Once upon a time many of Michigan state government’s decisions about the environment were made in the blinding light of day. It wasn’t a pretty process all the time but at least everybody knew the score.

Now we find Michigan DEQ ingeniously avoiding the Freedom of Information Act.  According to the Capitol watchdog MIRS, “A number of state officials were directed to a website controlled by a former private contractor in an effort to shield certain Line 5-relation documents from the possibility of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”

It’s a long way from the sunshine days.  Citizen commissions appointed by the governor heard presentations from agency staff and the public and then made decisions about key pollution permits and some policies in public meetings. Frequently, they cast votes allowing everyone to see where individual members stood.

Michigan had a water resources commission, air pollution control commission, and natural resources commission. It was a system that evolved over decades, and peaked in the sunshine in government 1970s. In 1991, Governor Engler scrapped most of the system and consolidated decision making within the DNR and finally the DEQ.

It’s time to return sunshine to the DEQ. The next governor needs to create a citizen commission to oversee the department and assure transparency in decision-making — and assure respect for the citizenry. This is not an exciting plank in anybody’s platform, but it might do more work than all of the other initiatives that the candidates will be proposing.

The environment belongs to all of us, and so does DEQ.  Special interests will always have access to the decisionmakers.  A citizen commission assures it for the rest of us.

The saying goes that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and the DEQ’s suffering a serious bug.