Update: Rep. Dan Scripps Introduces Water Bill

In September 2009, Rep. Dan Scripps (Leland) who represents the district with the most Lake Michigan shoreline, introduced House Bill 5319, which would place all state waters in the public trust and empower the attorney general to take required legal action to protect it, not unlike what our attorney general is doing now to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp.

Generally, "public trust" refers to a common-law principle dating back to Roman times. This common law states that the government owns title to submerged land under navigable waters and holds them in trust for the public. Any use or sale of submerged lands must be in the public interest.

In more recent times, this common-law principle has been expanded to include water and other natural resources. It also became the basis of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), which was passed in 1970 and allowed citizens for the first time to bring lawsuits against "unreasonable" environmental pollution, impairment or destruction by government or private action. In the past few years, however, our Michigan Supreme Court, whose rulings have put citizen lawsuits and advocacy in jeopardy, has weakened MEPA.

The “public trust” doctrine, as originally adopted into MEPA, would:
• Protect something that is publicly owned, not privately owned;
• Set an outer boundary on self-interest in using public resources for private gain;
• Transcend competing interests in a way similar to the Bill of Rights. (It is a legal doctrine that says the courts can draw the line on human and government behavior in regard to publicly owned natural resources); and
• Allow citizen participation and watchdog function.
• Provide for government stewardship responsibility to protect and maintain public natural for future generations.

Given that the Great Lakes and our incredible waterways are what defines this great state, it is essential that we protect them. Rep. Scripps’ proposed legislation would do just that.

While the Traverse City Record Eagle has been doing a decent job covering this issue, the Detroit News recently got it all wrong. It is important that newspapers across the state hear from their readers — like you — on this topic. Our elected officials read these papers and pay attention to the public’s voice.

You can write and submit a letter to the editor today. Click here for a sample LTE and click here for instructions on submittal to the Detroit News.