A review of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) compliance monitoring and enforcement procedures released today provides a framework to ensure that enforcement actions taken by EGLE more effectively correct violations of Michigan’s environmental laws.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the review in December 2019 after extensive contamination at Electro-Plating Services in Madison Heights leaked onto the shoulder of I-696. She directed EGLE to “conduct a formal review of its pollution inspection procedures to strengthen enforcement and accountability.”
In addition to 11 high-level recommendations to improve procedures, the report notes that EGLE has strong internal policies, education, outreach and compliance assistance to regulated businesses and other entities.
The report’s recommendations include: providing field staff the tools and authority to resolve cases; formalizing and clarifying the policy governance structure; improving management of multimedia cases by defining staff roles, responsibilities and expectations; increasing and improving cross-divisional communication, coordination and collaboration; enhancing collaboration with other state, federal and local agencies; maintaining sufficient and appropriate staffing, resources and training; and using retroactive analysis and case studies to promote best practices and mitigate future risks.
“The changes suggested in this report will help EGLE more quickly identify and address violations that can cause public health and environmental risks. It is important that EGLE accomplishes this critical role in a timely, transparent and consistent manner,” EGLE Director Liesl Clark said. “The public and those we regulate should expect EGLE to make reasonable decisions that restore compliance with the law as quickly as possible.”
While enforcement improvements will not solve every environmental problem, prevent every release or speed up a sometimes cumbersome legal process, EGLE officials say changes guided by the report should help the department more quickly identify compliance problems, conduct preventative actions and help violators return to compliance if they are willing to cooperate with the agency. The report indicates that when violators are unwilling to cooperate and return to compliance in a timely manner, then the agency should intensify the enforcement action and, if needed, initiate legal action.
Appropriate staffing levels and related training is critical to fulfilling EGLE’s compliance and enforcement mission, and required to fully implement many of the proposed recommendations, the report states.
An improved IT system as directed by the report would greatly improve EGLE’s ability to prioritize, categorize and track contaminated sites. Enhanced technology would align EGLE’s programs, which currently have varied electronic capabilities that are not fully compatible with each other. Some program areas have access to robust databases and reporting capabilities, while others rely on paper records. Technology upgrades also would provide greater transparency of agency operations and access to agency records.
The report said the agency has a solid foundation to build on, noting that EGLE’s compliance and enforcement program “is mature and guided by strong department leadership and internal policies” and a staff that “are skilled, experienced and dedicated to fulfilling EGLE’s mission.”
But, “there are opportunities to improve the program through the implementation of objective criteria and standardization, an increase in staffing and technology resources, enhanced training and inter-division collaboration, and a greater use of data.”