Losing a Legacy: Why Michigan\'s Magnificent Places are at Risk

A Report on How Funding Cuts to the DNR and the DEQ Threaten Michigan's Natural Resources

Posted In: Politics, State, News, Investigative Reporting, State,   From Issue 646   By: Robert E Martin

04th October, 2007     0

One of the great atrocities with the current budget battles and tax increases coming out of Lansing centers around how greedy & protective legislators are about assuring the well-heeled pension & health insurance plans of teachers and so-called 'public servants', yet how woefully inept they are at protecting the greatest resource that Michigan currently has: the fresh water supply of the Great Lakes.

The sad fact is that Michigan's state conservation agencies, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality, are vastly and disproportionately under-funded, according to a new report released by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

The report, which analyzes the state's fiscal budget over the last 25 years, finds that the DEQ and DNR have suffered major cuts in critical funding that have resulted in Michigan's Great Lakes, state lands, and wildlife being placed in unacceptable peril.

Key findings in this report, entitled Losing A Legacy: Why Michigan's Magnificent Places are at Risk, outline that over the last decade these two state agencies have suffered a 62 percent cut in funding compared to other State Agencies, causing the closing of campgrounds and failures to clean up toxic contamination.

"As just one example of the importance of these departments to Michigan's future, currently the DEQ is working to drastically reduce mercury emissions that pollute our Great Lakes and threaten our way of life and health - a crucial milestone in Michigan's history. Without the proper DEQ funds and staff, programs such as these are threatened and Michigan's Great Lakes could become an open dumping ground for polluters," notes Kim Pargoff, Energy Advocate with Environment Michigan.

Howard Tanner, former Director of the DNR expresses his concern over the report's conclusions. "Michigan was once a leader on conservation and environmental protection of our vast natural resources. Somehow that trend has been reversed and our leadership in conservation has been tarnished. It is up to our leaders in Lansing to work together to return to our once proud legacy of environmental stewardship by properly funding the DNR and DEQ."

Some of the major findings of the report include:

*       Conservation Funding Slashed: Since 2001, The DNR and DEQ departments have suffered a 62 percent decline in funding. This decline is not at all proportionate to overall declines in statewide funds: for the same period, total general fund spending dropped only 6 percent.
*       DNR and DEQ unfairly targeted: No other state department has lost as much proportional support as DNR and DEQ.

*       Family vacationers bear consequences of budget cuts: Cuts in this year's appropriation caused the agency to close 20 of its 138 state forest campgrounds early this summer, despite the fact that voters have approved ballot initiatives over the years that are supposed to channel dedicated funding into the arenas or parks and acquisition of more recreational land.

*       Communities abandoned: By next year, there will be no more funding for the state's contaminated site cleanup program. Without this program, thousands of toxic sites around the country will be left as is, posing serious public health and environmental risks.

   As a share of the General Fund Budget, DEQ & DNR expenditures dropped to 0.9 percent - less than a penny on the dollar. This is dramatically less than what citizens assume is being spent on our vital resources.

In Saginaw, increased budget cuts to the DEQ will have consequences for local citizens.   "The most pervasive toxic contamination in the state threatens Lake Huron. The DEQ has worked five years to bring the responsible party, the Dow Chemical Company, to a point where some dioxins and other toxics are being removed. What happens if the DEQ's budget is cut again?  What happens to our rivers, our lakes, our drinking water, our fisheries, if our first line of defense is hamstrung by budget cuts," notes Lone Tree Council Chairperson Terry Miller.  "And the DEQ's Saginaw Bay Coastal Initiative, an effort to deal with the shoreline muck, invasive species, and sewer overflows -- do we just tell people to hold their noses and hope?"

Given these major funding cuts, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund along with dozens of environmental and conservation organizations are calling on the State Legislature and Governor Granholm to invest in Michigan's future and place Michigan's air, land, and water as a top priority for the prosperity of our state by providing the critical funding necessary to fully fund the DNR and DEQ.

"Water quality is a public health issue and it is a huge economic issue," adds the Lone Tree Council's Michelle Hurd-Riddick. "Tourism is our third leading industry. It is incumbent on clean water, beaches and fish. Look at Saginaw Bay - muck, dioxin, sewage, phragmities, and fecal material. Monitoring, investigation, enforcement and clean-up are not free. The DNR and DEQ should not be on the chopping block. They have taken enough hits."

"Our legacy, like our history, should be rich in stories and experiences with these lakes. Report after report demonstrates declining water quality, closed beaches, increasing issues with invasive species, and toxic build up."

"This is about our Great Lakes. I submit to you that any legislator who thinks funding of Great Lakes protection is not a priority deserves to be booted in the next election."

To download a full copy of  Michigan's Legacy at Risk, go to ww.michiganlcvedfund.org


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