The Firm's Environmental Law Practice
The Firm is particularly well known for maintaining a strong statewide environmental practice that rivals the environmental practice of any other law firm in California. At any one time anywhere from three to five of the Firm’s partners, and most of the Firm’s associates, are engaged in high profile environmental litigation or environmental regulatory matters. The Firm has extensive expertise and experience in handling environmental matters for both private companies and public entities throughout California, ranging from multi-million dollar hazardous waste removal and remediation actions to personal injury and property damage claims involving mold. We have good working relationships with numerous state and federal environmental regulators, as well as many prominent elected officials. The Firm also has experience negotiating and litigating against all of the prominent environmental non-profit plaintiff groups in California. In addition, the Firm’s partners are highly sought after and speak regularly to business and legal groups on trends in environmental law in California.
–– Regulatory Compliance/Governmental Advocacy
The Firm regularly advises clients with regard to regional, state, and federal environmental compliance matters, including assistance with hazardous waste treatment permits, air emission limits, toxic chemical inventory reporting, hazard communication reporting, waste water and storm water discharge permits, and other permits, notices, and licenses under federal and state law. The Firm is widely recognized for effective advocacy in administrative proceedings before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Integrated Waste Management Board, the California State Water Resources Control Board, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and other state and local agencies.
We have also been involved in the development, interpretation, and application of environmental statutes and regulations through appearances before the California Senate and Assembly, the United States Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, the California State Water Quality Control Board, and various other state and regional environmental agencies. The Firm’s attorneys have appeared before the California State Assembly to present its clients’ views regarding the landmark Wright-Polanco-Lempert hazardous waste tiered permitting bill, also known as “AB 1772,” on AB 2019, the Storm Water Enforcement Act of 1998, and on the proposed revisions to the General Industrial Storm Water Permit. One of the Firm’s partners received numerous appointments specifically regarding his environmental expertise, including appointments from the California Insurance Commissioner, the Los Angeles District Attorney, and the Los Angeles City Attorney. Another Firm partner served as General Counsel to the California State Controller, General Counsel to the Lieutenant Governor, the Director of Policy for the Governor, and the Director of the California Office of Administrative Law.
The Firm has a broad reaching, well-respected, and expanding stormwater practice. The Firm is one of only a handful of California law firms specializing in this area of law. The Firm has long been a leader in the field, representing private entities facing enforcement actions brought by Federal, State, and local regulatory agencies. The Firm has also been active in addressing the ever-changing and ever-controversial regulatory framework on which California’s stormwater rules are based.
We have substantial experience in representing clients in a variety of stormwater contexts, although the foremost aspect of the practice is representing private parties who have been accused of violating stormwater regulations. We have represented a broad variety of clients, ranging from Northern California wineries to Chula Vista auto recyclers, and have represented clients in enforcement actions brought by local agencies to the US Environmental Protection Agency, with most of California’s Regional Water Quality Control Boards in between. Recently, we represented one of the Firm’s clients in the first US EPA stormwater enforcement action ever brought in California, addressing nine different sites. After an exhaustive investigation by the EPA, we were able to negotiate an amicable resolution whereby the client paid only a relatively small fine and agreed to implement a Supplemental Environmental Project (“SEP”). After the SEP was completed, the EPA and the Firm’s client held a joint press conference outside one of the client’s facilities to announce the success of the client’s SEP, to praise the client’s efforts, and to inform the public of the substantial environmental benefits that were expected to flow from the client’s actions. We also represented two construction industry trade associations in a pending dispute with the NRDC and the Waterkeeper Alliance over the scope of the EPA’s obligations under the Clean Water Act, and whether the EPA had authority to refuse to impose numeric effluent limits on stormwater discharges from construction sites.
The Firm’s partners are also active participants in the crafting of stormwater policy and regulation in California. We were instrumental and successful in the original effort to create a stormwater monitoring group program whereby industry members can band together to meet their collective stormwater monitoring and training requirements. The Firm is currently counsel to two of California’s longest standing and most successful stormwater monitoring groups: the Metal Recyclers Monitoring Group (“MRMG”) and the California Wineries Monitoring Group (“CWMG”), regularly counseling its members as to their stormwater obligations, options, and strategies, as well as representing the individual group members in their dealings with the stormwater regulatory community.
At a recent California Bar Association Environmental Conference in Yosemite, California, Tal Finney served as the moderator for a panel discussion on the issue of numeric effluent limits on stormwater dischargers. The panel featured Jason Booth of the Firm, who represented the interests of the regulated communities, as well as counsel for the NRDC, and a member of the State Water Resources Control Board. We have also appeared before the State Water Resources Control Board and have given testimony on numerous occasions on behalf of industry members subject to California’s stormwater regulations, arguing in favor of a more practical, financially feasible approach to stormwater regulation, and against the imposition of unworkable and potentially devastating numeric effluent limitations. The Firm regularly contributes to the ongoing debate of the numeric limit issue currently pending before the State Board, as it determines whether numeric limits should be included within the long-ago expired General Industrial Stormwater Permit.
- Clean Water Act/Proposition 65 Litigation
The proliferation of lawsuits brought by private attorneys general, or citizen suits, has created an unmet need for medium and large businesses alike, as well as public entities. With little recourse to financing the defense by insurance, companies and public entities are often left to face citizen suits at enormous costs. The Firm is among the most experienced in the State of California at handling Clean Water Act and Proposition 65 suits.
Such claims regularly call for the Firm to approach government entities, such as the attorney general’s office, the district attorney, the city attorney, or the EPA, in an effort to pre-empt the suits and to build working relationships and trust among the prosecutors and authorities that can take such action. With these tools, the client receives a multi-faceted defense approach that keeps in mind the need to prepare the matter for trial, while still exploring possible settlement options and putting the client in a position to negotiate from strength.
The Firm is thoroughly experienced in counseling clients under the Clean Water’s Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The Firm is also preeminent in NPDES storm water permitting compliance and regulation, having represented industrial and transportation interests at every major national legislative and regulatory level.
– The Firm’s Approach To Handling Complex Environmental Litigation and Regulatory Matters
- Utilizing its Wealth of Experience
Contributing to the Firm’s success is not only knowing when to proceed in a cost effective manner, it its knowing when to utilize its attorneys’ wealth of experience. To do this, the Firm’s attorneys who are assigned to various environmental matters meet on a weekly basis. This includes both partners and associates, which is unusual for most firms. At these meetings, we generally discuss the status of each case, pending filings and deadlines, as well as the overall case status. After discussing these issues in this open forum, the attorneys then discuss the litigation strategy for each case and how best to implement that strategy. We value this type of team approach to handling most matters and, in particular, complex cost recovery actions. Not only does this foster creative alternatives to handling such matters, it promotes the sense of purpose and dedication from all our attorneys necessary to obtaining the ultimate goal … achieving the best result for our client.
- A Thorough Investigation and Understanding of the Facts and Circumstances Surrounding Such Claims
The Firm’s success is also due, in part, to its emphasis on performing a thorough, up-front factual investigation intended to assess realistic liability and damage exposures, to explore the potential for early settlements, and to locate other possible sources of contribution to contamination cleanup. Where possible, the Firm takes advantage of the interrelated nature of environmental claims and actions by local, state, and federal governmental agencies, and works with and among the involved agencies to craft effective, and sometimes innovative, solutions to complex environmental issues. The Firm draws upon its experience to establish a foundation for an effective relationship between the governmental entity or entities and our clients.
This approach leads to increased control over, and the ultimate reduction of, client costs. For example, time-consuming discovery may be narrowed to the particular issues identified during the factual investigation and early consultation with agency representatives. This provides the client with information that may lead to favorable, early settlement negotiations, and greater certainty regarding the potential liability exposure in a case or the allocation of risk. The Firm appreciates that today’s competitive environment demands quick, accurate, practical work, and then provides it.
- Efficient Management
The Firm’s success in this area is due, in part, to its ability to efficiently manage what are usually extremely complex matters. To do this, the Firm typically assigns one partner and one mid-level associate to the matter. Depending on the complexity of the case and the progress of the litigation, however, the evolution of such matters typically requires the assistance of junior level attorneys and/or paralegals. For example, in pursuing historical PRPs responsible for contaminating a particular site, it is cost effective to utilize our junior associates and/or paralegals to coordinate with the numerous regulatory agencies that maintain the records we typically rely upon. In so doing, we are able to effectively identify the documentary evidence necessary in deciding which, and how many, PRPs to pursue, in an efficient, cost-effective manner.