May 19, 2023 | This Week in Government: Feds Say Southeast Michigan is Meeting Ozone StandardsMay 19, 2023
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
Feds Say Southeast Michigan is Meeting Ozone Standards; Advocates Disagree
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday confirmed that southeast Michigan is meeting federal ozone standards despite objections from environmental advocates.
In a statement, EGLE said ground-level ozone, or smog, is one of the most monitored pollutants in Michigan, and it has shown steady improvements in the greater Detroit area since the 1990s. This, EGLE says, has culminated in the region now being designated as “in attainment” with the EPA’s national ambient air quality standards. The approval covers a seven-county area in the Detroit region.
“Ozone attainment is a significant achievement,” EGLE Acting Director Aaron Keatley said in a statement. “It is a testament to the strides we have made in improving air quality in Michigan’s largest and most industrialized region.”
However, several officials and agencies, including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, and other environmental groups, expressed concerns about EGLE’s application before Tuesday’s announcement.
Tlaib, in a March letter, said EGLE failed to meet its burden and ignored important evidence that cuts against its request. Nick Leonard, with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said in a January comment to EGLE that the agency has sought to delay and evade utilizing regulatory responsibilities to lower ozone pollution in the Detroit area. Tlaib, the Sierra Club, and the Michigan Environmental Council, along with several local organizations, signed onto the comment.
Key in Leonard’s correspondence is EGLE’s move to exclude ozone data from June 24-25, 2022, because of wildfire smoke coming from Canada. Leonard said not including that data would have “significant public health consequences for Black Detroiters already suffering from increasingly disproportionate rates of asthma and asthma hospitalizations.”
Leonard said EGLE could not clearly demonstrate its conclusion that ozone concentrations at the East 7 Mile monitor would not have caused an exceedance of the national ambient air quality standard but for the influence of wildfire smoke.
“EGLE seeks to exclude ozone data collected on June 24 and 25, 2022, at the East 7 Mile monitor in Detroit, Michigan, on the basis that ozone concentrations on these days was influenced by wildfire smoke from Northern Canada,” Leonard wrote. “If approved, this proposal … will potentially justify the EPA in approving EGLE’s request to redesignate the Detroit ozone nonattainment area as an attainment area and thus absolve EGLE from taking additional measures to control ozone pollution in the Detroit area.”
The EPA, in its own release, said its scientists evaluated and agreed with the state’s analysis that the high ozone values measured on those days were caused by the wildfires in northern Canada.
In its Monday release, EGLE said the attainment designation reflects cleaner air for the entire region and is the most recent chapter “in a success story spanning decades.”
EGLE did say that although the region is meeting federal ozone standards, effects from other air pollutants continue to be a concern. Particularly those in heavily industrialized areas, which are often in low-income communities of color.
“Our work is not done,” Keatley said. “EGLE is keenly aware and is working diligently to address neighborhoods where proximity to industry and transportation corridors continues to have disproportionate impact. EGLE is committed to expanding our ozone success in similar ways to further reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, particulate emissions, and air toxics.”
As such, ongoing air quality work in the region includes continuing to monitor for ozone, making improvements to the air monitoring network, collaborating with the city of Detroit in an advisory role, partnering with community and advocacy groups on education around air quality concerns and conducting inspection and enforcement initiatives focused on environmental justice communities.
“EPA continues to work closely with EGLE to reduce air pollution from stationary and mobile sources as ozone reduction is especially beneficial to vulnerable populations,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore.
Population Loss Threatens Future Of State, New Study Shows
Michigan has lost significant parts of its population over the last 50 years and has started to feel the impact of the economic and educational downturn, according to a new set of studies released by the Citizens Research Council and Altarum.
Among the key issues is Michigan’s lack of natural population increase. By 2040, the natural birth rates – the number of births compared to a number of deaths each day – will be negative.
This is in line with previous trends in Michigan’s population. For 50 years, Michigan has been bleeding residents, and according to the study, from 2000 until 2020, Michigan grew more slowly than every other state except West Virginia. Michigan has also lost representation in the House of Representatives from the 1970s onward, starting with 19 representatives and now holding only 13 seats.
The reason for the population bleed, said Altarum President Ani Turner, has to do with the lack of migration to Michigan from other states, too little international migration, and too many young people leaving to start families elsewhere in the country.
Turner, in a presentation given during a seminar put on by Altarum, Citizens Research Council, and Bridge Michigan, said that by 2050, Michigan is expected to lose 270,000 people who will move to other states. Michigan will gain 600,000 residents due to international migration, but that will not be enough to offset the negative birth-to-death ratio.
These decreases will affect parts of the state differently, Turner said, which means policies will need to be implemented to stimulate population growth.
“Some parts of the state are growing and will continue to grow, and some parts of the state are already losing population,” Turner said.
Growing demographics in Michigan are in Black, Latino, Asian, indigenous, and biracial populations, the study showed. This is important, Turner said, because it shows there should be a focus on addressing inequitable outcomes in education, health, income, and wealth.
“Nearly 40% of Michigan’s population and 40% of the working-age population will be populations of color,” Turner said. “It will be increasingly important to dedicate attention to closing these gaps.
The health care infrastructure challenges caused by population loss will be significant, Turner said. As young people move out of the state, Michigan’s retirees become a bigger percentage of the population, and the state will require more health care workers to take jobs as home aides or in senior living centers.
Michigan’s ranking for health outcomes already lags the nation.
Turner said that Michigan normally ranks low among other states, such as issues of lower-life expectancy.
“In 2018, we were 32nd out of 50 states in health outcomes; more recently, we’ve gone between 39 and 40,” she said.
The state is lagging the country in the health of its population, and the gap is widening, Turner said. The rates of chronic disease, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are all higher than the national average.
Black infants are almost three times more likely to die than white infants, and Black life expectancy is six years shorter than the average Michigander.
However, these issues are addressable, Turner said, with the right investments into education, young people, and other infrastructure, as well as combatting inequalities.
Jalonne White-Newsome, senior director for Environmental Justice on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said that part of the investments must be in environmental justice initiatives, asserting that Michigan cannot be prosperous without it.
“Regardless of your ethnicity, where you live, your ZIP code,” she said. “We deserve that basic human right. For many years, Michiganders have had a deep commitment to working to advance environmental justice and get those healthy communities they deserve. Because from an economic standpoint, who wants to live in a state that does not believe in promoting the health and welfare of all individuals and all people.”
Frank Ettawageshik, the executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan, said the northern part of the state is also harmed by the decline in population because the tourism industry relies on people coming north and spending money on the weekend.
He said the 12 tribes in Michigan all receive significant amounts of money from the federal government, which is disbursed among their members, which in turn is spent in the community. But he said these funds have made him recognize more jobs are needed in the area, not just growth for the sake of growth.
“Just growth by itself is not necessarily going to give a good quality of life,” Ettawageshik said, “What we want to look for is a high quality of life; we need jobs that contribute to helping families and healthy communities, building social and community capital, not just money.”
More papers in the series are expected to be published by CRC and Altarum later in the summer.
HFA Lowers Revenue Estimate By $2.4B
The multitude of tax cuts, coupled with a mandatory income tax rate reduction, has scaled back the size of the once $9 billion surplus by $2.4 billion, the House Fiscal Agency indicated in its economic forecast released Wednesday.
The forecast is what the HFA will take to Friday’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference, where the HFA, the Senate Fiscal Agency, and the Department of Treasury will agree on revised revenue estimates for the current and next two fiscal years.
The General Fund is where the downward revision hits, HFA says, and if factoring out the upward revision for the School Aid Fund means revenues to the General Fund will be $3 billion below the January forecast (down $984.8 million in the current 2022-23 fiscal year and $1.96 billion in the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year).
The HFA raised the forecast for the School Aid Fund from the January consensus by $529.6 million ($325 million for the current year and $204.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year).
The overall downward revision of $2.4 billion for the two funds for the current and upcoming fiscal years is not far off the Senate Fiscal Agency forecast released yesterday that had a combined downward revision of $2.2 billion (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 16, 2023).
Not only is the forecast down dramatically from the January Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference, but revenues overall to the state will be down from year to year.
The HFA estimate would mean a decline in the General Fund of 8.2% in the current fiscal year from the 2021-22 fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30 and a 0.8% drop in the School Aid Fund. For the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year, the HFA projects a 2.6% General Fund decrease and a nominal 0.5% increase in the School Aid Fund.
A decrease was expected, however, after the historic revenue surge that took place in 2021 and 2022.
The HFA attributed “almost all of the downward revision” for the 2023-24 fiscal year to tax changes made this year: the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, rolling back the taxation of retirement income, the earmarking of $600 million in Corporate Income Tax revenue to the Strategic Outreach Attraction and Reserve Fund and two other funds, among others. The downward revision for the 2022-23 fiscal year is primarily the result of the reduction in the income tax rate from 4.25% to 4.05%.
The HFA estimated the year-end balance for the General Fund to be $7.46 billion for the 2021-22 fiscal year, $2.86 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year, and $397 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year, with the latter two numbers based on the budget bills the House has passed so far.
For the School Aid Fund, the HFA estimated year-end balances – again based on the budget bills the House has passed to date – of $4.6 billion in the 2021-22 fiscal year, $2.4 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year, and $666.5 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year.
U.S.-Canadian Officials Announce New Electric Vehicle Corridor
Residents of the United States and Canada will have a new, viable way of moving between Kalamazoo and Quebec City, Quebec, after an electric vehicle corridor connecting the two cities was announced Wednesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
In a press release from Whitmer on the announcement, which included Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and the Canadian Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra, the quartet of officials said the corridor would feature fast chargers stationed about every 50 miles, or 80 kilometers.
The distance between Kalamazoo and Quebec City is just over 850 miles, or 1,367 kilometers, which should mean around 17 charging stations. About 150 miles separate Kalamazoo and Windsor, Canada. This means Michigan would receive about three fast charging stations, while Canada would receive the remaining 14 stations.
Buttigieg, in the release, said the new agreement is a continuation of a U.S. and Canadian partnership on transportation.
“With historic investments in EV infrastructure from the Biden-Harris Administration and the Canadian government, we are creating a new generation of good-paying manufacturing jobs, making it possible for drivers everywhere to reap the benefits and savings of these vehicles while helping us fight climate change,” Buttigieg said.
Duggan highlighted the importance of combatting climate change in the release, saying the corridor was a “huge step” toward the goal of zero emissions.
In a release from Duggan’s office, Bill Baisden, a member of a Detroit local of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, said cars will continue to be the “king here in the Motor City.” Baisden also owns the Dynamic Electrical Group, a St. Clair Shores-based installer of charging stations.
“In the past two years, we have seen rapid growth in the residential EV charging market to meet the demand for electric vehicles, spurred by the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, and I’m proud to say IBEW members are on the front lines of this transition,” Baisden said.
The corridor, according to the release, is a part of investments made by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a 2021 law signed by President Joe Biden which earmarked $7.5 billion to create 500,000 public electric vehicle charging stations throughout the country.
Senate Dems Move Environmental Regs Bill Over GOP Objections
The Senate, along party lines, passed legislation Wednesday that would undo a 2018 law preventing state departments and agencies from promulgating rules more stringent than federal regulations.
Passage of SB 14 came after the defeat of multiple amendments from Republicans, who sought to make the case that reverting to pre-2018 law on state regulations would negatively affect residents economically and drive away businesses.
Supporters of the bill have said that the law as it stands undercuts the ability of agencies to enact stronger protections, particularly environmental regulations.
Prior to the vote, Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) said the bill would help in providing the state with the ability to protect its environment and natural resources.
“This mandate is poorly defined, confusing and presents a potential lengthy process that prevents Michigan from acting swiftly to address environmental and public health crises,” McCann said of the 2018 law. “This bill is simple. It is about restoring the necessary tools that Michigan needs to curb threats to our natural resources and protect the well-being of Michigan citizens and be able to act promptly in doing so.”
He said the federal regulations are a floor, not a ceiling, adding that all states have unique needs.
A ban on state agency regulations exceeding federal guidelines was narrowly passed in December 2018 and requires state agency heads to determine there is clear and convincing evidence that the federal standard should be exceeded (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Dec. 11, 2018).
Members voted 20-18 to pass the bill, but not before multiple amendments were offered and Republicans voiced their objections. Each amendment failed along party lines.
An amendment by Sen. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills) would have tie-barred the bill to a proposed constitutional amendment he introduced requiring legislative approval for rules created by state departments, SJR C. Webber said there needs to be additional transparency.
“If we are going to continue to grow government, we must increase its accountability to the people it serves,” Webber said.
Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) introduced an amendment that would have barred departments and agencies from promulgating rules more stringent than federal rules if the state’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average for three or more consecutive months during any calendar year. The ban would remain in place until the state’s unemployment rate fell below the national average for at least three consecutive months.
“The unpredictable nature of this Biden and Whitmer economy is already threatening enough to those trying to make ends meet,” Nesbitt said. “Creating additional unnecessary, burdensome regulations at the state level that exceed those of the federal level only compound the current economic hardships.”
One floor amendment offered by Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway) would have tie-barred the bill to SB 270, which would restrict sales of farmland or farm assets to foreign entities.
Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) countered by delivering remarks about anti-immigrant legislation in California in the early decades of the 1900s, which mainly targeted Asian Americans,
“We need to learn our history. We need to make sure that we don’t repeat it,” Chang said.
Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) said he found it baffling that the concept behind the 2018 law was controversial to some members. He questioned why members even bother to run for office if they wish to delegate rule-making authority away to bureaucrats within various state departments and agencies.
“We passed good laws here to make sure that our bureaucracy is at least hemmed in, that they can’t go off willy-nilly,” McBroom said. “This is much ado about nothing. This law that we passed several years ago, and now to wipe it away is to just continually reinforce the bureaucratic state.”
Lauwers agreed with McBroom. He used the example of the state passing more stringent regulations on ballast water discharges from shipping vessels compared to other states. Lauwers said it led to business at the state’s ports to move their business from Michigan to other states. The federal regulations were adopted, but that took six years, he said.
“Please think about the unintended consequences of this,” Lauwers said. “Think hard about why we would do this when we would do this, what impact it could have on our state.”
McCann told reporters he is not aware of any specific rule sets queued up to move upon if the bill were signed into law but that it would give the state flexibility in enacting more stringent rules when necessary.
He dismissed the arguments from Republicans that it would diminish the Legislature’s authority.
“I think that the idea that this is somehow empowering bureaucrats to invade every aspect of people’s lives is not a valid one that is applicable here,” McCann said, pointing out that departments make rules all the time. “The idea that the Legislature is going to oversee and involve itself in every single small facet of state government is just kind of ridiculous.”
One example of the 2018 law affecting the ability to make rule changes McCann gave was the effort to lower the PFAS drinking water standard.
Amanda Fisher, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Michigan, in a statement, said the 2018 law provided sufficient flexibility for rulemaking while ensuring a strong vetting process. SB 14 would upend that, she said.
“Small business does not deny the need for some regulations. But oftentimes, they are duplicative, nonsensical, expensive, and overburdensome without achieving desired outcomes,” Fisher said. “Unfortunately, Senate Bill 14 takes power from the people’s elected representatives, the Legislature, and gives it to unelected bureaucrats with no transparency or accountability to those citizens they are supposed to be serving.”
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