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Executive Order Reshapes Environmental Agency to Foster Engagement with Communities in Effort to Better Protect Michigan Residents

By Environmental Law Journal posted 09-17-2019 01:05 PM


EGLE LogoPublished in Michigan Environmental Law Journal, Summer 2019, Vol. 37, No. 1, Issue 106 [view full issue].
Cite: 37 Mich Env Law J 1 (2019)

Governor Whitmer signed Executive Order 2019-06 on February 20, 2019, creating the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. Coincidentally, the Executive Order took effect on Earth Day, April 22, 2019, sixty days after its submission to the Legislature. Under the Executive Order, the former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was reorganized as EGLE, assumed many activities of the former Michigan Agency for Energy, and created the new Office of Climate and Energy within EGLE.

The Governor also issued Executive Directive 2019-12, which enters Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors from 19 other states that have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Dr. Brandy Brown, the new climate and energy advisor for EGLE, will lead the State’s efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and embrace more sustainable energy solutions. Dr. Brown comes to the Department most recently from Clearesult, where her career has focused on strategic planning and program evaluation in the energy sector.

Other notable changes include the creation of an Environmental Justice Public Advocate position who will accept and investigate complaints and concerns related to environmental justice in Michigan. To lead that effort, the Director recruited Regina Strong. Strong is the former Michigan Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and brings an extensive background in advocacy and public affairs to her new role. She previously served in a variety of leadership roles, including as the executive director of Community Development Advocates of Detroit. She will help coordinate the creation of an Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team, which will assist in developing, implementing, and regularly updating a statewide environmental justice plan.

The Office of the Great Lakes also moves from the Department of Natural Resources into EGLE. Emily Finnell fills the role of Great Lakes Senior Advisor and will be assisting in the coordination of efforts with the other Great Lakes States and Provinces in areas such as water diversions, maritime-related issues, and invasive species. The office has also been very involved with the redevelopment of coastal communities and demonstrating the true value of Great Lakes restoration efforts.

Lastly, an Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate was also created to investigate complaints and concerns relating to drinking water quality. The office will help residents navigate concerns related to protecting drinking water for those residents served by public systems or on private wells in more rural areas of the state. The position will work closely with the staffs in the Drinking Water and Water Resources Divisions that are tasked with the critical job of protecting Michigan’s water resources.

The intent of the focus on engagement and acting as advocates on behalf of Michigan residents is to help inform agency decision-making which hopefully better reflects the values of our residents, but also to help ensure the regulatory programs are implemented in a manner that complies with both the letter, and spirit, of the laws of Michigan.

James Clift joined EGLE in late February 2019 and is a Deputy Director of EGLE, overseeing the engagement team. Prior to joining EGLE, Clift served for the past twenty years as the Policy Director of the Michigan Environmental Council. Prior to joining the Council, Clift served as an environmental policy analyst at the Michigan Senate.

He finds himself using the term “exciting” a fair amount when he tells people about his new position at EGLE. The excitement, he explains, comes from working with people that he trusts and admires, but also because of their commitment to engaging with people and communities across the state to make sure EGLE is doing the best job it can to protect Michigan’s most valuable resource, its people.