Michigan Law professor nominated for EPA enforcement and compliance post

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Professor David M. Uhlmann has been nominated by President Biden to serve as assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at the U.S. Environmental Protection agency. If confirmed by the United States Senate, Uhlmann will take a leave of absence from Michigan Law so that he can lead federal criminal, civil, and administrative enforcement of the environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, hazardous waste laws, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Uhlmann is an internationally recognized expert on environmental law, leading authority on criminal enforcement of the environmental laws in the United States, and highly-regarded advocate for environmental stewardship and corporate sustainability programs. At Michigan Law he is the Jeffrey F. Liss Professor from Practice and the director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program. Uhlmann previously served for 17 years as a federal prosecutor, including seven years as chief of the Environmental Crimes Section at the U.S. Department of Justice.

In that role, he led prosecution of environmental and wildlife crimes nationwide, coordinated national legislative, policy, and training initiatives regarding criminal enforcement, and chaired the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Policy Committee. He earned a reputation for prosecuting polluters aggressively and fairly, presided over expansion of the environmental crimes program, and strengthened relationships with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard, and other law enforcement partners. His work as lead prosecutor in United States v. Elias is chronicled in The Cyanide Canary. He received numerous Justice Department and EPA awards for his precedent-setting prosecutions, including the first environmental justice criminal trial.

Uhlmann served from 2017 to 2020 as the Counselor to the Michigan Law alumnus Larry D. Thompson, the Compliance Monitor and Independent Auditor appointed by the Justice Department and EPA in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal. In addition to advising the monitor, Uhlmann made numerous presentations to the Volkswagen and Audi boards regarding environmental law in the United States, corporate accountability, and promoting environmental stewardship and an ethical culture. Uhlmann has testified before Congress about the use of environmental protections to address shortcomings in worker safety laws and redressing environmental harm in corporate settlements; he has lectured widely about corporate crime and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in cases involving corporate wrongdoing. Uhlmann’s views on corporate accountability for the Gulf oil spill and the VW diesel scandal, the urgency of climate disruption, and the need to promote a sustainable future for all Americans have been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, the American Constitution Society's Issue Briefs series, and numerous top law reviews. Uhlmann leads the efforts of nearly 400 Michigan Law students participating in the Environmental Crimes Project, the first comprehensive empirical study of criminal enforcement under U.S. pollution laws. At Michigan Law, Uhlmann has hosted conferences, lecture series, and pro bono projects, led campus-wide sustainability efforts, and mentored a next generation of environmental lawyers committed to public service and public interest work.

Uhlmann is a fellow in the American College of Environmental Lawyers, which invited him to join their Board of Regents earlier this year. He was named a “Conservation Hero” by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and selected by the University of Michigan to be a Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Sustainability. Uhlmann received his JD from Yale Law School and his BA in history and political science with high honors from Swarthmore College. Following law school, he clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Marvin H. Shoob in Atlanta, Georgia.

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