Practice/Industry Group Overview
Business organizations often have past, present, or planned operations that involve emissions to the air, discharges to water, releases on land, potential impacts to wildlife habitats or wetlands, or other effects on the environment. These activities can lead to legal disputes in any number of situations, including when governments take enforcement action, environmental groups oppose permits, or neighbors claim to have been injured or damaged.
Greenberg Traurig’s Environmental & Toxic Tort Litigation Practice offers clients a dedicated, client-oriented legal team experienced in navigating such disputes. Our team, which is deployed across the firm's international platform, has wide-ranging experience in complex civil and criminal environmental matters, including the following:
- Personal injury, wrongful death, medical monitoring, and property damage claims arising from environmental conditions and exposures
- Regulatory disputes, first-party permit appeals, and third-party permit appeals
- Rule challenges
- Citizen suits
- Administrative and civil enforcement litigation
- Internal investigations
- Criminal enforcement
- CERCLA and RCRA enforcement, cost recovery, and other actions
- Natural resource damages claims
- Private party environmental litigation, including real estate and other business disputes
Our civil litigation practice focuses on representing clients in mass torts, class actions, multi-district litigation, regulatory enforcement, citizen suits, and other complex matters. Greenberg Traurig’s lawyers have the knowledge and capabilities to address the legal challenges facing clients in these rapidly evolving areas of the law, including the wide array of often novel claims brought by increasingly sophisticated plaintiff and government counsel.
Our team has the experience and resources to try high-stakes cases, including those involving alleged soil, water, and air pollution. As part of our strategic approach to cases, however, we also advise clients on creative defense strategies, including those designed to facilitate early resolutions. We work closely with scientists, physicians, engineers, modelers, appraisers, economists, historians, accountants, and other experts who often play an important role in complex environmental and toxic tort litigation. We also have broad appellate capabilities that we utilize to support our litigation and trial strategies, as well as to represent our clients in appeals.
We have wide-ranging experience representing chemical, refining, mining, manufacturing, and other industrial and commercial clients regarding releases to air, water, and land; contaminated sites; solid waste management; hazardous substances and wastes; forests, mineral, and other national resources; and workplace exposures. We have experience with the full range of environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA Act), and the Clean Water Act (CWA), as well as with the emerging area of climate change. As necessary, we work closely with our colleagues from other relevant firm practices, including the Real Estate, Land Development, Corporate, Energy & Natural Resources and Business Reorganization & Bankruptcy Practices.
We have the ability to respond quickly to motions for temporary restraining orders and other injunctive relief, criminal and administrative search warrants, environmental releases, workplace exposures, and other emergencies. Our lawyers have broad experience with assisting clients with reporting requirements, the selection and management of consultants, corrective measures, crisis management and public relations strategies, electronic and other evidence gathering and preservation, internal audits and investigations, legal exposure analysis, and the development and execution of short-term, intermediate, and long-term defensive strategies.
With respect to government enforcement, we have wide-ranging experience representing clients during agency and grand jury investigations, as well as defending organizations and individuals in civil and criminal proceedings arising under federal and state environmental laws. Our lawyers regularly assist clients with assessing difficult situations by conducting effective and efficient internal investigations. Once key factual and legal issues have been identified and analyzed, we endeavor to resolve cases as quickly and cost-effectively as possible by engaging the government early in the process. We have broad experience negotiating non-prosecution, deferred prosecution, and plea agreements as well as administrative and civil consent orders and decrees. Greenberg Traurig’s lawyers have defended enforcement proceedings involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Customs and Border Protection, as well as numerous state and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies. Because our team includes former regulators, prosecutors, and other government officials, we have the resources necessary to analyze potential violations, determine an agency’s focus, and guide clients in developing and implementing appropriate responses.
Broad Capabilities and Industry Knowledge
- National team experienced in managing all aspects of environmental and toxic tort litigation, including trials and appeals
- Client orientation with a firm focus on adding value
- Ability to respond quickly to releases, workplace exposures, search warrants, and other emergency situations
- Capability to conduct effective and efficient internal investigations
- Broad experience defending civil and criminal enforcement actions in state and federal courts
- Proficiency with the scientific and medical aspects of environmental cases
- Established network of outside experts to identify and address technical issues
- Focus on ensuring consistent strategy and themes through all stages of litigation
- In-house capability for cost-effective information management
- Effective communication infrastructure, including secure, web-based e-rooms
- Innovative in-house trial technology team
Representative Toxic Tort Matters
- Currently representing a chemical and manufacturing company in connection with a 1,000+ plaintiff mass tort action involving wrongful death, personal injury, medical monitoring, and property damage claims
- Currently representing a large Nebraska agricultural equipment manufacturer in a mass toxic tort action for damages allegedly caused by a release of chlorinated solvent, as well as related negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency
- Currently representing a chemical and phosphate company in matters involving mining rights in central and southwest Florida, including litigating, negotiating, permitting, and resolving matters involving several counties, a regional water authority, and multiple regulatory agencies
- Currently defending a chemical and phosphate company in a lawsuit filed by an individual alleging that he developed leukemia as a result of exposure to chemicals in the air and groundwater purportedly released from the company’s facility
- Obtained dismissal, with prejudice, of a class action filed by commercial fishermen seeking damages allegedly resulting from a release of approximately 65 million gallons of acidic process water; the decision was affirmed by the district court of appeal and is currently pending in the Florida Supreme Court
- Defended a company in an environmental justice mass tort claim brought by individuals alleging property damage and personal injuries purportedly resulting from contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface water in their residential neighborhood
- Defeated class certification in multi-district litigation filed against various petroleum companies for purported MTBE groundwater contamination in which the cost of the injunctive relief sought in Florida alone exceeded $100 million
- Defended a claim to pierce a parent company’s corporate veil and secured approval of a permanent “channeling” injunction barring future mass tort claims against the parent
- Defended against claims by more than 150 plaintiffs arising out of the release of approximately 50 million gallons of process water into a river
- Represented the corporate parent of a debtor subsidiary in proceedings before the bankruptcy court for approval of a trust fund for future mass tort liabilities arising from chlorinated solvent groundwater contamination
Representative Environmental Matters
- Currently representing the former owners of an oil refinery in Oklahoma where the Environmental Protection Agency, the state environmental agency, and the Natural Resources Trustee are seeking $65 million for past and future response costs and alleged natural resource damages
- Currently representing a phosphate and chemical company in a lawsuit filed by an insurance company seeking recovery of past and future investigative, remediation, and removal costs under CERCLA and state law
- Currently representing an owner of mineral rights, including rights to Marcellus Shale gas underlying 187,000 acres of national forest land, in litigation with the U.S. Forest Service and environmental groups over access pending completion of an environmental impact statement
- Currently representing a paper recycler in connection with the Lower Fox River and Green Bay Superfund and Natural Resources Damages site, and obtained summary judgment in our client’s favor in a contribution action brought by two other responsible parties
- Represented a liquidating trust in a nationally significant environmental cost recovery case; after an eight-week trial, the court found the trust liable for only 1.72 percent of the $33 million cleanup, millions less than sought at trial; we also prevailed in a subsequent summary judgment motion dismissing the remainder of the claim
- Represented a landowner in litigation against a neighboring spent mushroom substrate processor over runoff and property damage, and obtained a shut-down of the offending facility
- Represented a gas pipeline company in an appeal from a demand for air pollution permits for maintenance of compressor station turbines
- Represented a seller of 15 manufacturing facilities in multiple lawsuits seeking recovery for alleged misrepresentations regarding environmental conditions
- Represented an industrial facility operator in a citizen suit challenge to the location of a sludge incinerator on land allegedly impressed with "public trust"
- Achieved a 99.9 percent reduction of a $44 million penalty action for alleged violations of the PSD provisions of the CAA
- Settled a permit appeal by a chemical manufacturer over conditions imposed in a RCRA permit to burn hazardous waste in boilers
Representative Criminal Representations
- Currently representing clients in multiple criminal environmental investigations involving facilities in several U.S. and foreign jurisdictions
- Currently representing a real estate developer in a grand jury investigation of alleged criminal violations of the CWA
- Represented clients in a federal criminal investigation concerning a workplace fatality at a chemical plant
- Represented an environmental manager in a federal criminal investigation concerning a pipeline failure at a chemical plant
- Represented the chief officer of a foreign-flagged vessel in a federal criminal prosecution involving alleged violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, as well as international environmental laws
- Provided pre-indictment defense of a specialty chemical manufacturer that was the target of a federal criminal investigation for allegedly disposing of hundreds of tons of hazardous waste in a municipal landfill that exploded
- Provided a pre-indictment defense of a specialty chemical manufacturer for violations of U.S. Customs law regarding the importation of various chemicals
- Negotiated a civil resolution with the state attorney general’s economic crimes division of claims involving alleged misbranding of fish by a national food service distributor
- Avoided criminal enforcement against a chemical company through an internal investigation and subsequent voluntary disclosure to governmental authorities
Articles Authored by Lawyers at this office:
Clean Water Act Jurisdiction Under the Newly Issued Clean Water Rule
Kerri L. Barsh,John V. Chibbaro,Michael G. Cooke,H. Hamilton Hackney,Hayley E. Neal, June 25, 2015
More than 40 years after Congress passed the landmark Clean Water Act, the jurisdictional reach of that statute remains a contentious legal and political issue. By prohibiting the discharge of pollutants to “navigable waters” without a permit, the Act expressly limits its protections to...
Massachusetts Governor Orders Comprehensive Review of State Regulations
Jack S. Gearan,H. Hamilton Hackney, April 17, 2015
On March 31, 2015, the Governor of Massachusetts signed an executive order initiating a comprehensive review of all regulations promulgated by the Executive Department and leaving in place the regulatory pause announced by the Administration earlier in the year. While short in length, this...
New York Lawmakers Agree on 10-Year Extension of Brownfield Law
Robert M. Rosenthal,Steven C. Russo, April 17, 2015
In a departure from his budget proposal, the Legislature negotiated changes with the Governor to extend the tax credits for New York’s Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) with relatively modest changes to BCP eligibility requirements. The Governor’s budget proposal would have limited the...
Environmental Appeals Board Issues Major TSCA 8(e) Decision
Christopher L. Bell, March 26, 2015
On March 13, EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board’s issued its long-awaited decision in the Elementis TSCA 8(e) case, reversing the ALJ’s decision imposing a multi-million dollar penalty on Elementis. In Re Elementis Chromium, Inc., TSCA Appeal No. 13-03 (March 13, 2015).
New York Clears the Way for Permitting LNG-Refueling Stations
Robert M. Rosenthal,Steven C. Russo, March 13, 2015
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced on January 28, 2015 that it has finalized a new regulatory regime to allow the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) refueling stations in all parts of the State except for New York City. Under the agency’s...
A New Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment Opinionż In Dissent
David G. Mandelbaum, February 17, 2015
In Hess v. Pa. Pub. Util. Comm'n, No. 1370 C.D. 2013 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Dec. 22, 2014), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court en banc considered a petition for review of an order of the Public Utility Commission granting approvals for a transmission line crossing the Susquehanna River. The majority...
Denton, Texas Bans Fracking - What's Next?
Patricia M. Rosendahl, February 17, 2015
Bans on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have arisen in a variety of places over recent months. Voters in Mendocino County and San Benito County, California, and Athens, Ohio, separately approved bans on fracking in the November elections. The New York State Governor and his Commissioners of Health...
EU Leaders Agree to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 40% by 2030
Aonghus Heatley, February 17, 2015
European Union (EU) leaders recently reached agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 as compared with 1990 levels. The leaders also agreed a binding, at the EU level, target to obtain at least 27 percent of the EU’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 and a...
EU Leaders to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 40% by 2030
Aonghus Heatley, February 17, 2015
European Union (EU) leaders recently reached agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 as compared with 1990 levels. The leaders also agreed a binding, at the EU level, target to obtain at least 27 percent of the EU's energy from renewable sources by 2030 and a...
Environmental Policy as Part of Integrated Overall Policy
David G. Mandelbaum, February 17, 2015
Environmental quality is important, but it is just one set of the objectives of public policy. Is it possible to think about the incentives set by environmental regulatory decisions and the outcomes they induce as part of a more integrated policy?
New York Bans Fracking In New York: What Now?
Robert M. Rosenthal,Steven C. Russo, February 17, 2015
The wait is over in New York on fracking. At a cabinet meeting today Governor Cuomo and his Commissioners of Health and Environmental Conservation announced that the long-awaited Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement will be released and establish that HVHF cannot move forward...
New York Governor Vetoes Extension of Brownfields Credits - What Next?
Steven C. Russo, February 17, 2015
Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have extended the current Brownfield tax credit program for fifteen months beyond its expiration at the end of this year. The Governor apparently wishes to use the possibility that the tax credits will expire as an impetus for...
Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment: Back to Payne v. Kassab?
David G. Mandelbaum, February 17, 2015
We have a new opinion today under the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation v. Commonwealth, No. 228 M.D. 2012 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 7, 2015). Maybe the state constitution mandates some sort of environmental impact study before...
Time is Running Out for Large Scale Solar Projects
Andrew W. Scher, February 17, 2015
Time may be running out for large scale photovoltaic and other solar electric generating projects due to a looming statutory reduction in the federal investment tax for such projects (the ITC). The ITC is the primary federal tax subsidiary for solar electric generating projects. For solar electric...