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
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
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
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.