Attorney tries to balance both environmental and societal needs

By Sheila Pursglove Legal News Beth Gotthelf can thank F. Lee Bailey for initiating her legal career. Reading his book "The Defense Never Rests," at the age of 12, Gotthelf set her sights on becoming an attorney and never looked back. After earning an undergrad degree in public administration and public policy, cum laude, from Oakland University, she received her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. Now a shareholder in Butzel Long's Bloomfield Hills office, Gotthelf is co-chair of the Energy & Sustainability practice, chair of the Aerospace & Defense industry team, and the firm's new Director of Innovation and External Relations. She has been named among 20 influential leaders by Michigan Lawyers Weekly--Women in Law; one of the "Top 100 Michigan Super Lawyers"; and "Top 50 Female Michigan Super Lawyers," by Michigan Super Lawyers. A former member of a Federal Advisory Committee charged with recommending storm water rules, Gotthelf has specialized in environmental law since 1986--the year the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act amendments were passed--when an environmental case came in for a plater (finisher). "I went home, read all of the RCRA regulations--a very thick book--studied the case, argued before EPA, got great results, and the representation of finishers snowballed," she says. In 1990, she became general counsel to the Michigan Association of Metal Finishers from which she has also received an award for her work. The U.S. EPA and MEDQ have taken aggressive actions against some in the industry, even pursuing criminal charges, she notes. "We all have a job to do, including the regulators. But, we must be sensitive to the balance of protecting the environment and being a productive society. For example, we all want to enjoy our waters and clean air, but we also want cars that don't rust, along with planes and cars that are lighter and stronger, not to mention the latest smart phone or computer," she says. The trick, she notes, is finding the balance between environmental concerns on one hand and society's desires and needs for such things as conveniences, security, safety, and technology. "I think we need to continue and better educate our regulators in all levels of government. With this education, I'm hopeful the enforcement response will be more in line with the violation and goals of an enforcement program and harm to the environment." Gotthelf represented the Oakland County Water Resource Commission on matters concerning storm water and wastewater; and on behalf of Oakland County successfully brought a motion to dismiss then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick as Special Administrator based on "questionable" contracting and other practices, including giving contracts to his friend Bobby Ferguson. This resulted in the City of Detroit refunding about $25 million to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD)--and more importantly, to Kilpatrick's ousting as DWSD Special Administrator and the start of a federal investigation which lead to the recent conviction of Kilpatrick and Ferguson as well as landing the DWSD director in prison. "I believe I'm doing more for the environment by helping companies comply with the laws. I also believe in 'preventive medicine,'" she explains. "I hope my tips will help companies stay in compliance; and if there is any non-compliance event, how to appropriately respond. Gotthelf, who with her engineer husband, Steven, makes her home in Birmingham, is an avid cyclist. She has ridden in the MS 150--a fund-raiser in the battle against multiple sclerosis - every year since its launch in 1986. "My dad informed me in virtually one breath that he was diagnosed with MS, that there was a 150-km bike ride the following month to raise money for MS, and that he and I would ride it. Whew! Being the dutiful daughter, I said, 'Whatever you say, Dad!'" Published: Mon, Apr 22, 2013

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