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Aggregate bills pack state house with industry reps, township supporters

The Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee introduces the agenda May 9.
Michigan House TV
The Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee introduces the agenda May 9.

The Michigan state house was packed May 9 as lawmakers heard from aggregate industry representatives and “local control” supporters. The discussion concerned recently introduced legislation (HB 4526-4528) that would hand permitting of aggregate mines, from local governments, over to the state.

Under current state law, townships are allowed to review and reject sand and gravel mine applications if they pose “very serious consequences” to the community.

But a coalition of business leaders, aggregate industries, and lawmakers say these townships are abusing their power and disrupting the supply chain.

Doug Needham is with the Michigan Aggregates Association. He said giving permitting approval to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) would standardize the process and set baseline environmental standards.

“Unfortunately, local opposition is so intense that everything is now considered ‘very serious consequences,’” Needham said. “This is not what was originally intended [in Public Act 113 (2011)].”

Other industry representatives cited a recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers that gave Michigan roads, bridges, water, and other infrastructure systems a C-minus score.

“We’re in need of these bills because Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure and strong economy is driving up demand for a limited amount of permitted aggregate,” Needham said. “The statewide shortages is due to local units of government effectively blocking new mines.”

Opponents to the bills said removing local control would fast-track approval of mines – limiting environmental, health, and safety oversight. They also argue the majority of townships already approve mine applications, and the legislation is based on a “sham study” that oversells the need for aggregate materials.

Judy Allen is with the Michigan Township Association. She said the legislation removes any opportunities for community input in mine permitting by overriding local zoning ordinances.

“The bills before you create a one-size-fits-all process, incorrectly treating all communities and all mining operations in the state alike,” Allen said. “It proposes that the state take over the matters that are intimately … of local concern.”

EGLE said it’s not taking a stance on the legislation. EGLE deputy director Travis Boeskool spoke at the committee meeting and said he’s confident in the department’s ability to oversee aggregate mine applications.

“Our focus has been to ensure that any potential state permitting program for aggregate mining operations is one that's structured in a way that can be administered effectively, while also being protective of public health, safety, and the environment,” Boeskool said.

During the committee hearing, environmental advocates representing 8 organizations hosted their own discussion on the aggregate legislation and a delay in strengthening polluter pay laws, including more PFAS measures.

Advocates questioned the role of “dark money” - or untraceable financial incentives – in guiding policy priorities from lawmakers.

“Enough is enough,” said Roshan Krishnan, with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. “Democrats owe us answers here about who they work for. Is it us or corporate interests?”

This is now the third time legislation involving aggregate mines and local control has been introduced.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.
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