Since 1999, attorney Beth Gotthelf has been general counsel to the Michigan Association of Metal Finishers, a position that quickly made her an expert on environmental law, especially when it comes to plating and finishing issues. Beth has spoken to finishing groups at dozens of regional and national conferences, including at the NASF Washington Forum. She will soon author a regular column in Products Finishing on legal and regulatory issues. An accomplished cyclist who enjoys racing around her Michigan neighborhood with other enthusiasts, we caught up with her recently to grill her on the witness stand.
When did you decide to pursue a law career, and what path did you take?
BG: When I was 12, my cousin gave me The Defense Never Rests by F. Lee Bailey. After I read it, I decided to become an attorney and never questioned the decision.
How did you become involved in environmental law and especially the finishing industry?
BG: In 1986, an environmental case came in for a plater. The RCRA amendments were passed in 1986. 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.
Does the aggressive nature of the EPA’s actions against some in the finishing industry, even pursuing criminal charges, concern you?
BG: There is a balance. 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 phone or computer. The trick is to find the balance between environmental concerns and society’s desires for conveniences, security, safety, and technology. I think we need to continue to better educate our regulators in all levels of government on what our industry does. With this education, I am hopeful that the enforcement response will be more in line with the violation.
You are involved in many finishing association activities, but your charity work is also extensive, especially with the Women to Work Program. What is this program, and why are you involved?
BG: I strongly believe in giving back. I also 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. The Women to Work Program targets women and their obstacles to gainful employment, whether it is 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.
We hear you are a pretty avid cyclist. To what extent are you riding these days, and why cycling?
BG: I started riding 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. Being the dutiful daughter, I said, “Whatever you say, Dad!” The MS 150 is now a 150-mile ride over two days. I have been riding it every year since that initial ride. My father and I rode together annually until he passed away 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. Riding is now my passion. And yes, I cycle in the winter, as long as it is above 20° with no ice or rain.
You’ll be offering legal insight to Products Finishing readers on environmental matters. What do you hope to get across when it comes to finishing, regulations and the legal system?
BG: I believe in “preventive medicine.” I hope my tips will help companies stay in compliance and show them how to appropriately respond to a non-compliance event.
Get to Know Beth:
Family: Married to Steven, a musician and artist who happens to be an engineer and a great turnaround guy.
Favorite hobby: Tennis and biking.
Favorite movie: Anything not scary. I especially enjoy movies depicting real people or events.
Favorite book: Anything by James Michener.
What’s playing in your car CD/radio: Show tunes (and it drives my husband nuts!)