Michigan lawmakers block Whitmer order

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican lawmakers on Thursday blocked Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order that would restructure the state environmental agency — the first time legislators have rejected a gubernatorial executive order since 1977.

The GOP-led Senate voted 22-16 against the order, criticizing her attempt to abolish new rule-making and permitting panels, and to investigate “environmental justice” complaints. The House voted against the order last week.

It was not immediately clear how Whitmer would respond.

She is awaiting a legal opinion from Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel on whether the commissions created last year violate federal environmental law. One panel oversees environmental rule-making and another can approve, modify or reverse permit decisions that have been challenged by companies or other parties.

Whitmer is empowered by the state constitution to change the organization of the executive branch. Former Republican Gov. John Engler, for example, eliminated 18 legislatively created natural resources panels in 1991 as part of a sweeping restructuring.

But the constitution also lets lawmakers turn down such an order if they do so within 60 days of it being issued.

Whitmer made environmental protection and water cleanup a campaign priority following Flint’s crisis and the discovery of chemical compounds in at least 40 locations across the state. Other parts of her order, such as renaming the Department of Environmental Quality and creating a new public advocacy office to investigate complaints about water quality, are not opposed by Republicans or their allies in the business community.

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