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Key provision of Michigan Environmental Protection Act under fire

Sometimes by Andy McFarlane

Well, this is a little weighty for a Friday, but in light of that fact that “environment” is a synonym for “the place we’ll go to have fun this weekend” I think it’s necessary.

In a case before the Michigan Supreme Court, attorneys for Nestle Waters North America contend that a Michigan law that allows citizens who are not “directly affected” by an environmental action to go to court over it is unconstitutional. In a Detroit Free Press editorial, Joan Wolfe (a former member of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission and founder of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council) warns that the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) is in grave danger:

Michigan citizens need to be aware that a 37-year-old landmark environmental protection law is at grave risk in a decision pending from the state Supreme Court. As one of many who fought for passage in 1970 of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, I urge Michigan citizens to take notice that their rights to go to court on behalf of our air, water and other natural resources could be overruled.

The internationally known MEPA was written by Dr. Joseph Sax, an environmental law expert at the University of Michigan Law School. The act fulfills the promise of Michigan’s 1963 Constitution, which says: “The conservation and development of the natural resources of the state are hereby declared to be of paramount public concern in the interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the people. The Legislature shall provide for the protection of the air, water and other natural resources of the state from pollution, impairment and destruction.”

Wolfe notes that it was not just environmental groups behind the act, but a broad coalition of PTAs, churches, Jaycees, garden and sports clubs who were able to push for the nearly unanimous passage of the act over the objections of business groups. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Manufacturers’ Association have filed a brief supporting Nestle, and points out that according to the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the state Chamber put millions of dollars into an advertising campaign that aided the election of three of the Supreme Court Justices who will vote on the case.

Dave Dempsey writes that if the Court does strike down that right, they will effectively be ignoring precedent and logic to help out powerful special interests that benefit from pollution, impairment and destruction of the environment.