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Companies and individuals facing environmental crimes investigations need counsel with a critical combination of capabilities: comprehensive knowledge of applicable federal, state, and local laws; the insight of former high-level agency attorneys; and the national resources to respond to both urgent and longer-developing matters, regardless of location.
Morgan Lewis provides all of the above so that clients can efficiently and practically steer clear of criminal prosecution or favorably resolve unavoidable enforcement proceedings. The firm's white collar, environmental, and energy attorneys in this area include numerous trial-ready federal agency alumni—among them the former Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division, the only person to have served as both the government's top environmental enforcement lawyer and a U.S. Attorney.
Agencies and Statutes
This interdisciplinary team covers the full spectrum of matters involving all related agencies, laws, regulations, and enforcement proceedings.
- Department of Justice—Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section
- U.S. Attorneys' Offices and State Prosecutors
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- U.S. Coast Guard
- Army Corps of Engineers
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- Clean Air Act
- Clean Water Act
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
- Pipeline Safety Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Migratory Bird Treaty Act
- Lacey Act
- Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
- Toxic Substances Control Act
- State environmental laws
- Occupational Health and Safety Act
Urgent or Time-Sensitive Matters
For businesses facing urgent matters—including industrial accidents, spills, explosions, airborne releases, search warrants, subpoenas, and administrative inspections—Morgan Lewis has the capacity to rapidly respond with a customized legal team. Lawyers drawn from all relevant practices stand ready to assist in all phases of criminal investigations, grand jury proceedings, and trials.
Morgan Lewis has guided numerous clients in their responses to urgent, time-sensitive and sometimes catastrophic matters. The firm often coordinates with involved agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Chemical Safety Board, other federal agencies and state agencies, both to identify accident causes and to help develop response plans. Effective response plans demonstrate good faith and often can help dissuade regulators from imposing penalties—an outcome the firm helped secure for a major East Coast utility involved in a large oil spill. In addition to working to mitigate criminal penalties for clients, Morgan Lewis assists companies in debarment actions that can result from criminal convictions.
Morgan Lewis works closely with companies and their public relations consultants to limit unfavorable media coverage and, if possible, generate beneficial attention. Firm attorneys frequently have appeared at town hall meetings, spoken with grassroots organizations, and dealt directly with the press on behalf of clients in high-profile cases.
Counseling and Risk Mitigation
Morgan Lewis works with clients to prevent and detect potential violations before they result in enforcement proceedings. Preventative measures can include comprehensive environmental audits, analyzing compliance issues, developing training tools for staff, and conducting seminars for executives and employees. We also help resolve permitting issues and argue on our clients' behalf before state and federal regulators.
Environmental criminal cases can be triggered by improper reporting and documentation. Morgan Lewis attorneys audit companies' environmental recordkeeping practices to detect any problems so that they can be corrected before regulators take action.
On a strategic level, the firm's attorneys advocate on behalf of businesses and industries before government bodies. We challenge state and federal rulemakings and consult with clients on the desired outcomes of government regulatory processes. In representing a group of large companies concerned about the application of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the firm has helped to convince the EPA to initiate administrative reforms and to change or drop certain rulemaking proposals.
Defense of Alleged Violations
For clients facing potential prosecution, Morgan Lewis lawyers have helped persuade government regulators to close investigations without formal enforcement action. In these circumstances, we have conducted internal investigations and developed aggressive defense strategies. Many of the firm's attorneys have a background in government, giving them critical insight into regulatory procedures and prosecutorial decision-making. That experience also can facilitate straightforward and professional relationships with key officials.
For matters that cannot be resolved, Morgan Lewis has a team of courtroom-proven criminal trial lawyers and appellate advocates who are prepared to aggressively and skillfully defend clients' interests.
In matters involving alleged environmental crime, Morgan Lewis clients have included utilities, pipeline companies, refiners, waste disposal companies, pharmaceutical companies, and manufacturers of pesticides. Companies that handle materials regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy also have been aided by the firm's multidisciplinary approach, as we have brought together our criminal defense lawyers and our energy and regulatory attorneys to provide a comprehensive response to government investigations.
Nonindustrial clients have included a trade association confronting an EPA grant investigation, along with individuals and small companies accused of failing to adhere to EPA contracting regulations. We defended a county agency under investigation for possible criminal violations under the Clean Water Act for allegedly discharging paint.
Because the events or issues behind a criminal environmental enforcement action are often subject to civil action as well, Morgan Lewis equips clients with the resources to resolve both matters efficiently and cost effectively. In addition, the firm's lawyers are prepared to simultaneously handle representations involving state and federal authorities.
Because the government sometimes uses environmental laws to address issues of workplace safety, it often is important to coordinate OSHA and environmental strategies. Morgan Lewis has one of the largest occupational safety and health law practices in the country. We have assisted clients in OSHA and state plan compliance work and litigation throughout the United States and its territories, and are well known at OSHA's area, regional, and national offices. Our longstanding relationships with OSHA personnel at all of these levels allow us to effectively guide our clients through any issue or crisis that may arise.
Should a catastrophe occur, we are able to deploy within hours OSHA attorneys wherever our clients may need us—an essential element in the effective and timely management of major workplace incidents. We have helped clients manage workplace inspections, incident investigations, and safety audits. Within the petrochemical industry, our team has handled the legal aspects of many major plant explosions, fires, and releases around the country for some of the most well-known oil and chemical companies. In these instances, we have worked with OSHA on the first day of the inspection to coordinate inspection procedures and negotiate site security agreements. We assist our clients in determining conflicts and organizing the investigations, including the PSM-required incident investigation that must commence within 48 hours. We stay with our clients throughout the inspection as needed and negotiate settlements at OSHA's area, regional, and national offices. We have also acted as lead counsel in explosion-related litigation and as members of the defense team coordinating such litigation.