Published in Michigan Environmental Law Journal, Spring 2017, Vol. 35, No. 1, Issue 102 [view full issue].
Cite: 35 Mich Env Law J 1 (2017)
by Christopher J. Dunsky, Editor
A new administration in Washington often marks the beginning of interesting times for environmental lawyers, especially when it changes from Democrat to Republican. When Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter, the Reagan administration distrusted nearly all EPA staff and gave those of us in enforcement very little to do. I remember spending many idle hours reading in the EPA library as an enforcement lawyer at EPA headquarters at the time. But after Congressional hearings regarding alleged sweetheart Superfund settlements and significant public criticism, President Reagan appointed Bill Ruckelshaus as administrator and gave him free rein to run the Agency without interference. Although the early Reagan EPA would have been happy to deep-six CERCLA, which a Democratic Congress had enacted just a month before the election, the later Reagan and Bush years proved to be the golden age for environmental lawyers. CERCLA litigation proliferated not only in the D.C. Circuit, but in U.S. district courts everywhere, and of course each defendant had to hire a lawyer.
Will our experience with the Donald Trump administration follow suit? Although the new administration has been thoroughly and frequently criticized for numerous gaffes, missteps, and "alternative facts," there isn't yet a unified public outcry over plans to reverse President Obama's environmental initiatives. Unlike the Carter administration, which prudently codified its cleanup program in statutory form (CERCLA), the Obama administration had to rely on administrative rules for most of its key initiatives. Many of these rules, including the Waters of the United States Rule, the Clean Power Plan, and more stringent automobile mileage standards, were not promulgated until late in Obama's second term. Unlike statutes, these rules are vulnerable to being revoked by the new EPA administrator as long as he gives a rational explanation for doing so. Just when we thought we knew where environmental law was going, American voters and the Electoral College gave us a surprise ending worthy of American author O. Henry (see The Ransom of Red Chief). These will be interesting times, indeed, but I do not think they will follow the Reagan script.
While we're talking about endings, this is the last issue of MELJ that I will edit. After five and one-half years and 20 issues, it's time for someone else to take over as editor of MELJ and chair of the Journal Committee. I sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the success of the Journal, especially our numerous authors who shared their experiences and insights into the law, and our assistant editors who unselfishly spent many hours making other authors look good and who often wrote many articles when other authors were scarce. I thank my friend Charlie Denton who invited (challenged?) me to take over as editor when he became chair of the Section. And I thank all our readers. May you all enjoy the interesting times to come in the ever-changing practice of environmental law.
Christopher J. Dunsky
Editor, Michigan Environmental Law Journal#EnvironmentalLawJournal#EditorLetter