Detroit News op-ed: New EPA power plant rules may fail legal test

The following guest column was printed by the Detroit News on Feb. 14, 2016. The piece can also be read online at the Detroit News.


Shirkey: New EPA power plant rules may fail legal test

Last year the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an administrative end-around that bypasses Congress and requires power plants across the nation to comply with unprecedented reductions in carbon emissions.

I’m among those who do not believe the EPA has the power to require the states to do this. For many reasons it would be unwise for Michigan to bow to the federal government and submit a plan that would rubber-stamp and validate such overreach.

In response, state legislation was introduced that would allow Michigan to review any state carbon plan before it was submitted to the EPA. Senate Bill 465 would also require the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to first provide the Legislature with a report on the impact of complying with the new federal rules, and to look fully at plan costs, benefits and impacts on residents’ electric rates. Under some scenarios, the state would simply not comply with the federal rules.

Fast forward to the present: Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court indirectly signaled it agrees with the position of the states, putting the president’s plan on hold while litigation challenging the plan is ongoing.

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision. We need to ensure we carefully examine all potential energy options before we head down a path dictated to us by the federal government.

It is also important to note that when the framers of the Michigan Constitution met as delegates at the 1962 Constitutional Convention, they laid out a series of definitive steps to provide express authority to the legislative branch to be responsible for regulating forms of energy and to address these types of emission-related issues. This fully recognizes that Michigan legislation should not simply mirror federal law nor allow for administrative agencies to unilaterally take such actions.

The Supreme Court’s stay is in agreement with these principles in Michigan’s Constitution. There are both legal and procedural flaws in the proposed Clean Power Plan that the court saw through. This reaffirms one of the principal roles of our judicial branch, to halt an overreach by bureaucratic rules that attempt to sidestep the law.

Michigan must also learn from its past. We’ve gone partway down this path before, when going along with an overly aggressive EPA mercury rule that failed to factor in the extent to which such an edict would raise electric bills. While we ultimately did win that court case, it was unfortunately a false victory won too late, as plants had already been closed prematurely and jobs were lost while the lawsuit was ongoing.

We should not repeat the same mistake. Shuttering power plants, increasing utility bills and laying people off: This is what happens when we act prematurely, before a final determination on an unreasonable federal dictate has been made.

By granting the stay, the Supreme Court is sending a strong signal that the president’s plan may not withstand scrutiny. At this point, radically changing Michigan’s energy policy is not a prudent move considering the court’s decision. SB 465 is a reasonable measure that protects Michigan’s ratepayers.

State Sen. Mike Shirkey is a Clarklake Republican and on the Senate Energy and Technology Committee.

PHOTO ADVISORY: Sen. Shirkey, colleagues introduce bills to cut red tape for schools

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, speaks about reducing unnecessary school regulations at a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday. Shirkey is the sponsor of Senate Bill 764, which is part of a package of bills requested by local teachers to give them more time to focus on students. Also attending the conference were bill sponsors Sens. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City (left) and Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth (second from right); and lead sponsor Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township.

Note: Click the image for a print-quality version. This photo and others are also available by clicking the Photowire link, below.

Sen. Shirkey and others introduce bills to improve school processes

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and other Senate Republicans introduced legislation on Tuesday to reduce red tape so schools can spend more time teaching.

Senate Bills 754-767 would eliminate unnecessary and redundant data collection and streamline school reporting requirements to give teachers and administrators more time to work on student-related matters.

“These bills not only bring greater clarity to the law, they free up school resources for important activities like teaching,” Shirkey said. “Educators throughout Michigan, including those in Branch, Hillsdale, and Jackson Counties, all benefit when more time is available for their work.”

Michigan school districts must prepare and submit various reports to state and federal entities. Some of these reports can be time-consuming to produce and some are even obsolete by the submission date. These bills reduce the number of those types of reports.

Education reporting requirements are spread throughout Michigan law — not just the state’s education code. There is no published comprehensive index to easily locate all mandated reports. Although collected data can assist schools in some instances, it is important to remove outdated ones that no longer serve a useful function.

Local school officials support the legislation.

“School districts appreciate the fact that data collection can help inform instruction and lead to improved operational efficiencies,” said Superintendent Kevin Oxley, Jackson County Intermediate School District. “However, oftentimes required data collection can be duplicative, creating unnecessary work that wastes taxpayer dollars. Jackson County school districts appreciate the efforts these bills are making to make sure our data collection activities are worthwhile and efficient.”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, also expressed support for the package.

“Reducing red tape and duplicative reporting requirements for schools will mean educators can spend more time focusing on student achievement,” Pavlov said.

SBs 754-765 have been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Senate committee passes Shirkey bill clarifying law for active duty service members

LANSING, Mich. — A Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Shirkey that would ensure that active duty members of the military would not lose their Principal Residence Exemption (PRE) while serving away from home.

Senate Bill 606, reported unanimously from the Senate Finance Committee, fixes an ambiguity in the law that sometimes inconvenienced members of the military who claimed this common residence exemption from some local property taxes.

“Members of the military who do their jobs while serving away from home should be able to claim the same exemption that non-military homeowners claim,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “Even though the state has typically granted the Principal Residence Exemption to active duty military in the past, the ambiguity in the law has caused at least one known hassle for a constituent, and it should be fixed.”

Under current law, any homeowner claiming the Principal Residence Exemption must not only own their house but also occupy it to keep the exemption. This can create problems for members of the military serving away from home.

In one instance, a member of the military who claimed the PRE was required to participate in a lengthy hearing process to determine if his claim was valid. Although this individual was eventually able to keep the exemption, the case could have gone a different way.

SB 606 makes it clear that members of the military currently serving can legally claim the PRE for their one true home, even when they are away protecting citizens’ rights. The PRE can still only be claimed on the owner’s actual residence.

The proposed bill would also ensure that servicemen who file untimely for the PRE would now have a way to refile by allowing the local Board of Review to consider and approve their forms.

SB 606 now heads to the full Senate for further consideration.