Environmental activists adopt new tactics to battle Michigan polluters

Michigan enacted a series of strong environmental laws in the 1970s to hold polluters to account for their violations. However, by the early 2000s, deregulation had been used to defund the state’s regulatory agencies. In recent years, environmental activists have turned to the legal process, permit interventions, and the court of public opinion to stop polluters. Nicholas Leonard with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center says some of their most effective actions have been filed under civil rights laws.

“And just it really speaks to the heart of the concerns that our clients often have, which is we often hear from our clients, ‘Well, they wouldn’t be locating this facility in a more affluent white community,’ or ‘They wouldn’t be treating people in this other community like this.'”

Leonard says the attorneys and activists see themselves as the last line of defense against polluters and step in when regulators fail. He says there have been several major victories, such as closing toxic incinerators, pushing utilities toward renewable energy, and shutting down industrial polluters.