Washington, DC- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) cut major portions from a staff evaluation of its wetlands mitigation program prior to publication, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). After removing nearly a third of the report, DEQ published the remainder and issued a press release, falsely declaring it “is improving its wetlands mitigation program.”
“This is the anatomy of a bureaucratic damage control operation,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization posted the censored sections of the report on its web site. “DEQ cannot be serious about improving its dismal performance in protecting wetlands if it is unwilling to take an honest look at the dimensions and causes of its problems.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded DEQ a grant to assess how well it has been able to replace wetlands lost through authorized development. Prior to submitting the report to EPA this past February, DEQ managers cut nearly 20 pages from the 77page report, including key recommendations for improving the program, such as:
· Deny permits lacking proper documentation rather than issue “incomplete” or conditional permits;
· Create compliance staff positions to conduct follow-up inspections and take prompt enforcement action when violations are verified and
· Obtain adequate “financial assurances” or bonds to cover the costs of promised projects prior to issuing permits.
Even with these changes and despite the glowing agency press release, the final report was very critical of DEQ performance, concluding that more than four out of five projects were out of compliance with permits conditions, nearly three of four wetland mitigations were unsuccessful, and one in seven promised wetland replacements were not built at all. Yet, DEQ managers also chose to remove findings documenting improperly granted permits, the effects of no performance standards and how new rules are aggravating already severe staff shortages and three of four mitigation projects receive no follow up by DEQ regulatory staff after permit issuance.
The original staff report, completed in December 2000, was obtained by the Michigan Environmental Council through a public records request.
Censored portions of the DEQ wetlands report are posted on the PEER web.
The censored, final version of the report, “Michigan Wetland Mitigation and Permit Compliance Study,” February 2001, can be found on the DEQ web site.