Gov. Rick Snyder today signed the first legislation of his new administration, establishing in law a successful, voluntary pollution prevention program that helps Michigan farmers maintain their economic viability while being environmentally responsible.
Senate Bill 122 and House Bill 4212, now Public Acts 1 and 2 of 2011, codify the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program into law, a move called for by Snyder in his Jan. 19 State of the State address. MAEAP was created in 1998 by a coalition of agricultural, environmental and conservation groups to assist farmers in taking a voluntary, proactive approach to reducing agricultural pollution while keeping their business operations sustainable.
"Our journey to the "New Michigan' requires that government, industry and stakeholder groups work together toward common goals," Snyder said. "MAEAP has proved to be an excellent example of that cooperation. Putting this program into statute secures its place as a model for addressing environmental challenges in a way that also allows our agriculture-based businesses to expand. I am pleased that my first bill signings recognize the critical importance of Michigan agriculture as well as our need to be sound stewards of the environment. The fact that the Legislature acted on these bills so promptly also demonstrates its commitment to the agriculture industry and our shared resources."
The program is designed for farms of all sizes and commodities. It reduces farmers' legal and environmental risks through education, the completion of a farm-specific risk assessment and an on-site verification that ensures that the farmer has implemented the environmentally-sound practice. Farms that are verified as meeting program standards can display signs announcing their MAEAP compliance.
"MAEAP is a real-world testament of what can be accomplished through the power of partnership and collaboration when government, business and industry work together," said Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture. "By codifying MAEAP, it recognizes the achievement of the partnership in providing a program that delivers both environmental protection and economic sustainability."
Under the new law:
* The director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture will implement MAEAP in consultation with the Environmental Assurance Advisory Council. The program continues to be voluntary.
* A farmer wishing to participate in MAEAP must complete educational requirements authorized by the Department of Agriculture, develop and implement one or more department-approved conservation plans, and pass an on-site evaluation by the department.
* MAEAP verifications are valid for three years and are renewable.
* Owners or operators of MAEAP-verified farms are not subject to civil fines for discharges into waterways if they act promptly to correct the condition upon discovering it, and report the situation to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality within 24 hours of discovery. They still are responsible for natural resource damages.
* The Department of Agriculture will establish a MAEAP grants program for uses such as technical assistance, educational programs, demonstration projects to implement conservation practices, and removal of potential contamination sources.
* The director of the Department of Agriculture can revoke a farm's MAEAP verification for reasons such as gross negligence or failure to comply with program standards.
MAEAP has an impressive record of success. The program is responsible for reducing the amount of phosphorus from entering waterways by 260,000 pounds, preventing 7.5 tons of algae growth. It further enhanced water quality by encouraging the installation of approximately 4,300 acres of filter strips and the stabilization of about 1,000 gullies.
State Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, sponsored SB 122 and state Rep. Kevin Daley, R-Attica, sponsored HB 4212. The legislators participated in the announcement along with the Michigan Farm Bureau.