Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.

That’s the exact term environmental groups have used as a label for a bill sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, that would form an oversight panel with the power to overturn Michigan Department of Environmental Quality rules and permit decisions.

The proposal has garnered a wave of criticism from a wide variety of natural resource advocates and environmental advocacy groups. And for good reason.

The package of bills pushed by the term-limited state senator during his last months in office would form an 11-member oversight committee comprised of gubernatorial appointees. Sounds like a reasonable setup, right?

Not so much. Anyone who takes a few minutes to peruse the particulars would walk away with the same impression, no matter his or her political leanings. The proposed mechanism would surrender veto power over the DEQ to interest groups.

Casperson’s oversight committee would consist of six industry or business representatives, while the remaining five would hail from an environmental group, local government, a land conservancy group, the medical field and the general public. That lineup, by definition, appears to stack the deck toward industry and business interests, lending credence to the assertions lobbed by natural resource advocates.

It’s an imbalance Casperson contends is needed to provide “fair” oversight and regulation by the DEQ.

That assertion of unfairness seems a bit misplaced considering the DEQ already is directed by a gubernatorial appointee — the current director, Heidi Grether, previously worked for BP America, including a stint as a registered lobbyist for the oil company in Michigan. She was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2016 after the agency’s previous director resigned over the Flint water crisis.

There is no doubt the DEQ must weigh a variety of factors in its rule making and permitting processes, because a pendulum swing in either direction can be problematic. So how would ripping the pendulum clean from its fulcrum as Casperson proposes create better balance or fairness?

The answer: It won’t.

The move would threaten to effectively place lobbyists — as if they don’t already have a mountain of sway in Lansing — in a position to approve or reject any actions taken by a state agency charged with protecting our natural resources.

Readers need look no further than Sunday’s Record-Eagle for evidence of the DEQ’s importance — an article about proposed environmental cleanup funding and a map of 308 contaminated sites in the Grand Traverse region will appear on the front page.

The DEQ fulfills probably one of the most important oversight jobs in the Great Lakes state, one we can’t afford to water down.

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