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State Rep. Jeff Mayes, D-Bay City, removes a sheet covering an 1857 Energy Crisis headline in the Boston Globe.

DNR Structure Will Give DEQ Policies More Clarity, Say Local Legislators

Business Leaders Get Upbeat Message From Seward, Growth Forecasts

June 27, 2009       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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The future of local business looked better to just about everyone leaving the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon on Friday at the Dore Riverview Complex, 804. E. Midland St.

Besides the bright sunlight, a new optimism had infused the crowd, especially after Chamber President Mike Seward saw them off with his trademark upbeat attitude:

"We have a long way to go but we're on our way; we are going to be successful; we will get jobs and income and build this community!"

The luncheon was sponsored by Fabiano Brothers, Inc., and Spence Brothers, Inc., in association with AT&T and Bay Regional Medical Center. Introductions were made by Alice Gerard, president & CEO, Bay Regional Medical Center, and welcome was by Sohail Qamar, general manager, Carbone of America.

State Sen. James A. Barcia, right, and State Rep. Jeff Mayes meet with Chris Girard, center, of Do-All, Inc., at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon.
(MyBayCity Photo by O. J. Cunningham)

Local legislators told the 150 plus chamber members they are giving priority to changing a state government barrier to business growth: the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Luncheon keynoters State Sen. James A. Barcia and State Rep. Jeff Mayes, both Democrats from Bay City, said they are unified in their effort to combine the DEQ with the DNR, (Department of Natural Resources), into the Department of Conservation.

One main reason emerged from the discussion at Chamber luncheon: the DNR has a board of directors and the DEQ does not -- decisions are made by bureaucrats with oversight only from the governor.

Sen. Barcia said the proposed merger "is a good step forward," noting "a lot of strained relations with that agency." He said 30 percent of his caseload has been coming from the DEQ and stated the opinion that the DNR commission provides "an additional layer of accountability."

Rep. Mayes cited a problem with the DEQ, its "daily evolving policy structure. Somehow this agency can't give people clarity -- that's one of our main frustrations."

The DEQ-DNR merger reportedly would save the state $2 million dollars, although some estimates range as high as $6 million. Michigan's much-maligned wetlands protection program would henceforth be handled by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Barcia and Mayes also noted that Governor Granholm wants to reorganize state government before she leaves office next year. She has tasked Lt. Gov. John Cherry with promoting her plan to combine 18 state departments into eight.

Mr. Seward had high praise for Barcia and Mayes, noting they are both members of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, a bipartisan group leading regional economic development planning.

"One of our jobs is to make sure the business community works with legislators, following the chamber watchwords of teamwork, cooperation and unity," said Mr. Seward.

"Michigan has extraordinary resilience," enthused Sen. Barcia, noting that a framework is being built for future prosperity through investment in the new economy.

The legislators pointed out that this area is fast becoming a world center of renewable energy, including solar technology, battery technology, "for the next generation of hybrid and electric vehicles," wind and other sources of alternative energy.

Sen. Barcia called the proposed $2.4 billion clean coal plant at the Karn-Weadock complex of Consumers Energy "one of the cleanest in North America and one of the most efficient in the world."

In state energy legislation adopted last year, "no region did better than we in the Great Lakes Bay area," said Rep. Mayes, who chairs the House Energy and Technology Committee.

Energy will be a major factor in economic growth in the Great Lakes Bay region, the legislators said. Rep. Mayes emphasized how transitory opinions about energy needs can be by dramatically unveiling a poster reading across the top: 'ENERGY CRISIS LOOMS."

When he tore away the paper covering the lower part of the sign, it revealed a headline from the Boston Globe in 1857: "Whale Blubber Scarce: World to Go Dark."

But he noted: "When they cut down the last trees we didn't just leave, we made pipes, bikes, ships and cranes. The question is, what will we make next?"

Michigan has made more advances in energy development in the past four years than it did in the previous 100 years, said Rep. Mayes. Besides energy, agriculture and tourism have greater potential for the state, he said.

One of the most promising new technologies lies in "carbon capture," the technology to store C-0-2 in the ground like natural gas, he said. Scientists are working on the most effective way to store C-0-2 and "make something of it," he commented.

The senator identified one of the state's main problems as "the inability of revenue to keep pace with the bureaucratic infrastructure."

Rep. Mayes asserted the state gives away more in deductions and tax incentives than it gains in tax revenue. Noting "the state was hurt by the decline and restructuring of the auto industry," he said the days are gone when the solution to economic downturn is simply adding to the tax burden.

The graduated income tax may provide one method of bolstering the revenue stream, stabilize the budget and take the burden off the surcharge, he said, adding: "The challenge is to make the tax structure more business friendly and conducive to job growth."

Several years ago Michigan was deemed 20 times more reliant on the auto industry than any other state; the figure has fallen only to about 16 times more reliant, he said, adding: "As long as autos struggle, we as a state will continue to struggle."

Term limits appear to have made legislators more distrusting of the opposite party and ineffective, both legislators opined. "Term limits distract the legislature from good public policy," said Sen. Barcia, noting that new members often come to Lansing with preconceived ideas of "the enemy" and it takes several years for them to learn to cooperate in order to progress.

State Rep. Mike Lahti, D-Hancock, sponsor of the DNR-DEQ merger plan, says the state may reclaim wetlands control from the federal government when finances improve.

"To stay with the state we need about a million and half dollars," says Rep. Lahti, "There's no money there now - we're working on trying to get the money and hopefully putting it in."



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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at carraroe@aol.com)

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