7 Things You Should Know About Environmental Lawyers

by Calyn Ehid

What comes to mind when you think of an environmental lawyer? The answers can be complex, because the field of environmental law is a broad area of practice. An environmental attorney can argue cases involving a variety of environmental issues, including the quality of water and air. Working as an environmental lawyer can also mean taking on investigations dealing with hazardous waste, species protection, waste management, agriculture, and wetlands. As more and more companies begin to take a serious look at sustainability issues, those working in environmental law will have to examine issues surrounding green initiatives, sustainability strategies, and alternative energy sources. An experienced environmental attorney will need to be able to advise clients on green standards as regulated by the government.

The field of environmental law is generally considered one of the newer legal specialties, but lawyers have been working in the field of environmental law since the 1970s. This decade marked the start of the United States legislature passing multiple regulations regarding the environment. Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as state and local legislature, have succeeded in enacting additional federal regulations and state regulations. These regulations were passed in order to protect the land, air and water from future contamination, but have resulted in serious legal battles. These battles are expected to grow as the demand for sustainability increases within our society. The demand for experienced environmental lawyers is expected to grow, as well. This article will explore 7 things you should know about the growing field of environmental law and the lawyers who practice it.

1. Regulatory Compliance

One of the aspects of environmental law that experienced lawyers must be able to deal with is regulatory compliance. This aspect of the responsibilities of an environmental lawyer require counseling clients on various issues relating to the environment. Lawyers must be well versed in federal regulations, state regulations, and any local laws that can be a concern for their client. The goal of lawyers who offer counseling over compliance is to make certain that all relevant laws are followed and that litigation is prevented. Another major step of attorneys who are dealing with regulatory compliance is assisting clients who already have a potential internal investigation pending and need assistance in determine which voluntary disclosure protocols they should follow.

In understanding the role of an environmental lawyer in regulatory compliance issues, you should note that these lawyers must constantly stay up to date on the new state, federal, and local regulations. These laws change on a consistent basis and clients who do not have an experienced attorney can end up paying a price, because their attorney may be following older laws. Not being up to date on the relevant state, federal and local laws can result in heavy fines. If you need legal assistance you can also find additional legal aid here and you can search for a lawyer here.

2. Litigation Challenges

When looking to hire an environmental lawyer, you want to be sure that they have experience in litigation challenges. When you hire an experienced environmental litigation attorney, they will be familiar with state, federal, and local laws pertaining to permitting and enforcement. Typically, litigation challenges cover topics such as hazardous waste, insecticides, and other toxic substances. Damages, contaminated property and land use are other common areas which you may require the experience of an environmental lawyer. Some attorneys specialize in commercial enterprises, while others cover industrial enterprises. Often, litigation challenges are part of an ongoing compliance issue.

3. Federal Regulations

Although most people are familiar with the Environmental Protection Agency, its laws comprise only some of the federal laws regarding the environment. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) is one of the additional important federal regulations concerning the environment. CERCLA is also called “Superfund,” and it requires a heavy tax on industries who are polluting the environment; these taxes are used to pay for clean-up costs. In addition to the fines charged by CERCLA, the EPA may file additional lawsuits. The federal regulations regarding the environment can often be confusing, and a company benefits from an experienced attorney’s ability to navigate them.

4. State Regulations

In addition to federal laws, each of the states are able to enact their own environmental laws and protections. Situations in which the federal legislation acted in limited capacity or in which the laws have left environmental regulation to the states typically fall under either state or local regulations. State laws are allowed to be far more stringent than federal laws are, as a result. Companies operating in multiple states must comply with a variety of jurisdictions. One of the benefits of employing an environmental lawyer is that companies are able to comply with laws that may conflict or overlap with one another.

5. Nonprofit

Much of the law practiced by environmental lawyers is done through nonprofit organizations. Since much advocacy for the environment comes from nonprofits, these organizations typically need to employ lawyers who are well-versed in a variety of legal work. Depending on the type of nonprofit, some cases may be more heavily focused on advocacy, while others may focus on litigation. This typically includes both legislative advocacy, and community organizing. Environmental lawyers working for nonprofit organizations typically enjoy a relaxed atmosphere in which they are able to pick their own cases. They may be constrained by limited resources.

6. Government

Some environmental lawyers work directly with the government at the federal, state or local level. With the variety of laws being passed regularly, lawyers must be able to work with the government in order to draft the legislation and regulations. Environmental lawyers who work with state, federal or local agencies also provide counsel to agencies and are responsible for litigation cases on behalf of these agencies. These attorneys may work either in a defense or affirmative side of environmental lawsuits. Although many agencies may seek out litigation, an attorney must defend the government if they are sued for harming the environment.

7. Investigations

Companies or individuals who are under investigation for potentially violating environmental laws need experienced environmental lawyers to avoid jail time or fines. Typically, during this stage, lawyers represent clients at every stage of the investigation. This includes all aspects of any internal investigations done by the company. If an investigation goes as far as a grand jury subpoena, an experienced environmental lawyer may also be required to help a client through dealing with investigators and prosecutors. Plea agreements, trials, sentencing and appeals are also handled by environmental lawyers. Environmental lawyers will also be handling the investigation from the prosecuting side as well.