Environmental law involves an intricate matrix of federal and state public welfare statutes enacted to protect both human health and our natural resources. The economic and socio-geopolitical impact of these laws requires the practice of environmental law to continuously evolve. Areas of environmental law include the following:
The input and experience of an environmental lawyer is crucial in designing, supporting, and auditing environmental compliance systems. Environmental lawyers often participate in the administrative process on the federal and state level to encourage sound rulemaking. They also assist clients in sorting through regulatory ambiguities, which sometimes arise in enforcement proceedings.
Environmental litigation occurs at both the civil and criminal level. Enforcement proceedings with federal and state regulators are conducted through either administrative adjudications or in court. Most federal environmental statutes have citizen suit provisions allowing individuals to initiate enforcement litigation on behalf of the government. Suits contesting environmental permits and siting decisions occur frequently and can cause significant delays for projects. Superfund designations are a source of significant litigation, particularly in the cost recovery area. Other areas of environmental litigation include: toxic torts, natural resource damages, water rights disputes, brownfields, endangered species challenges, climate change, and groundwater contamination suits.
Environmental laws can significantly impact the economics of an M&A or real property transaction. If a facility does not have the entitlements to operate; has an expensive compliance issue that must be remedied; or has significant cleanup liability, it can materially alter the viability and/or structure of a deal. Clients depend on environmental lawyers to establish deal parameters and translate risks into economic terms for the valuation process.
Strategic Corporate Planning
Depending on how environmental regulations develop, a company could gain a significant economic advantage over its competitors. Evolving regulation in areas such greenhouse gas emissions have the potential of altering the business model of some companies, while creating growth opportunities for others.
Events such as the Deepwater Horizon accident are redefining the roles of senior executives and boards of directors. There is a new wave of internal controls that many corporations are implementing in response to regulatory and shareholder influence.
An environmental crisis such as an oil spill, toxic leak, or refinery explosion can be a defining moment in the history of a corporation. When a crisis hits, all aspects of environmental law come into play and requires experienced, clear-eyed counsel to help corporations, municipalities, and other impacted entities to successfully respond to and emerge from such an event.
Jerry Ross, Head of Pillsbury’s Environmental, Land Use & Natural Resources practice