by Bruce Walker
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy dismissed a case challenging the department’s issuance of a permit to increase water withdrawals by Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) in Osceola County.
EGLE announced on Friday it would dismiss the case, which was filed in 2018 by the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. An EGLE statement stated the groups “erred in not appealing the permit directly to circuit court.”
An administrative law judge determined permitted withdrawals for Nestlé’s bottled water facility near Stanwood did not violate Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act due to the company’s adherence to monitoring and safety protocols related to the state’s water resources.
“EGLE remains committed to protecting our state’s valuable water resources, but as a regulatory agency we must act within our statutory authority,” EGLE Director Liesl Clark said in a statement. The Safe Drinking Water Act only allows EGLE to hold contested case hearings under very limited circumstances which are not present in this case.”
EGLE asserts the permit was issued during the administration of former Gov. Rick Snyder, when the department was called the Department of Environmental Quality, and “represents the most intensely scrutinized permit in the agency’s history.” EGLE also said the Nestlé operation is “the most intensively monitored water withdrawals in the state.”
Monitoring by EGLE and the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge bolsters the department’s confidence in Nestlé’s water withdrawal activities in Michigan.
“According to EGLE’s own data, Michigan’s nearly 40 bottled water companies account for less than .01% of water used in the state,” a NWNA spokesperson said. “Our water use in Michigan ranks us far down on the list of the state’s top water users.”
Public comments opposing the permit expressed concerns the company does not pay fees to the state or local community for water withdrawal. Clark stated EGLE is not allowed by law to charge for groundwater withdrawals for bottled water. She did say, however, that EGLE under her leadership supported legislation that would require private companies to pay for the state’s water resources.
The Nestlé website states that 90% of the water bottled from Michigan stays in the Midwest. The company also says it employs 280 Michigan residents, and is indirectly responsible for another 765 jobs in the state. The company also states it has generated an estimated $160 million of economic activity in Michigan, including $50 million of goods and services purchased from in-state companies.
“Since 2002, NWNA has made capital investments totaling more than $267 million and contributed $427 million to Michigan’s economy,” a NWNA spokesperson said. “With an annual payroll of nearly $16 million, our economic activity generates about $5 million each year to support state and local taxes that fund local schools, fire and police departments, local parks, and other essential services. We also purchase more than $50 million in goods and services each year from Michigan companies to support our business operations.”
Peggy Case, president of MCWC, told The Center Square her organization will issue a news release on Monday in response to EGLE’s dismissal of her group’s challenge. She said she hadn’t had a chance to read fully EGLE’s rationales for dismissing the case, but described the department’s decision as “a little disturbing.”
According to Case, MCWC began seeking help from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel this past summer.
“We hope the attorney general will find time to look into it,” she said.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Michigan Science magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Image “Nestlé Waters North America” by Nestlé Waters North America.