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House votes to overturn Whitmer's environmental order, she says it's best option for state

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed media following a House vote to block her executive order to restructure the Department of Environmental Quality. (WPBN/Mikenzie Frost)

Bipartisanship could be crumbling in Lansing after the Republican-controlled House overturned an executive order signed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday.

A concurrent resolution, sponsored by. Rep. Jim Lower, R- Cedar Lake, passed the House on a party-line vote Wednesday afternoon to block Whitmer’s plan to reorganize the Department of Environmental Quality.

In the executive order, Whitmer planned to abolish three committees that were passed into law by the Legislature in June 2018: The Environmental Rules Review Committee, the Environmental Review Commission, and the Environmental Science Advisory Board.

“It [was], in my opinion, was an abuse of power, by the Governor in eliminating the legislatively created commissions,” Lower said during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Under the restructuring order, Whitmer’s newly created Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, included offices of Clean Water and Environmental Justice. By blocking the order, the newly created offices would be erased as well.

After the House voted, Whitmer spoke out late Wednesday afternoon and voiced her frustrations with House Republicans.

“They voted down the creation of a public advocate for clean drinking water, they voted against a public advocate on environmental justice, they voted against PFAS clean up in their own districts,” Whitmer said.

Other Democrats lashed out against the resolution and said a vote to block Whitmer’s order was an “all or nothing” idea.

“I want to make sure that if we are rescinding this, you understand exactly what you are doing,” Democratic House Floor Leader Christine Greig said. “We are putting the public’s health at risk.”

“How can you support a process that contaminates the water that our children drink,” Democratic Floor Leader Rep. Yousef Rabhi, of Ann Arbor, said.

Lower’s argument included the panels in question are essential to the process of environmental permits and rule making. Whitmer said she saw it differently.

“To lay claim that these commissions are critical, they have only met twice. These are not essential. In fact, these are one more layer that prevents us from cleaning up drinking water,” she said.

Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, said he likes most of what is included in Whitmer’s plan, but cannot agree with the order as it stands to eliminate the commissions.

“If she would resubmit the executive order with the elimination of these panels, I would be happy to support that,” Lilly said.

The Governor quickly discounted any idea of pulling her plan off the table at the time.

“I am not withdrawing the executive order. I stand by it, it is the best policy to protect people and to clean up drinking water. It’s the right thing to do and so long as it’s the good policy, I’m standing by it. We are confident that this is the most meaningful thing we could do in Michigan,” Whitmer said. “This EO is about getting it right. The people of Michigan have lost confidence in our government. They’ve seen partisanship put their health in jeopardy.”

Before the House voted to overturn the executive order, Whitmer asked Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel for an official opinion on the panels. Whitmer said the Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns about the commissions would impact how the DEQ would administer federal programs, like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

“It’s our understanding that from some of the environmental lawyers there that these panels are unlawful,” Whitmer said.

The Senate is expected to act on a similar resolution on the matter as soon as Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. According to the Michigan Constitution, the Legislature could take action on executive orders within 60 days of introduction.

If the Senate responds in line with the House, Whitmer said she will continue to push her plan forward.

“If it’s rejected, I’ll write another. Or do something done. I’ve got a lot of tools, we’re going to get there one way or another,” she said. “It would be nice if they would see the wisdom in cleaning up drinking water and doing it quickly and getting this through.”

Follow Political Reporter Mikenzie Frost on Twitter and Facebook. Send tips to mbfrost@sbgtv.com or 517-897-4861.

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