A former assistant chief of the Environmental Defense Section at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Michael W. Steinberg has defended clients in high-stakes lawsuits involving US federal and state environmental law for more than three decades. Michael has litigated cases involving hazardous waste issues under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), contaminated site matters related to the federal Superfund law (CERCLA), and environmental justice issues under both federal and state civil rights statutes.
In his role at the DOJ prior to rejoining Morgan Lewis, Michael defended the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a range of lawsuits under all of the federal environmental statues. At the firm, he leverages that experience to represent clients in challenges to EPA rules and decisions in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. He secured, for example, a major victory in the RCRA case, Shell Oil Company. v. EPA, 950 F.2d 741 (D.C. Cir. 1991), by persuading the DC Circuit to overturn the EPA’s 1980 “mixture rule.”
Michael also has experience in Superfund litigation, rulemaking, and legislative advocacy. In United States v. Olin Corp., 927 F. Supp. 1502 (S.D. Ala. 1996), rev’d, 107 F.3d 1506 (11th Cir. 1997), the trial court declared Superfund unconstitutional as applied to purely intrastate contamination. As lead counsel in Rollins Environmental Services v. United States (D.N.J.), Mr. Steinberg negotiated a settlement in which the US Department of Defense agreed to pay most of the $300-plus million in cleanup costs at the Bridgeport Rental & Oil Services (BROS) site.
In environmental justice disputes, Michael litigated the landmark Chemical Waste Management of Indiana, Inc., 1995 EPA App. LEXIS 25 (EAB June 29, 1995) case, in which the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board established important principles governing environmental justice issues in the RCRA permitting process. More recently, he filed briefs amicus curiae for the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council, and the US Chamber of Commerce in several key Supreme Court and other appellate cases.
Among these cases are Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001), which questioned the use of Title VI to prohibit disparate impacts, and South Camden Citizens in Action v. NJDEP, 274 F.3d 771 (3d Cir. 2001), which overturned a preliminary injunction blocking the operation of a new industrial facility.
Case: Supreme Court granted review of whether CERCLA’s federally mandated discovery rule pre-empts state statutes of repose in tort cases
Role: File amicus brief for major industry trade associations
Victory: Supreme Court agreed with the narrow view of preemption argued in our amicus brief
In re Idaho Conservation League (2014-15)
Case: Environmental group mandamus action to force EPA to issue sweeping new financial responsibility rules under CERCLA
Role: Represent industry in opposing the relief sought
Victory: Case is fully briefed and awaiting argument and decision
North Carolina v. EPA (2008)
Case: Industry challenge to EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule
Role: Prosecute the challenge for an electric utility client
Victory: Obtained complete company-specific relief for our client
Missouri v. Westinghouse (2007)
Case: Proposed Superfund consent decree between PRP and state agency at former nuclear fuel processing facility
Role: Intervene and oppose entry of decree as preempted by Atomic Energy Act
Victory: Obtained a complete win, as district court rejected the decree on preemption grounds.
U.S. v. DuPont (2005)
Case: EPA effort to overturn Rohm & Haas decision that EPA’s CERCLA overisght costs are not recoverable from PRPS
Role: Represented client in en banc rehearing of key case
Missouri v. Westinghouse (2004)
Case: State agency claim for CERCLA Natural Resource Damages > $100 MM
Role: Represented client in defending against claim
Victory: Obtained dismissal with prejudice on ground that state had not timely served its complaint after filing it.
Star Enterprise (2001)
Case: Industry challenge to EPA’s application of petroleum refinery NSPS to syngas unit
Role: Prosecute the challenge in the Court of Appeals
Victory: Obtained complete relief from the Third Circuit.
South Camden Citizens in Action v. NJDEP (2001)
Case: Citizen suit seeking to enforce EPA’s Title VI “disparate impact” rules to promote environmental justice by shutting down new industrial plant
Role: Intervene on behalf of industry trade association to defend case
Victory: Obtained complete relief as court ruled EPA’s rules were not enforceable by private citizens
Reynolds Metals (1998)
Case: Arnold & Porter filed RCRA citizen suit in district court on behalf of several of client’s competitors.
Oregon and Washington state plaintiffs alleged environmental violations at Reynolds Metals’s plant in Arkansas.
Role: Lead counsel for Reynolds
Victory: Complete dismissal on the ground that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to sue.
Dithiocarbamate Task Force v. EPA (1997)
Case: Industry challenge to EPA’s listing of pesticide production wastes as “hazardous waste” under RCRA
Role: Prosecute the challenge
Victory: Obtained a complete win, as the D.C. Circuit vacated the listing in its entirety
BROS Consent Decree (1997)
Case: CERCLA contribution claim against the United States at the Bridgeport Rental & Oil Services site in New Jersey
EPA sent demand letters to about 30 major companies, seeking $88 million in past costs
Role: Lead counsel for plaintiffs
Filed suit, alleging that the U.S. Department of Defense had sent more waste to the site than everyone else combined.
Victory: Negotiated a landmark consent decree in which DOD agreed to pay 78.9% of all cleanup costs, which exceed $400 million.
Shell Oil Co. v. EPA (1991)
Case: Challenge to EPA “mixture rule” and “derived-from rule” under RCRA, dating back to 1980
Role: Lead counsel for oil industry
Victory: Complete victory as the D.C. Circuit held that these two rules were void ab initio.
St. Paul Insurance (1984)
Case: Claim against the U.S. government for the cost of cleaning up an oil spill from the catastrophic failure of a huge storage tank
Role: Lead counsel for the United States
Victory: Obtained three sets of discovery sanctions before the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed on the eve of trial. Then sought and obtained the first-ever award of attorney’s fees in favor of the United States under the new Equal Access to Justice Act.
Used new Equal Access to Justice Act
Intended primarily to allow fees against the United States
University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1977, J.D.
Yale University, 1974, B.A.
District of Columbia
Awards and Affiliations
Listed, Chambers USA: America's Leading Lawyers for Business (2003–2015)
Member, American Bar Association
Member, District of Columbia Bar Association
Listed, The Best Lawyers in America (1993–2011)
Editorial Board, Chemical Waste Litigation Reporter
RCRA Editor, EPA Administrative Law Reporter
Comment Editor, University of Pennsylvania Law Review