For Immediate Release: Thursday, September 24,1998 Contact: Rob Perks (202)265-7337.

Washington, D. C...Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility  (PEER)    today released a white paper written by employees within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) detailing how the very agency charged with protecting Michigan's diminishing wetlands has aided in their illegal destruction, primarily by undermining essential law enforcement.

In Michigan, thousands of environmentally sensitive acres of Great Lakes shorelines, inland lakes and streams are being developed at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, hundreds of citizen complaints of wetlands violations are ignored by DEQ or never even entered into the agency's computer tracking system. An estimated 80 percent of all registered complaints are simply closed without investigation.

"Michigan's wetland regulatory program had long been touted as one of the best in the country. According to DEQ employees, the program is now just a shadow of its former self -- a paper tiger," stated PEER National Field Director Rob Perks. "The less than six million acres of remaining wetlands in the state are jeopardized by poor management based on politics, not science or the law."

The PEER report, entitled   SEE NO EVIL: The Gutting of Michigan's Wetlands Protections, traces how, under the Engler Administration, the DEQ has systematically undermined the state's once-solid wetland protection program by gutting wetland compliance efforts, diluting permit standards, intimidating staff to issue questionable permits and discouraging any attempts at law enforcement:

  • No Enforcement Personnel. The split engineered by the Engler Administration between the DNR and DEQ has effectively removed enforcement officers from environmental regulatory matters within the purview of DEQ. Fully 93 percent of the trained law enforcement officers stayed with DNR, leaving the DEQ, Michigan's premier environmental regulatory agency, with only a handful of cops on the beat.

  • Disincentives to Enforce. In DEQ, field biologists have been told that enforcement should be one of their lowest priorities. Field personnel who persist in pursuing violations are transferred or reassigned, leaving remaining staff with a clear message that enforcement cases are no longer welcome.

  • Political Interference Strangles Even Isolated Enforcement. The Engler Administration has made it possible for elected legislators to intervene into ongoing enforcement cases. Pending criminal prosecutions are routinely side-tracked, crippling both the credibility of the enforcement program and the morale of field staff. As a consequence, criminal prosecutions for wetlands violations in 1996 fell to nearly half the average number of cases filed in the previous five years.

    "Since the creation of DEQ three years ago, efforts to protect wetlands have been systematically undercut. Employees have been pressured to issue development permits and to ignore violations," commented Perks. "As a result, a generation of wetlands protection in Michigan's wetlands has been largely dismantled through policies instituted by appointees of Governor John Engler."

    Copies of See No Evil are available upon request. PEER is a national alliance of state and federal employees working within pollution control, land management and wildlife protection agencies. Based in Washington, D.C. and with a network of field offices from California to Florida, PEER is working in twenty states and nearly a dozen federal agencies to promote environmental ethics and governmental accountability.

    Dave Dempsey
    Policy Director
    Michigan Environmental Council
    119 Pere Marquette, Suite 2A
    Lansing, MI 48912
    Michigan Environmental Council



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