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ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY: State’s Supreme Court restores citizens’ right to protect resources; but AG Schuette wants reconsideration

The right of Michiganders to sue to protect the state’s natural resources was restored by the Michigan Supreme Court in a decision made in late December with input from a Michigan Environmental Council legal brief, but the citizen rights may be short-lived if Attorney General Bill Schuette has his way.

MEC filed the “friend of the court” amicus brief on behalf of member group Anglers of the AuSable. The brief argued for restoration of parts of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), which gives “any person” living in Michigan the right to use the courts to “protect the air, water and other natural resources … from pollution, impairment or destruction.”

The 1970 MEPA law and similar statutes were unchallenged for decades, until recent years when court rulings eroded that right. The rulings required that only persons directly impacted by pollution may sue.

The Anglers of the AuSable case involved the group’s opposition to a plan approved by state regulators to pump water contaminated by an oil company into a tributary of the AuSable. The pumping plan was scrapped, but the legal issue of whether the Anglers has standing to sue under the MEPA law continued winding through the court system.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Anglers in a 5-4 opinion released just before the end of the year. Traverse City attorney Jim Olson argued the case successfully on behalf of the Anglers of the Au Sable.

But new Attorney General Bill Schuette has asked the court to reconsider the case—calling the 2010 decision improper and the product of a “lame-duck court.” He said he believes that the appeals process is adequate to protect citizens’ interests.

A newly sworn-in Supreme Court will decide whether to revisit the issue.

Stay tuned.
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