What Does an Environmental Law Attorney Do?

What Does an Environmental Law Attorney Do?

From negotiating complex contracts to day-to-day filing, Environmental law attorneys tackle challenges that involve people, animals and the planet. They find that the work is both rewarding and challenging.

Regulatory Compliance

When a company’s activities cause pollution, affect land and water quality or disturb wildlife habitats, an environmental lawyer is needed to ensure the company complies with local, state and federal laws. Environmental lawyers can also help businesses manage their risk and cost exposure, as well as assist with transactions and projects that require due diligence on the environmental aspects of a deal.

The multidisciplinary environmental group at K&L Gates advises clients on regulatory matters and litigation, including compliance with greenhouse gas, air and water protection regulations and other industry-specific legislation. It also provides counsel on the environmental issues that arise in M&A transactions and financings. New York’s Daniel Riesel is a ‘very experienced and knowledgeable litigator in the field,’ while Mark Chertok is a leading figure in Superfund work.

Duane Morris’ environmental attorneys are highly rated for their broad expertise in the sector and deep understanding of the latest policy developments and regulatory developments. Its national practice covers air, water, waste, chemicals and climate change issues, including the Clean Air Act (CAA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and state “mini-NEPA” statutes.

The team at Wiley Rein LLP offers ‘a great depth of knowledge, a thorough approach to cases and strong client service’. The Washington DC-based group is particularly strong in litigation, regulatory compliance and investigations relating to the EPA, as well as pesticides, ESA matters, recycling and toxic substance regulation.

Permitting

When a business entity wants to build or operate a new facility that might impact the environment, it needs a variety of permits and operating licenses from regulatory agencies. Environmental attorneys help their clients obtain these permits by ensuring that their project will comply with applicable environmental standards. They also assist with the preparation of environmental impact statements and other environmental assessments and reviews.

In addition, they may work on complex litigation and enforcement defense cases involving contaminated sites. Such cases can be a result of ongoing operations, such as leaking underground storage tanks, or they could have occurred years previously. The lawyers at Hodgson Russ advise on the policies surrounding contamination and natural resource liability and assist with environmental due diligence in corporate and real estate transactions.

For example, they are regularly called upon to review whether a proposed action is subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR). The firm’s attorneys have extensive experience with SEQR. Yvonne Lee, for instance, has handled all aspects of litigation arising out of SEQR issues, including Article 78 proceedings related to project permitting and siting. She has also advised a range of clients regarding the implications of New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. She has extensive experience with the drafting and submission of scoping letters, environmental assessment forms and draft environmental impact statements and has participated in numerous SEQR-related public hearings.

Enforcement

Environmental law covers a wide range of issues that are essential to the well-being of humans and the environment, such as climate change, preservation of natural resources, sustainability in use of natural resources, and pollution prevention. When businesses violate these laws, they may face serious consequences, including fines and even criminal charges. Therefore, it is vital that businesses seek the advice of legal professionals with significant experience studying and litigating environmental law regulation and cases.

The attorneys on our team have expertise in environmental litigation, transactional work, and regulatory compliance. They can assist clients with environmental due diligence and permitting, as well as negotiating agreements to mitigate contamination. They also advocate for their clients at the state and federal level to encourage sound rulemaking, and help sort through regulatory ambiguities that sometimes arise in enforcement proceedings.

In addition, they counsel clients regarding sustainability and green initiatives and represent them in Article 78 proceedings arising out of New York’s SEQRA process. Additionally, they have extensive experience guiding large-scale construction projects through the planning and permitting processes required by New York’s environmental laws. These include utility-scale solar, co-generation and biomass energy projects, shopping centers, hotels/hospitality projects, and student housing developments.

Clients in this practice area are also concerned about potential liability arising out of mergers and acquisitions, as well as financing transactions. They also need to stay on top of ongoing developments in environmental law as the political landscape shifts, with each administration focusing on different issues.

Litigation

According to Harvard Law School’s Trail Guide to Careers in Environmental Law, “environmental lawyers regularly go to court at the state and federal levels to represent government agencies, fight for individual citizens through lawsuits and challenge agency actions.” Those involved in the litigation side of the practice work to establish and uphold policies that safeguard natural resources and protect the environment.

As environmental statutes have become increasingly complex, practitioners have found that they need to focus on areas of particular interest in order to be successful. For example, the number of overlapping and conflicting zoning laws has led to many firms specializing in one particular zoning area rather than general environmental practice.

Duane Morris is a prime example of a firm that has focused on a specific area within environmental law. Its ‘uniquely equipped’ team has extensive experience handling matters related to the Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Clean Air Act as well as federal and state ‘mini-NEPAs’, the Endangered Species Act and laws governing drinking water.

The firm’s strong track record in environmental litigation includes defending chemical manufacturers in high-stakes enforcement cases and advising clients on the development of Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) programs. In addition to the firm’s coast-to-coast presence, Atlanta’s Greg Christianson is a name to note for contamination and regulatory matters, while fellow Georgia attorney Meaghan Boyd is a key name for toxic tort and product liability matters.

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