Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP’s deep experience in environmental litigation covers all of the major environmental statutes and regulatory programs, with particular focus on the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). We are experienced in both civil and criminal enforcement defense, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) cost recovery actions, challenges to federal and state rulemakings, defense of projects challenged under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and similar programs. We combine our scientific knowledge with a command of litigation technology to achieve successful resolution of litigation matters.
The environmental litigation practice includes environmental enforcement litigation, environmental enforcement actions, environmental claims brought by private parties and other matters.
Environmental Enforcement Litigation
Our lawyers defend clients in civil enforcement actions arising under federal and state air, water and waste regulatory programs throughout the United States. Lawyers in our practice have thorough familiarity with the complex scientific and technical issues facing industries such as oil and chemical, pulp and paper, hazardous waste treatment and electric utility. We handle a wide array of actions, including actions seeking the imposition of significant civil penalties, actions for emergency or injunctive relief, stop orders, demands for information, site investigations, notices of violation or noncompliance and similar matters. These matters have arisen in federal and state trial courts, before federal and state administrative agencies and before independent hearing panels such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Appeals Board.
We understand that these complex cases require incisive and innovative analysis of state or formal regulatory programs that can be technically complex, ambiguous and contradictory. We also understand that these cases present highly sensitive political and public relations challenges requiring nuanced handling of legal, scientific and political issues. Our experience allows us to assist clients in identifying and achieving resolution on favorable terms to reduce exposure, to distinguish those claims meriting quick resolution from those that do not and to manage cost-effectively those disputes that can only be resolved through litigation.
In particular, Akin Gump’s environmental lawyers remain at the forefront of the defense of coal-fired power plants sued as part of EPA’s Utility Enforcement Initiative. This initiative targets the coal-fired utility industry for alleged violations of the New Source Review (NSR) and New Source Performance Standards programs. Akin Gump spearheaded many of the pretrial efforts, obtaining orders forcing the government to produce documents for inspection and witnesses for deposition. This effort was critical to developing the factual and legal bases for the critical issues—the “routine maintenance” exclusion and methodology for calculating emissions increases.
Project Development Litigation
Challenges to federal, state and local approvals for large-scale development projects typically involve NEPA or related state statute (e.g., California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)) claims challenging the adequacy of environmental impact statements, as well as related claims arising under other federal laws, such as ESA, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 176 of the Clean Air Act or Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. Representative matters in this area include:
- defense of a California city in litigation challenging the city’s exercise of its local land use powers under a California state law provision that gives local jurisdictions approval authority over airport expansion plans within their jurisdiction
- defense of the adequacy of the Federal Highway Administration’s environmental impact statement for a 100-mile-long highway project in West Virginia that had been challenged by 15 environmental groups in federal court
- defense of the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of a land exchange in which a client received approximately 3,500 acres of public land for construction of a 700-million-ton rail-haul landfill located at a former mine site outside a national park
- defense of a Florida county against an inverse condemnation action filed by a group of property owners based on aircraft noise and other impacts associated with the county’s operation of an airport.
Private Party Claims
Our environmental litigation practice frequently represents clients facing claims by private parties under federal or state environmental statutes. Representative examples include:
- defense of chemical exposure litigation
- defense of claims alleging environmental damage caused by landfills
- defense of property damage claims arising from use of disposal facilities
- defense of class action claims of environmental damage and personal injury
- defense of property damage claims arising from oil and gas exploration and production activities
- private cost recovery claims.