40-Year-Old Michigan Environmental Act May Be Under Fire Again

photo Pigeon River Holland Michigan

Citizens should have the right to hold their government accountable.  In the environmental world, this process of accountability can be especially important. Which is why we're so concerned with the announcement that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette will likely file challenges to Anglers of the AuSable v. Department of Environmental Quality.

This would put the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) under fire again. Since 1971, this act has upheld citizens, groups, and local governments right to sue the state government in order to protect the environment.

When MEPA was struck down in 2007 in the case of Nestle v. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the citizens of Michigan spent three years with weakened rights to hold their government accountable.

Thankfully, our Supreme Court at the end of 2010 reinstated the act in a case protecting water for fisherman in the Au Sable River in Ostego County. Justice Alton Thomas Davis wrote in his majority opinion, “it would be unconscionable and destructive for this Court to determine that it is reasonable to spread dangerous contamination throughout Michigan as we have described.”

Unfortunately, the dissent did not find the contamination of the Au Sable River quite so unconscionable. Justice Bob Young authored the dissenting opinion, calling the lead opinion “extraordinarily lawless and profoundly dangerous.” 

Now, with the high turnover in last year’s midterm elections, we are sadly stuck with Justice Bob Young, but left without Justice Alton Thomas Davis.

And Young is now bolstered by the likes of new Justice Brian Zahra, who has been appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Snyder. Zahra has vowed to overturn the act that Davis helped reinstate. 

The 2010 decision was hailed as "a great victory for citizens and riparian landowners." What will a 2011 decision be hailed as, a great victory for polluters? 

-- Photo by Abby Barkwell