Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.
Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.

Can We Lighten Up On The Legal Mumbo Jumbo? 

03/29/24 11:10 AM By Team MIRS

(Source: MIRS.news, Published 03/29/2024) U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and a coalition of environmental advocacy groups are asking the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to lighten up on the scientific jargon when explaining permitting issues to the general public. 

EGLE is taking public comments on its plan to better communicate with the public. Members of the “Clear the Air” coalition said today EGLE could start by using words ordinary citizens can understand. 

“Laypeople, as myself, this is not our training. The documents that we’re presented with are often hundreds of pages long. They’re highly technical, legal and scientific. Jargon that we cannot understand,” said Theresa Landrum, of Detroit.  

Landrum said many of the permits that affect the people in the area where they would be implemented are also presented to the public at the end of the process, while the applicants had been working with EGLE for months prior to the presentation. 

“They have the opportunity to digest – to understand – the permit that the companies have submitted, but we, as laypeople, are only given a short period of time to understand the scientific, legal, technical information which we need to understand,” she said. 

She said most of them don’t understand what parts per million, parts per billion, or parts per trillion means. They simply want to know how the pollution being regulated is going to impact their health. 

“We need for the documents to be put in simple, plain language, so that we can understand,” she said. “Oftentimes, when we’re in these hearings, that communication is like speaking German to people that only speak English.” 

She said many don’t have computer literacy or access to digital resources. 

Landrum said the group approached EGLE about some of these problems and were told they might be able to hold tutorials or workshops that would be able to break down some of the highly technical and scientific documents. 

Tlaib said she would like to see EGLE put more weight on the public comment process, because the people who are showing up to those meetings were the ones that would have to deal with any outcomes when the permit was issued. 

She said many of the people at the meetings believe the permitting process is part of a forgone conclusion that is just rubber-stamped by whichever board is put in front. 

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in public hearings where every single resident – not one - came out and said, ‘You know, this is a great idea,’” Tlaib said. “Every single one speaks out against allowing more pollution in their already polluted neighborhood.” 

Clear the Air spokesperson Kim Hunter said the group has not met with any state representatives but did have a tour scheduled to show them some areas in need of attention. 

Hunter said the group had also not interacted with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or her office to get things going. 

He said the April 1 deadline for the review of the public presentation policy was looming and they were taking advantage of the opportunity to go directly to EGLE. 

Nick Leonard, a member of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said what needed to take place was a culture shift at EGLE, which could happen through Whitmer’s office. 

“I think that’s what we’re looking for is for Gov. Whitmer to take a bit more ownership over EGLE, even on things like this that are going to be super helpful,” Leonard said.