Spring 2018

Vol. 36, No. 1, Issue 104

Message from Chair Scott Steiner

Scott Steiner

As I write this, it is a brilliant sunny day after a couple of weeks of April snow and ice storms that seemed to never end. It seems appropriate that spring is bursting out from this thaw on Earth Day. It also occurs to me that next year will be the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, which was part of the 1970s movement, which led to so much of the environmental regulation we deal with on a daily basis. Following that, the 1980s became somewhat of a "boom period" for environmental lawyers. Some of these lawyers are now enjoying retirement, but many still practice and may or may not be close to retirement. In more recent decades, it seems there have been increasingly fewer lawyers becoming specialized in the environmental area.

As part of our strategic planning for the future of the Section, we are working on finding ways to get young lawyers and law students interested in environmental law with the hope that this will help sustain the Section as more senior members eventually go to a less active status over the next several years. We have a committee led by Chair-Elect Kelly Martorano focused on this effort. If you would like to help, let Kelly know (KMartorano@dickinson-wright.com). Otherwise, if you are a law student or new lawyer or know of someone like this who might be interested, let us know. Also, our summer program is coming up in June and we hope to have a good turn out by both lawyers and law students. This event will include both an educational program and a social event. Look for details to follow on our website or by email via our listserv.

The ABCs of Emerging Contaminants

by Charles M. Denton, Partner, Barnes & Thornburg LLP

Charles M. Denton"Emerging Contaminants" like perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) seem to be everywhere these days—from agencies to backyards to courts. This article builds on the prior Perfluoroalkyl Compounds: An Emerging Contaminant in Michigan in the MELJ Fall 2017 issue. That article described the PFAS group of compounds and their prior industrial, commercial, and household uses over the last many decades (but yet still considered an "emerging" contaminant), as well as their potential toxicity. Since that article, there have been some potentially significant developments in the PFAS landscape across a spectrum of interests.

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Viewpoint: Are Mass Water Shut-Offs a Strategy to Purge Detroit’s Poor?

by Mark Fancher, Staff Attorney, The Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union

Mark FancherA few years ago, under the heroic leadership of civil rights attorney Alice Jennings, a small band of lawyers representing a courageous group of low-income customers of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department filed a lawsuit against the utility. They complained that, among other things, DWSD was terminating the water service of tens of thousands of residential customers whose unpaid water bills were sometimes less than one thousand dollars, while large corporations with unpaid six and seven figure bills had uninterrupted service. They complained as well of the failure of the utility to follow its own rules by failing to provide proper notice of planned shutoffs as well as opportunities to challenge bills that were often unwarranted or incorrect. The net effect of these and other practices was that many thousands of people who were sick, poor, elderly, or who were parents of small children, found themselves without water service in their homes, and too often the predictable consequences of that predicament became tragic reality.

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Preparing Communities for a Clean Energy Future

by Stanley “Skip” Pruss, former Director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, & Economic Growth and Michigan’s Chief Energy Officer

Stanley Skip PrussWind and solar energy projects are proliferating across rural landscapes in Michigan. The enactment of the Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Act in 2008, requiring Michigan electric providers to derive 10 percent of retail supply from renewable energy sources, resulted in the development of wind energy projects concentrated in areas of comparatively strong wind resources—primarily in Michigan’s “Thumb” and in Gratiot County. The 2016 Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act increased the renewable energy standard, requiring Michigan electric providers to achieve a retail supply portfolio with 15 percent renewable energy in 2021.

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What You Might Have Missed

Environmental Justice in Practice Conference
Wayne State Law School, Jan. 26, 2018, Detroit

Dr. Agustin V. ArbuluDr. Agustin V. Arbulu (right), executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights opened the conference with remarks on environmental justice in the current era. The conference included expert panels on Energy and Climate Justice, Water Access and Affordability, and Urban Air Quality. Be sure to read Mark Fancher’s article in this issue of the MELJ regarding the topics he addressed as a member of the Water Access and Affordability panel. In addition to the four panel discussions, there were two keynote addresses—one by Mustafa Santiago Ali of the Hip Hop Caucus and another by Charles Lee, the senior policy advisor of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice. The conference concluded with a discussion of careers in environmental justice.

Environmental Regulation in the Trump Administration
Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Feb. 10, 2018, Ann Arbor

The Changing Winds: Environmental Regulation in the Trump Administration Conference was hosted by the University of Michigan Law School Journal of Law Reform. It featured panels on Environmental Federalism, Environmental Regulation & Real Business Cycles, and Climate Change in the Trump Age. The keynote lunch address was given by Robert Bilott of Taft Stettinius & Hollister. He discussed his involvement in litigation against DuPont Chemical Company for its alleged liability for environmental contamination in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Rights of Nature Forum
March 9, 2018, Ann Arbor

Laura RubinThe University of Michigan Law School Environmental Law Society hosted an educational forum concerning the actual and theoretical basis for securing legal rights for natural systems. Laura Rubin (right), executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, opened the forum with an overview of the history, current status, and challenges facing the Huron River watershed. Current challenges include a migrating pollutant plume that threatens the river. Oday Salim, executive director and managing attorney at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, followed with a comparative discussion of the legal basis for protective mechanisms. One such mechanism would be to grant personhood rights, including standing to sue, to natural systems. Among the attendees was second-year Michigan law student Olivia Cares who was kind enough to provide this summary and the accompanying photos to the MELJ. Olivia hopes to practice environmental litigation in Michigan after graduation.

Council Meeting
March 12, 2018, Troy

The Section Council held an organizational meeting in March to discuss its current activities. Each of the Section’s five subject matter committees provided a status report—Air; Environmental Litigation & Administrative Practice; Hazardous Substances & Brownfields; Natural Resources, Energy, & Sustainability; and Great Lakes & Inland Waters. The next Council meeting will be in June and coincide with the Section’s Summer Program.

Updated—Lender’s Perspective on Environmental Law Issues Webinar
March 13, 2018, Statewide

The Hazardous Substances and Brownfields Committee welcomed back presenter Jeff Furton, LEED AP and vice president & assistant group manager of environmental risk management for Comerica Bank. Furton presented a webinar in 2013 regarding a lender's view on what banks want their environmental lawyers to know and do, and how environmental lawyers can best counsel their clients in dealing with banks. His March presentation covered the same general topics, but reflected the many developments in the industry over the last five years. You can view a video recording of the webinar on the Section’s website.

Clearing the Air in 2018
Air Committee of the Environmental Law Section, April 11, 2018, Lansing

The Section’s spring conference was hosted by the Michigan Manufacturers Association and featured an overview of federal, regional, and state air quality issues. The agenda included presentations by Mary Ann Dolehanty on her new role as acting director of the Air Quality Division at MDEQ and by Partner Lee Johnson of Honigman on the most influential DOJ and EPA changes to policy and guidance. A regulatory reform panel discussed proposed changes to Michigan’s regulations, including the pending “not stricter than federal” legislation, as well as the proposed senate bills creating new regulatory and permitting review panels.

Nick Leonard & Allison Collins Join MELJ

The MELJ's Editorial Committee is growing fast. The Committee welcomed four new co-editors this Spring: Nicholas Leonard, Allison Collins, Joni Roach, and Lydia Barbash-Riley.

Nick LeonardNick Leonard is a staff attorney at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit. From 2014 to 2016, Nick worked with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center as an Equal Justice Works fellow. His fellowship project focused on providing transactional legal services to individuals, nonprofit corporations, and for-profit businesses engaged in urban agriculture in Detroit. After transitioning to his role as staff attorney at the conclusion of his fellowship, Nick has worked on environmental justice issues in Detroit, with a specific focus on Clean Air Act permitting, hazardous and solid waste management, and local environmental policy. Recently, he published an article entitled Unlocking Urban Agriculture's Potential with Municipal Policy in the ABA Natural Resources & Environment magazine and he was featured in Detroit Legal News. Nick studied English at Kalamazoo College before obtaining his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Nick spends his free time watching Tigers baseball, backpacking in mountains, and cooking.

Allison CollinsAllison Collins is a member of the General Litigation Practice Group and Agri-Business Practice Group at Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC's Lansing office. She has extensive experience in environmental litigation in both state and federal courts at the trial and appellate levels. Her areas of environmental work include water, soil, natural resources permitting, regulatory compliance, contract negotiation, due diligence, investigation and cleanup of contaminated sites, and administrative proceedings. She was named a Michigan Super Lawyer Rising Star in 2017 and 2018. Allison studied history and criminology at the University of Pennsylvania before obtaining her law degree from Indiana University Maurer School of Law. She attended the University on scholarship and was ultimately awarded dean's honors. While in law school she contributed greatly to the University's Student Legal Services. Allison spends her free time traveling, gardening, and hiking.

Legislation Watch

The status and details of the bills described below can be found on the Michigan Legislature’s website.

Senate Bill 652

SB 652 proposes to establish an Environmental Rules Review Committee.

Passed the Senate; recommended by the House Committee on Natural Resources, and presently in the House Committee on Michigan Competitiveness.

Senate Bill 653

SB 653 proposes to establish an Appeals Board comprised of engineers, geologists, hydrologists, and hydrogeologists to review MDEQ permit decisions. The Appeal Board’s decision would become part of the final decision of the MDEQ.

Passed the Senate; recommended by the House Committee on Natural Resources, and presently in the House Committee on Michigan Competitiveness.

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Michigan’s Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula are a beautiful summer travel spot.

Host a Law School Intern

Could your environment, energy, or natural resources practice use an extra hand? Law students from Michigan State, Wayne State, Detroit Mercy, Michigan, and Cooley are looking to learn more about environmental law in Michigan. Think back to your early days diving into environmental law and how you could have benefited from a summer of practical experience.

Even if you are unsure, but you might be interested in accepting student resumes for possible internship positions, fill out this contact form.

ELS plans to create a directory of possible internship opportunities that will be passed along to the student environmental groups at each of the Michigan law schools. Help us provide opportunities for Michigan students to learn the law here in Michigan.

Section Information

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Tammy Helminski

Editor, Michigan Env. Law Journal
Amanda Urban

Section Administrator
Mary Anne Parks

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Environmental Law Section dues are only $30 and FREE for law students and new members to the bar. To join, please complete a section membership application or attorneys can join online by logging into the Bar's member area and selecting Section Membership.

MELJ Editorial Committee

  • Amanda Urban
  • Allison Collins
  • Nicholas Leonard
  • Joni Roach
  • Lydia Barbash-Riley

Join: The MELJ is a team effort and would not be possible without the hard work of its contributing and associate editors, as well as the State Bar administrative staff. Consider joining the MELJ Editorial Committee. Contact Amanda Urban if interested.

The Michigan Environmental Law Journal is a publication of the Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan and exists to provide the Section’s membership a forum for sharing information and discussing environmental topics relevant to the legal community in the State. To that end, the MELJ encourages the open exchange of legal discourse on a variety of environmental topics, but does not endorse particular viewpoints or positions unless otherwise recognized by the Section. Any opinions espoused by the articles contained within are attributable to solely their respective authors and are not representative of the SBM, the Section, or its members generally. Publication is neither an endorsement nor a rejection of a particular position by the Environmental Law Section.