Saving the planet: Attorney helps balance environmental concerns with needs of society


 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.”
She has been active in both the state bar and American Bar Association including past chair of the State Bar of Michigan, Environmental Law Section; vice chair of the American Bar Association Section of Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Law, Water Quality and Wetlands; and is former vice chair of the Keystone Committee. She is also past chair of the Environmental Law Committee of the Oakland County Bar Association and a past member of the State Bar Representative Assembly on behalf of Oakland County. 
Gotthelf created the first Wetland Bank in Michigan on behalf of Wayne County, and also advised the county and negotiated with the state on creative and cost-effective remediation and re-use of multiple sites along the Rouge River. As a result, area residents enjoy a public soccer field and an improved a sledding hill, as well as other improvements. As the first general counsel to the Wayne County Brownfield Authority she helped identify and obtain significant federal and state grants and other incentives to investigate and clean up parcels to ready them for redevelopment.
She also 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.  
Chair of the City of Birmingham Brownfield Authority, and past chair of the Chamber’s Task Force on Water and Sewer Issues, Gotthelf has authored several articles and gives many presentations, including to what some would call her competitors. 
“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. 
“As to teaching competitors, first, I strongly believe we have a duty to ‘give back.’ Second, no one wins when there is malpractice. If I can help a fellow attorney be better at her job, then everyone wins—our bar and the people we serve.” 
Extensively involved in several nonprofit organizations, Gotthelf strongly believes in giving back to the community. A particular passion is the “Women to Work Program.” 
“I believe in the value of a job—it matures our young adults, gives people self worth, and allows people to be self-sufficient and off the streets,” she says. “This program targets women and their obstacles to gainful employment, whether due to a teenage pregnancy, decreased salary of a spouse, break in employment as a result of raising children, or as a result of a death or divorce. The program has been very successful in helping women at all stages become gainfully employed and self-sufficient.”
Gotthelf, who with her engineer husband, Steven, makes her home in Birmingham, is on the Executive Committee and is vice president of the Michigan Israel Business Bridge, facilitating business between Michigan and Israel; trustee and on the executive committee of VS (formerly known as the Jewish Vocational Services); member of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, State Government Relations Oversight Committee; former member of the Board of Directors for the University Cancer Foundation; former chair of the Board of Trustees of Oakland Plus Foundation, later known as Great Lakes Guardians; and former member of the Seymour Gill Financial Women’s Advisory Board, to name a few. 
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!’”
The MS 150 is now a 150-mile ride over two days, with a 100-mile option on either day. Gotthelf—a past president of the Board of Trustees for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Michigan Chapter—and her father rode together annually for the first two decades, until his death a few months after the 20th anniversary ride. 
“I continue to ride and raise money each year for MS while my riding partners and I swap stories about my dad, who was loved by all,” she says. “Riding is now my passion. I’ve come a long way since my first heavy, rickety bike. And yes, I even cycle in the winter, as long as it’s above 20 degrees with no ice or rain.”