Balancing Act: Lawyer fights to balance economics, environment


 By Sheila Pursglove  

Legal News
The recent water disaster in Toledo resonated with attorney Ken Gold. 
“Years ago, cleanups and water pollution control were two of the biggest environmental issues, and I think we’ve come a long way in those areas, but especially in water pollution, we still have work to do,” says Gold, leader of the Environmental Practice Group at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn. “The recent problem with drinking water in Toledo is a good illustration. Although we’ve done a great job of controlling end-of-pipe discharges, such as from factories and sewage treatment plants, we have not been able to get a handle on storm water runoff, such as from farmlands into the Maumee River.”
A partner in the firm’s Detroit office, Gold advises clients on a wide range of environmental issues, including transactions, permitting, compliance, enforcement defense, cleanups, auditing, wetlands, plant decommissioning, climate change, and sustainability.
His passion for the environment dates back to his youth in New Jersey, where he saw a lot of environmental damage and developed strong feelings about the environment.
While studying economics at Rutgers, he had an internship as an assistant legislative liaison for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. 
“My work with the legislature helped me see that strong environmental protection is affordable only if we have a strong economy,” he says. “So we need a balance. As an environmental lawyer I can help provide that, both by helping clients achieve compliance with the law, and by helping them challenge regulators’ actions that exceed the government’s legal authority.”
According to Gold, many environmental problems are legacy issues. 
“Years ago people didn’t understand what would happen to the environment with toxins and pollutants. They thought the land and water would renew themselves over time. Now we’re facing the results of that misguided thinking.”
The law used to be very strict about developers bearing the burden of cleaning up previously polluted land before it could be redeveloped, he notes. 
“That pretty much killed urban redevelopment because people were terrified of what costs they might face in a clean up and concerned whether it could even be done to the level of governmental expectations. As a result, investment in Detroit and other older municipalities was prohibitive,” he says. “This is a great example of my belief that there has to be a balance between economics and enforcement.”
Today, because of the Brownfield and other redevelopment incentives that state and local governments have put in place, developers are more willing to invest in that land. 
“Urban redevelopment is on an upswing and Detroit is a prime example,” he says.
Attorneys in Honigman’s Environmental Practice Group have extensive experience in air quality, environmental compliance, economic development and other redevelopment incentives, due care and remediation, hazardous waste, sediment remediation, transactions, wetlands and natural resources protection, solid waste and water discharges. 
“We have top-notch attorneys who have a vast knowledge of the issues that businesses face and focus on learning our clients’ business concerns and working with them to achieve their goals cost-effectively,” Gold says. “I feel very fortunate to be today’s leader of a practice founded at Honigman by amazing lawyers in the 1970s when environmental law itself was born.”
Gold is a primary contributor, along with colleagues Lee Johnson and Richard Barr, to the practice group’s newly launched blog at “We’ve all served on many environmentally focused professional committees and are long-time practitioners,” he says of the trio. “A blog is the perfect place to share our observations on environmental issues in Michigan and, hopefully, to provoke thought and conversation.”
Editor-in-Chief of The Environmental Professional, a publication of the Michigan Association of Environmental Professionals, Gold was honored to be named the association’s “Outstanding Environmental Professional of the Year” in 2008. Other kudos include being named to Best Lawyers in America, Michigan Super Lawyers and DBusiness Top Lawyers.
Gold, who volunteers time for the Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, previously served as the chair of the Land Use Subcommittee of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Groundwater Rules Work Group of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Also on the board of his synagogue and active with the local office of the American Jewish Committee, he enjoys vegetable gardening and exercising in his leisure time.
Gold and his wife met at the University of Pennsylvania, where his wife was in medical school and where Gold studied law after earning his undergrad degree in economics, cum laude, at Rutgers. “Economics is really about human behavior,” he says. “I view both economics and law as critical components of how people work together. The law has always interested me because I believe it’s the basis of civilization. If you don’t have law you have anarchy.”
When his wife was offered a medical residency at Henry Ford Hospital in 1990, the Golds moved to the Detroit area where he joined Honigman. The Bloomfield Township residents have three children, all currently students at the University of Michigan.
One of the greatest pleasures for the family is to travel around the United States and the world, with recent trips to Australia, Costa Rica, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Spain, Thailand, and other interesting locales. “This has provided many fantastic family memories,” Gold says. “After each trip we create a photo album for each of the kids so the memories can be preserved forever.”