LANSING (AP) -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm promised
during her campaign that she would protect critical wetlands,
taking steps to buy threatened areas with revenue from an
expanded bottle deposit law if necessary.
Yet even with
that pledge in place and key lawmakers, environmental
groups and state bureaucrats intent on beefing up protection
of Michigan swamps and bogs, the outlook for Michigan
wetlands is murky.
say the federal government is showing little leadership
on the issue.
At the state
level, a growing deficit will make it harder to protect
the vast acres of wetlands in Michigan that cleanse water
through filtration and provide habitat for birds and fish.
general fund, which supports environmental programs, is
estimated to be $158 million in the red this fiscal year
and facing a shortfall of more than $1.5 billion in the
fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
water resource program director for Tip of the Mitt Watershed
Council of Petoskey, acknowledges that there's a lot of
competing demands on how to spend the state's dwindling
resources. But he says stronger wetlands protection should
be a priority of the new administration.
"If you don't
have the staff to do the enforcement action it doesn't
get done," he says. "There needs to be more appropriations."
senior policy adviser with the Lansing-based Michigan
Environmental Council, said like-minded groups are pushing
for stronger wetland protection laws now that Republican
Gov. John Engler has been replaced by the new Democratic
"We have the
option to pass a stronger law than EPA (the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency) requires," he said. "I don't know if
the political will is there."
and Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, support
more wetlands protection. But they caution budget worries
may hamper those efforts.
"What we can
do is limited," says Granholm spokeswoman Mary Dettloff.
renewed commitment to protecting Michigan's wetlands comes
on the heels of new guidelines recently released by the
Bush administration for replacing swamps and bogs that
have been filled or drained to make way for highway, housing
or other projects.
officials say their approach will not diminish the role
of wetlands in providing habitat to wildlife, flood control
and water quality. But conservationists warn it could
significantly reduce the amount of Michigan's wetlands
and waters protected by the federal Clean Water Act.
A recent EPA
review of Michigan's efforts to oversee its wetlands without
federal oversight recommended keeping Michigan's oversight
powers in place. New Jersey is the only other state with
the right to regulate its own wetlands.
But the review
also noted several concerns that needed corrective action.
The EPA said
Michigan law exempts too much activity from wetlands enforcement,
and noted that isolated wetlands in smaller counties or
wetlands of under five acres that are not connected to
a lake or stream won't be regulated until a state inventory
of wetlands is completed.
It added that
some permits approved by the state may jeopardize threatened
or endangered species.
it clear that Michigan has some serious flaws in its program,"
says Anne Woiwode, director of the Michigan chapter of
the Sierra Club. "This report confirms ... that the enforcement
has not been good."
But the coordinator
of the federal wetlands program at the Michigan Department
of Environmental Quality, which is charged with enforcing
the wetlands laws, says the EPA review "didn't find any
fault with our enforcement program."
surprising that we've gotten out of sync with federal
law in some circumstances," Peg Bostwick says. "Enforcement
is a time-consuming process."
the state's budget problems may mean that the property
owners who control wetlands regulated by the state will
have to pay the costs of enforcing better protection through
knows the budget problems we're facing in this state,"
says Sikkema, former head of the West Michigan Environmental
Action Council. "The wetlands program is going to have
to be a program where fees basically finance the program
vice president of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants
and environmental aide to former Gov. William Milliken,
would like to see state regulators take a new approach
"To a large
extent, the DEQ treated EPA as an enemy," he says. "That
doesn't work over the long run."
and Sikkema say enforcement has become somewhat lax in
recent years, a spokesman for the Michigan Chamber of
Commerce worries what tougher enforcement of state wetlands
protection laws could mean for developers.
Jr., the group's director of environmental and regulatory
affairs, says that state officials in the past have worked
with businesses and homeowners to bring them into compliance
rather than punishing them. He'd like to see that approach
"We are a
little concerned about the message being sent" by advocates
for tougher enforcement, he says.
On the Net:
of Environmental Quality, http://www.michigan.gov/deq
Tip of the
Mitt Watershed Council, http://www.watershedcouncil.org/
of Commerce, http://www.michamber.com
Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/