You’re either digging a gravel pit or you’re not.
If you don’t see a lot of middle ground on the issue, don’t tell Rep. Tyrone Carter.
The Detroit Democrat chairs the House Regulatory Reform Committee, and he’s neck deep in the most contentious nonpartisan, non-budget-related issue to hit the Michigan Legislature this year.
It’s legislation that puts state environmental regulators — as opposed to local township boards — in charge of approving new gravel mines.
Known as “aggregate,” this material is critical to road building. The debate is pretty simple to understand. Weak-kneed local officials tend to buckle when their neighbors get on their case about a new gravel mine that’s being proposed near their homes.
The mining industry wants more because more mines mean more money. More aggregate means more material for roads. The closer the mines, the cheaper it is to transport the stones. State government and several metro municipal officials like saving money.
The cheaper the stone, the more lanes road builders can theoretically create. The better the roads, the happier drivers and passengers are.
On the other side, environmentalists don’t like the bills. The more mines, the more farmland and open space that get cut. The cut-up land disrupts habitats and could pollute the wells.
Local governments don’t like being trumped by the state, of course. They don’t want to be told that a noisy, dusty gravel mine is being dug into their backyard.
The debate has gone on in multiple legislative sessions now. The arguments haven’t changed. The only difference is that the sides have gotten more entrenched.
The road-building lobby says too many local governments are standing in their way. Local governments say that’s not true.
Local governments say the road industry is trying to push its way into communities without agreeing to some commonsense regulations. The aggregate mining folks say that’s not true.
Money is being made or lost regardless of whether the bills are signed by the governor or not. The question is over who is on the money-won side and the money-lost side.
Unlike prior attempts to put the state’s environmental regulators in charge of permitting aggregate mines, the bills will start with House leadership four-square in support, with the real ball game likely to erupt in the Senate.
In the first two terms, it was a gung-ho Senate passing bills that disappeared in a reluctant House.
It’s hard to see where the middle ground is coming from when the interest groups’ testimony this week seemed a little more dug in. A little more entrenched.
For the road-building lobbyists, if they can’t get this through with the House speaker’s team sponsoring the bills, when are they going to get it?
Local governments have whipped up the “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) crowd with slippery-slope fears. Today, it’s aggregate. Tomorrow, it’s wind turbines and solar farms.
The lead lobbyist on this issue for the Michigan Municipal League, Jen Rigterink, opened her testimony to the House Regulatory Reform Committee with, “New year, same crap. Point blank.”
Sitting in the background is the Governor’s Office. It’s presumed Gov. Whitmer would sign the bills if they made it to her desk. That said, she’s not using one stitch of political capital to support them or oppose them.
She’s too politically savvy to get involved in this sticky wicket.
Carter is jumping in head first. He said both sides are starting on their own 10-yard line.
“Each side wants it their way,” Carter said. “It’s 90/10 right now. If I can get it to 60/40 … .”
“Obviously, this has gone on for decades. It’s not going away. We talk about kicking the can down the road. Well, I think it’s been dented enough,” Carter said. “We got to get this resolved.”
When you’re dealing with trench warfare, one side wins and one side loses. The local governments and environmentalists have won up to now.
How much longer can they keep it up?
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