After having its nose tweaked by faster government regulators in Alabama, Michigan has vowed to speed the process of approving air quality permits for new factories.
The state will launch a redesigned air quality approval process on Sept. 1 that promises to get an auto manufacturing project approved in six months or less. That's how long Alabama has been taking to sign off on major projects, such as Hyundai Motor Co.'s $1 billion assembly plant in Montgomery.
The issue has been an annoyance to Michigan and the Big 3. Getting a major project approved in Michigan has typically taken 18 months to two years, Steve Chester, director of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality, said at yesterday's Management Briefing Seminars.
But no more, he promised.
Starting Sept. 1, the state is adopting several new procedures to make it more competitive with Alabama and Mississippi, which attracted a stream of auto assembly and supplier projects in recent years.
Two years ago, the competitive difference escalated into an interstate tiff after Alabama quickly processed the Hyundai air permit. Michigan air quality officials complained to the Environmental Protection Agency that Alabama had adequately reviewed the Hyundai permit request.
That complaint prompted a testy letter from the governor of Alabama accusing Michigan or trying to "derail" the Hyundai project.
Now, Michigan wants to level the playing field with Alabama.
Under the new system, Michigan will assign an entire team to all large projects, instead of putting the project under a solitary engineer, as it did in the past.
Permitting officials also will work with companies to make sure they submit their paperwork correctly. Michigan conducted a lean-manufacturing style efficiency study of its permitting process and discovered that manufacturers tend to put in their paperwork far too early, Chester said. They submit incomplete proposals because they are want to get the process started early and fear the process will take up to two years.
But Chester said Michigan still suspects that EPA regional offices in the South are more lenient on permits than the office that oversees Michigan.
"I don't think we've been playing by the same rules," he said.