Michigan Senate votes to change wetland regulations

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed hotly contested legislation that supporters called pro-landowner but opponents said would restrict regulators’ ability to protect wetlands.

The bill was sent to the GOP-led House after being approved on a 23-14, mostly a party-line vote during the lame-duck session.

Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, said his measure is intended to curb state regulators who abuse their discretion to block farmers and other property owners from filling in small wetlands, removing soil or taking other actions in wetlands that are not directly connected to large waterways.

“It’s really to help out of a lot of my constituents,” he said. “There’s discretion within the rules, and that discretion is used usually to go the opposite way of the constituent.”

Changes were made to the legislation before the vote, but environmental groups remain opposed, saying it would overhaul how wetland, inland lakes and streams are regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Tom Zimnicki, agriculture policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said some 4,000 inland lakes would be unregulated or not protected under exemptions included in the bill. He said it would essentially make it easier to fill wetlands, work in wetland areas, and alter wetlands and lakes.

“The wetlands we’re talking about in the bill go way beyond a wet spot in the back of a field,” Zimnicki said. “These are areas that have been created for hunting, for fishing, for birding. They have been created with the intent of being used as a wetland.”

Online: Senate Bill 1211: http://bit.ly/2BPiqh0

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