After a year serving as chair of the Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, I have passed the gavel to the new chair at the end of September, and will now serve in an advisory capacity as immediate past chair. My firm entered its fifth year in August. USNews named the firm one of the best environmental law firms. The Martindale-Hubbell rating of AV-Preeminent continues. The Best Lawyers and Superlawyers recognitions continue year to year for my work in environmental law and mediation.
I see other firms publicizing these recognitions in press releases and ads. But I remain convinced that the review that matters the most is what my clients think of my work. The primary reason I am busy is clients who keep me involved over the years, who send new work my way and refer me to their colleagues. Similarly, colleagues with other firms, not only in Michigan but in other jurisdictions, who refer their clients to me when they have conflicts, who get me involved as local counsel, or who refer their environmental work to me when they do not have that expertise are not only key resources but are to me the best measure of my success.
Work has been steady and varied, as usual. Litigation continues over Great Lakes shoreline rights, development of critical sand dunes, and other riparian rights disputes. MDEQ enforcement over alleged permit violations continues to present challenges. US EPA remains engaged in cooperative work on Great Lakes Legacy Act sites. RCRA corrective action challenges persist. Settlement of underground storage tank litigation was finally resolved with complete payment. And the challenge of sorting out the environmental due diligence issues in real estate transactions continues, despite continued modification of Part 201.
The practice of environmental law for corporations often arises out of issues of fairness. In my experience, companies have a product or service focus that is consistent with sound environmental management. But the rules of environmental compliance are not their primary focus, there can be challenges incorporating practices into the corporate scheme. Most often, however, the nature of the legal work is responding to regulatory actions that create substantial exposure or threaten unfair results. Look back at major environmental litigation rulings. By and large, they tend to focus on sorting out what is fair – how does the (often new and perhaps confusing) law work; what has been done that is compliant and/or non-compliant or violative of the law and regulations; and how should responsibility be assigned, shared, shouldered?
Environmental law is complex because it involves science as well as policy, it is evolving, it is expensive, and it is important. It makes for a great area of practice.