Cumings will help streamline environmental regulations

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Troy Cumings, speaking last year about participation in development of legislation regarding the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, just one of his many areas of expertise.

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Troy Cumings of Warner Norcross and Judd is more than qualified to help the State of Michigan improve its environmental regulatory system.

He refers to himself as a “lawyer-lobbyist,”  and even before receiving his law degree in 2001, he worked as a staff person for legislators in the Michigan House of Representatives. He has written or participated in writing environmental statutes throughout his career, and was recognized in 2009 by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce for his participation in a rewrite of the Michigan Wetlands Preservation Law.

At the time of the enactment of that bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Birkholz, the Chamber commended Cumings (and Warner Norcross colleague William Fulkerson) because the bill “eliminates a lot of red tape, particularly on small projects, thereby freeing up time for larger projects that are important to economic development.”

And at the end of 2010 Cumings served as the transition director for Attorney General Bill Schuette, which allowed him to get a handle on many of the priorities of the incoming Snyder administration along with AG Schuette’s.

What better qualifications for service on the newly-formed Environmental Advisory Rules Committee, intended to assist the Office of Regulatory Reinvention (ORR) in streamlining the environmental regulatory process?

According to Steve Hilfinger, Director of ORR, “The Environmental Advisory Rules Committee will help identify onerous rules that are hurting job creation, while not providing much social benefit. This committee has many diverse perspectives – we have representatives from utilities, environmental groups, and manufacturers, as well as environmental lawyers and local officials. This is a highly talented group that I am confident will make strong recommendations.”

Cumings, who made an in-depth application for the seat on the committee, comments, “My initial reaction was that I was very happy but then when I thought about there being over 2600 rules to review, I did think briefly, what did I get myself into? But really, I think all the members knew that this would entail a lot of work, and I’m still very happy about the appointment.”

The committee was formed pursuant to Gov. Snyder’s Executive Order 2011-5. According to the website, the committee “will evaluate these rules based on the factors listed in [EO] 2011-5, including the health and safety benefits of the rules; the cost of compliance with the rules; whether the rules are duplicative or obsolete; and other factors.”

Others serving include Richard Barr, of the Detroit, Honigman law office; environmental and policy managers from DTE  Energy, the Department of Environmental Quality, Dow Chemical Company, Consumers’ Energy, Wolverine Power, and the Michigan Manufacturers Association; James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council; Carol Isaacs from the Attorney General’s office; and an Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner.

ORR Deputy Director Rob Nederhood will chair the committee, which has the mandate of completing its recommendations within 120 days of its first meeting. Cumings said that they may, according to the Order, ask for a 120-day extension, but prefer to avoid that and are currently plunging full-force into the “voluminous amount of work.”

Cumings’ legislative days were spent working first for Rep. Ken Sikkema as he was just beginning his leadership career in the House and Senate; then for Rep. James “Mick” Middaugh of South Haven; and finally for Rep. Jack Horton, who after being term-limited served as a Kent County Commissioner. Cumings received his BA with honors from Michigan State University, and after his stint as House staffer went to Valparaiso University School of Law, from which he graduated cum laude in 2001.

He clerked for Federal Judge Gordon J. Quist, and has since 2001 worked for Warner Norcross and Judd, about which he says, “It’s a big asset to be here at Warner Norcross. I think it has the best environmental practice group in the state, possibly even in the whole Midwest. I’ve learned from some of the best.”

Cumings represents businesses, municipalities, and other entities not only on environmental and natural-resource legislative and administrative issues, but also on health care, economic development,  taxes, and banking. He advises on campaign finance and election law as well as compliance with lobbying laws.

He counsels his clients on environmental cleanup law as well as helping them obtain economic-development incentives, especially in the area of brownfields.

Cumings says he is currently working with the state to develop and draft language for a program to replace the brownfield incentives program recently  abolished in the State. There are many different models for approaching a legislative rewrite, but Cumings says he is usually very involved in getting the wording exactly right, whereas others might just formulate an idea and turn the writing over to the state’s Legislative Services Board.

Cumings’ successes are many. He reflects on his work with the wetlands law very positively. “They were thinking about sending the regulation process back to the Feds, and I was heavily involved in writing the bill that kept it at the state. I worked closely with both the business community and the environmental community.”

That was also the case when he played a lead role in redrafting Michigan’s Part 201 Cleanup Criteria standards last year. “It was an immense effort,” Cumings states. He also lobbied for its passage; former Governor Jennifer Granholm signed the bill into law before she left office.

An article on the Warner Norcross web site, which credits Cumings for his work, states, “The amendments do not make any radical changes in Michigan law, but they do introduce several new requirements and clarifications that will affect the purchase, redevelopment and cleanup of industrial and commercial real property in Michigan.” In some instances, this took the form of making Michigan law confirm more closely to Federal law, to reduce regulatory confusion. The article is at www.wnj.com/Publications/Environmental-Cleanup-Laws-Changing.

Cumings is a member of the West Michigan Air and Waste Management Association, which  holds joint informational seminars with State Bar of Michigan sections; the  National Brownfields Association; the Republican National Lawyers Association; and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Environmental Policy Committee, which he serves as chair.

On a personal note, though Cumings acknowledges that Kent County’s Purchase of Development Rights program is controversial, he assisted his in-laws with their successful application for PDR designation of a portion of their large dairy farm near the Village of Sparta.