak system, tremendously underfunded," said Anne Woiwode, a Sierra Club spokeswoman. "It would not stack up well against other states."

Michigan is one of 14 states with a history of significant non-compliance with discharge requirements, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.
Currently DEQ staff visit facilities just once every three to four years and take unannounced test samples of the pollution discharge just once every five to six years. The DEQ has one enforcement officer for the program in its regional offices, when it should have at least two.
At this time, 33 other states charge a fee for a permit under the program, including all of the other Great Lakes states. Granholm requested $7 million in fees to fund the program. Indiana collects $5.2 million and Ohio $5.5 million in fees. Illinois approved $26 million in fees last year.

The Senate funded the program at $5 million, but the House cut it by an additional $165,000 in proposed fee revenue.

The House, on a voice vote, exempted all agriculture uses from the fee program, but not from the permit process. Exemptions included multinational corporations such as ConAgra, Kraft Foods, Keebler, Gerber Products and 7-Up, said state Sen. Michelle McManus, R-Lake Leelanau.

McManus said just two farms in the entire state require surface water discharge permits.

The House version also reduces fees on businesses and increases the fees for municipal sewage treatment systems.

Traverse City, which discharges 5 million to 8 million gallons a day from its sewage treatment facility, would face an annual permit fee of just under $6,000.

The Senate unanimously rejected the House changes and the bill went to conference committee in October.

The conference committee, co-chaired by McManus, will meet for the first time today.

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