Citizens Group Fighting Nestle Water Extraction Seeks Reversal of Supreme Court's Crippling Blow to Environmental Citizen Suit Law
Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the citizen group who won a major court victory that limited groundwaterpumping by Nestle for its Ice Mountain bottled water that harmed a stream, two lakes, and wetlands, filed a Motion for Rehearing with the
Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday, August 15, 2007.
On July 25th, the State's highest court, in a 4-to-3 decision, agreed with lower court rulings that Nestle's groundwater extraction illegally harmed the lakes, stream, and wetlands. But the Court also reversed part of the lower court’s ruling by limiting the citizen groups’ legal right to bring a lawsuit against Nestle under Michigan’s Environmental Protection Act for damaging a lake and wetlands on its own property. The citizens group has standing, the right to bring the suit, to protect the lakes and streams which individuals or the group's members owned or used, but no right to bring suit to stop a polluter from destroying a lake and wetland on his or her own property, the Court's decision said.
Ironically, in June of this year, Michigan's internationally renowned environmental citizen-suit law won more acclaim when the law's author, Professor Joseph Sax, who wrote the law at the request of former Governor William Milliken in 1970, was awarded the prestigious international Blue Planet Prize in Tokyo.
"MCWC has asked the Court to rehear its decision, because we think the citizens of Michigan deserve a closer look at a ruling that blocks their right to sue to prevent environmental damage on Nestle’s property," Terry Swier, President of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, said. "Our air, water, and natural resources do not recognize the legal fiction of property boundaries when it comes to environmental harm."
The citizen group requests the Court to rehear its July 25th decision, because it denies them their legal right to bring a citizen suit to prevent Nestle from causing undeniable harm, according to the findings of the lower courts, to the water resources of the state. "In a larger sense, the decision may have exceeded the Court's judicial power under our constitution and denied these people their first amendment right to petition government to redress wrongs," said James Olson, from Olson, Bzdok & Howard, who represents the citizen groups in its battles with Nestle. "In the immediate sense, the decision ignored a model environmental law passed by our legislature and knocked the teeth out of citizens individual rights to protect the environment," he said.
The Court's blow to the right granted to citizens by the Legislature to bring suits to protect the environment has met with outcry on the editorial pages of most newspapers.
Former Governor Milliken, who with a bipartisan Legislature spearheaded the adoption of the landmark environmental law in 1970, condemned the Court's decision in various news articles.
George Weeks, a well-respected political columnist, in an Op Ed, July 29th, described the Michigan Environmental Protection Act as “crippled” by “the Michigan Supreme Court, which Weeks dubbed as the "Engler Four – justices elevated to that bench or the Court of Appeals by ex-Gov John Engler."
Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation's reason for filing the Motion for Rehearing is to give the Court an opportunity to reconsider its earlier July 25th decision.
"It makes no sense to us. The Court says we have standing to prevent the damage to the stream and one lake within the affected area of Nestle’s pumping, but then says we don’t have the right to protect the lake and wetlands on Nestle’s property, even though these water resources are also harmed and within the same affected area," Swier said.