Michigan is once again free to enact environmental protections critical to the health of our environment and residents.
Updated July 31, 2023
On July 27, 2023, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 14, which passed the State House of Representatives on June 28 by a 56-52 vote. With her signature, the 2018 state statute that barred the state from adopting environmental standards stronger than those in federal law is now undone.
For more than five decades, Michigan has been a leader among the states in shutting down toxic chemicals, protecting sensitive habitats, and safeguarding children’s environmental health. The 2018 “no stricter than federal” law is inconsistent with Michigan’s 1969 ban on DDT, 1977 phosphorus detergent standard, and 1980 wetlands protection act.
The 2018 law was enacted during the last hours of that year’s lame-duck legislative session and the last days of Governor Rick Snyder’s administration, giving the public no chance to weigh in with comments on the bill.
Ironically, if the law had passed earlier in the session, it would have prevented one of Snyder’s own initiatives. After mishandling the contamination of the Flint water supply due to lead pipes, the former Governor supported a new, strict state action level of 12 parts per billion of lead, compared to the-then federal standard of 15 parts per billion, and boasted that it was the toughest in the nation.
Had the law remained in effect, it could also have prevented the state from setting stricter-than-federal drinking water standards for seven toxic chemicals from the PFAS class. Exposure to the so-called “forever “chemicals has been linked to numerous human health effects. Governor Whitmer directed EGLE to promulgate PFAS drinking water standards in 2019. The agency did so, but PFAS manufacturers sued to stop them from taking effect. Meanwhile, U.S. EPA has proposed PFAS drinking water standards that are in some cases less strict than the Michigan standards.
The sponsor of Senate Bill 14, State Senator Sean McCann of Kalamazoo, said “federal standards across the board are usually set to the lowest common denominator. Michigan, because of its unique place nestled in the heart of the Great Lakes, needs the authority to set higher standards for the protection of our natural resources, especially water.”
Congress passed federal environmental laws in the 1960s and 970s to set a national floor of protection below which no state law could fall, while leaving room for individual states to go farther in protecting their environment. But, says FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood, the 2018 law made the national floor the state’s ceiling.
“Michigan must be free to protect our rivers and air, wetlands and drinking water, to meet Michigan’s needs,” she said.