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Judge shoots down water utilities' challenge to Michigan Lead and Copper Rule

Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio

A Michigan Court of Claims judge has dismissed a case that would have undone the state’s new Lead and Copper Rule.

The rule went into effect last year. It toughens standards for lead in water, has more stringent sampling requirements, and requires water utilities to pay for replacing all lead service lines by 2040.

Four southeast Michigan water utilities—Oakland County, the city of Detroit, the city of Livonia, and the Great Lakes Water Authority—sued to challenge the rule.

They argued that, among other things, the new rule was arbitrary, overly-burdensome, and an unfunded mandate in violation of Michigan’s Headlee Amendment.

Jeremy Orr is an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says the judge dismissed the majority of those claims earlier this year, and shot down the final claim in a ruling this week.

“The court decided that this was not an unfunded mandate, they had no legal grounds to make the argument, and disposed of that final Headlee Amendment claim, which in essence disposed of the entire case,” Orr said.

Orr cheered the ruling, calling it a victory for protecting communities from lead exposure.

“For us, that’s what this case was about. Protecting our most vulnerable communities,” Orr said. “Really making sure that these lead service lines, these lead pipes, are actually getting out of the ground in a timely manner. It’s about holding these water suppliers and water utilities accountable for making sure they’re not poisoning their residents.”

Randal Brown, a lawyer for the city of Detroit in the case, said he hadn’t seen the ruling yet and had no comment. He said the plaintiffs still need to discuss whether they plan to appeal.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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