Sunday, May 31, 2020

In Memoriam: George J. Miller, Former Chairman, Chief Judge Of The Environmental Hearing Board

George J. Miller, former Chairman and Chief Judge of the Environmental Hearing Board, passed away on May 26 at the age of 89.
Miller went to Princeton University and Penn Law School where he was a Note Editor of the Law Review.
He joined the Dechert law firm in Philadelphia after law school and joined their Trial Team.  In the late 1970's he moved to Denver to open a Dechert office their, but because of the energy crisis, it closed in 1983.
He served as the head of the Trial Team in the mid-1980s and later headed Dechert's environmental law group.
After retiring, Gov. Tom Ridge appointed Miller Chairman of the Environmental Hearing Board in June 1995 and he served on the Board until October 2009.  The Board hears the first level appeals of all actions of the Department of Environmental Protection.
He served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Judge from June 1995 to February 2003.
Judge Miller played an important role in modernizing the operations of the Environmental Hearing Board. 
Under his chairmanship, the Board was one of the first state agencies to develop a website, an electronic docking system, and an electronic filing system.  
He, along with former Chairman Maxine Woelfling, worked diligently to eliminate the Board's backlog of cases and to ensure the timely resolution of new cases. 
Many of the policies currently in place to ensure the efficient operation of the Board and the prompt resolution of cases are due to his efforts. 
EHB Chairman and Chief Judge, Thomas W. Renwand issued this statement on the passing of Miller-- "On  behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, we mourn the passing of one of our greatest Judges.  
“Known for his strong work ethic, keen intellect, and excellent judicial temperament, Judge Miller continued a tradition of scholarship and successfully led the Board in establishing its website and electronic docketing system.  
“This achievement alone greatly modernized the practice of environmental law in Pennsylvania. 
“George was a frequent lecturer at environmental law programs throughout the Commonwealth and especially in his beloved City of Philadelphia.  
“To those of us on the Board, he was always available to give advice and impart a deep understanding of the law which was honed over years of practice not only in Pennsylvania but in other states as well.   
“He believed that justice delayed was justice denied and worked feverishly to always issue timely and well reasoned Opinions. 
“I learned many lessons in leadership and life from my esteemed colleague but the thing I will remember most is his smile and the ever present twinkle in his eye.” 
Former DEP Secretary James M. Seif also had praise for Miller-- "George  Miller was a first class lawyer, litigator and legal scholar, and brought many new procedures and fresh air to the Environmental Hearing Board.
“He sped up the Board's business, pioneered new electronic approaches, and brought resolution to many important legal and environmental issues. 
“Like many of his colleagues I will miss him as a friend and fellow public servant.”
Among the key decisions written by Miller on the Board were--
-- Oley Township v. DEP, 1997 EHB 660 (July 30, 1997): Denied Oley Township's appeal from an order of the Department of Environmental Protection requiring the township to revise its official sewage plan to include a proposed subdivision. Held: The Sewage Facilities Act is not the proper forum in which to challenge planning or zoning.  Affirmed by the Commonwealth Court, 710 A.2d 1228 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998)
-- Tinicum Township v. DEP and Tri-State Transfer Co. , 1997 EHB 1119 (Dec. 8, 1997)
Sustained Tinicum Township's appeal of a permit renewal for the operation of a municipal waste transfer station and voided the permit.  Held:  The Department of Environmental Protection erred in allowing the applicant to apply for a permit renewal when its existing permit had expired by operation of law.  Affirmed by the Commonwealth Court, 722 A.2d 1129 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999)
-- Eagle Environmental LP v. DEP, 1998 EHB 896 (Sept. 3, 1998)  Upheld the Department of Environmental Protection's suspension and revocation of permits issued for a proposed municipal waste landfill.  Held: Although the Department of Environmental Protection had not exercised independent discretion over a determination by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as to a stream classification, the Board substituted its discretion for that of the Department and determined that the streams in question were wild trout streams and the wetlands along the steam's tributaries were exceptional value wetlands.  Affirmed by the Commonwealth Court, No. 2704 C.D. 1998 (Jan.19, 2000)
-- Seder v. DEP, 2000 EHB 575 (April 27, 2000): Dismissed an appeal of a permit issued pursuant to the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act and the Limited Power Act for the operation and maintenance of a small dam and hydroelectric generating station.  Held:  The Department of Environmental Protection properly did not require the permittees to secure a flowage easement for the downstream property, nor did the permit infringe upon the property rights of the appellant. Affirmed by the Commonwealth Court, No. 1224 C.D. 2000 (April 2, 2001)
-- Solebury Township v. DEP and New Hope Crushed Stone and Lime Co., 2004 EHB 95 (March 5, 2004): Vacated the renewal of an NPDES permit for the operation of a quarry and remanded the matter to the Department of Environmental Protection.  Held: In view of residential well failures and other relevant data, the Department did not adequately consider the availability of water for other users.  This decision contains a detailed discussion of the doctrine of administrative finality.  The Board found that the appellant's challenge to the permit renewal was not barred by administrative finality because it was a challenge to the continuation of the NPDES  permit at a particular discharge rate, and not a collateral attack on past approvals of the permit.  Appeals quashed, No. 701 C.D. 2004 and No. 705 C.D. 2004 (Pa. Cmwlth. June 1, 2004)
[Editor's Note: A special thank you to Maryanne Wesdock, Senior Counsel, Environmental Hearing Board, and Christine Walker, Board Secretary, for providing information for this remembrance.]
[May 31, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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