Michigan law gives EPA the power to sue over environmental violations
Michigan’s law giving the state’s Environmental Protection Agency the power of eminent domain over public land and natural resources has been blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices rejected a request by the Michigan Environmental Protection Commission to use eminent domain to seize public lands for private development, an idea that the state government had tried to pass in a 2010 legislative session but that was shot down by Republican Gov.
The Supreme Court ruled that the legislature’s power to seize property under eminent domain was subject to a requirement that the land and water be used in a “productive and environmentally responsible manner.”
But the justices rejected the commission’s argument that the statute is a clear violation of the Constitution, as well as that it has the potential to create “a host of new and complex legal challenges.”
The state is now in the process of drafting a new law, which could make it easier for the EPA to assert the authority to take public land.
The decision is the latest in a string of setbacks for the environmental protection agency.
In the past year, the Supreme Court has blocked several other states from enacting new environmental laws, including Colorado and Vermont, which passed laws that would have given the EPA more authority to seize land for environmental purposes.
The Michigan law would have provided the EPA with the power, for example, to seize properties for the purposes of development or construction.
But it was shot through by the courts and the legislature, which argued that eminent domain only applied to “the use of land for purposes that are necessary to achieve a particular end.”
The Michigan Supreme Court, which also upheld the constitutionality of the state law, said the legislature should not have used the power for the “purpose of seizing and otherwise transferring the private right of eminent protection” and should instead use the power only to protect “the public interest.”
Justice Rebecca Bledsoe, who wrote the majority opinion, wrote that the courts are not equipped to apply the Constitution’s “right to property for public use” to land owned by private parties.
The state argued that the Legislature had a legitimate reason to be taking property from private parties, but that it was not justified in taking property for the public good.
“We believe the Legislature’s exercise of this power violates the public’s interest in a free and open environment and the public is entitled to expect that the public will not be harmed by its exercise,” the state wrote in its lawsuit.
“The Legislature has the authority and the obligation to preserve and protect public lands and waters for public good and the right to seize private property for private gain is an exercise of those powers and those responsibilities, and it is not limited to that purpose.”
The state also argued that “the statute provides no clear indication that the seizure is needed to provide public access to public lands.”
The court, in a 5-4 decision, said that the law’s purpose was to provide the EPA a means to protect public health, but not to prevent public access.
The court said the statute’s application was limited to land that was used for agriculture and development and that the court did not need to decide whether the seizure was necessary for public access or private gain.
The justices also said that public land owners have a “well-established right to access” their property and the state has no right to force them to relinquish it.
“The statute has no clear and present danger that public access and private gain will be threatened because the Legislature has granted the EPA the authority of eminent acquisition to seize and otherwise transfer the private property rights of private parties,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.
But Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate opinion in which he said that although the seizure of private property could lead to public access, the statute could not be applied to the private land “that is currently under development or that is subject to development and could become so if the Legislature chooses to implement its new program.”
In a separate case, the state is challenging a federal court ruling that found that the EPA did not have to pay for the construction of an irrigation ditch at the northern end of the Mound Lakes Dam.