LANSING — Senate Republicans have initiated a plan to formalize the state’s Clean Corporate Citizen program and have introduced legislation to offer discounts on some permits for industries.
“Even though there is a public relations benefit for these companies, this would reward them and provide incentives to more companies for proactive environmental practices,” said Garrett Wheat, a legislative aide for Sen. Laura Toy, R-Livonia, who introduced the legislation.
An administrative order by then-Gov. John Engler established the Clean Corporate Citizen program in 1997 to recognize companies for their efforts in environmental management, compliance and pollution prevention.
Companies that achieve the recognition face fewer inspections by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and a quicker turnaround on permit applications.
Toy’s bill would move the program from administrative rule to statute in the Legislature and provide a discount up to $500 for specific permits at a given facility.
Wheat didn’t say how much the discounts might amount to, but said they won’t starve the program of money. “We’re cognizant that these reduced fees won’t impact revenue to the point where they’ll have trouble running the program,” he said.
More than 100 companies have been designated Clean Corporate Citizens, including Ford Motor Co., Herman Miller Inc. in Holland and Cascade Engineering In Grand Rapids.
But James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said most companies receive the Clean Corporate Citizen designation just for following regulations, and reducing permit fees could further strain DEQ functions.
“We’re not sure the program really discerns who’s doing what it takes to get by and what companies are actually working to eliminate emissions,” he said. “So we’re leery of reducing permit fees for companies that simply comply with law, especially since the department is already tight on resources.”
Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, co-sponsored Toy’s bill, saying the program “will help provide real benefits to companies, and I’m hopeful that even more northern Michigan businesses will take advantage of this.”
Moving the program to the Legislature would bring it more exposure, according to John Long, deputy communications director for the Senate Republican Caucus. Lawmakers haven’t set a goal for how many more companies they hope to add. “Until the Legislature looks at this, and until we hear from the corporate sector what their response might be, it’s a little too early to say how many companies we expect as a result of this discount,” he said.
Discounted permits are one part of an economic package recently proposed by Senate Republicans. Other parts would reduce air quality permit fees by 15 percent over four years, ensure private-sector financing and a Single Business Tax credit up to $200,000 for brownfield development.