In 2007, the Town of Ellicottville in Western New York denied a permit to the Laidlaw Energy Group, which sought to modify a former natural gas cogeneration plant into a less environmentally friendly wood-burning one.
Working on behalf of the town was attorney Daniel Spitzer ’79, a partner with Hodgson Russ in Buffalo, N.Y. He assisted the Town Planning Board in conducting the environmental impact review. The board denied the permit because the review indicated that converting the plant from natural gas to wood-burning fuel would pose “significant adverse and immitigable environmental risks.”
In response, the New York City-based energy company filed a $10 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court to have the town’s ruling overturned. However, Dan successfully defended against that lawsuit, with the federal court dismissing the case in an October 2011 ruling. The town’s decision to deny the permit prevailed—both in federal court and in a companion case in state court—and the community was saved from exposure to potentially damaging pollution.
“The municipality didn’t think it was the right decision for them to move forward in allowing the company to change to a fuel that would be more hazardous to the environment and their community, and we were able to successfully litigate to deny that change,” said Dan, who earned a Juris Doctorate, magna cum laude from the University at Buffalo School of Law in 1993.
The Ellicottville case, one of many in Dan’s legal victories throughout his career, addresses a theme throughout his legal work. He seeks to preserve the environment while also pursuing the best interest of the communities and their citizens.
“There’s a common misconception that being green is costly or can have a negative impact on the economy,” he said. “But these pursuits can significantly save taxpayers money and create job opportunities.”
For example, he has helped communities convert contaminated brownfields into community solar projects that alleviate the tax burden for residents of the community.
“Many of these projects are built on former landfills, so in essence, we’re turning a liability into a revenue-generating source for the community,” said Dan, who was a business administration major at Oswego. “These projects also produce tax payments or payment in lieu of taxes to reduce taxpayers’ burdens.”
He has seen these projects reduce taxpayers’ electric bills by 10 percent.
Dan gained intimate knowledge of municipal law and practice before he became a lawyer. He was the first finance director for the newly incorporated Bullhead City in Arizona, and in that role, he was involved in drafting all of the city’s inaugural codes and laws.
Today, he co-leads his firm’s Renewable Energy Practice and his legal expertise includes cleantech, green building, land use, sustainable development, real property tax assessment and eminent domain.
Another part of his practice is spent providing legal support for green energy companies in the European Union establishing themselves in America. This work draws on the knowledge and experience gained through his master’s degree in sustainable development at the University of London.
Of course, he said, his SUNY Oswego experience also set him on course for his current career path. It was along the lakeshores of Oswego where his passion for the environment deepened and he expanded his love of the outdoors through such activities as cross-country skiing, camping and hiking.
“I had a wonderful experience at Oswego, and I truly enjoyed being Upstate,” said the Long Island native. “My business and accounting education at Oswego really laid the foundation for all that I’ve done, particularly now as I am working with European Union companies. It has really opened doors for me in the law by knowing how companies work.”
Ultimately, his goal is to combine all of his experience and knowledge to “enable communities to move toward a sustainable future for our children while mitigating challenges that a decarbonized economy presents,” he said.