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Environmental Enforcement Defense

We defend a wide variety of clients in administrative, civil, and criminal environmental enforcement matters in state and federal courts, as well as before regulatory agencies. Our team has extensive experience and a range of capabilities, enhanced by some of our team members’ tenures in key positions in the federal government.

Our depth of talent and experience makes Vinson & Elkins one of the few law firms in the United States with this distinct capability. Our judgment, along with our technical understanding of our clients’ businesses, particularly the industrial, manufacturing, and energy sectors (upstream, midstream, and downstream), allows us to anticipate and identify the collateral effects of regulations and environmental enforcement on our clients’ operations.

We have defended clients in high-profile matters, such as civil and criminal enforcement actions, environmental citizen suits, and alleged permit violations, among many others. We understand there is nothing routine about environmental enforcement issues, and all facilities are subject to compliance monitoring and enforcement, regardless of the industry. When a client faces an enforcement action, whether administrative or judicial, our team provides a strong defense, tracks ongoing technical and regulatory requirements, engages in negotiations with the regulators, and plays an ongoing advisory role with the client to help ensure future compliance.

Clients without proven counsel in this arena face significant risk, exposure, and other consequences. Enforcement actions can result in significant fines and penalties, as well as injunctive relief, threaten a particular project or facility by prohibiting expansion or ongoing operations, affect a company’s eligibility to participate in government contracts, and interfere with how the company manages its operations. Drawing on our vast internal network of experienced lawyers, and because the relevant regulatory and enforcement agencies know and respect us, our team can achieve cost-effective and satisfactory resolutions of environmental enforcement matters for our clients.

Experience Highlights

  • Obtained dismissal by trial court of Clean Air Act enforcement action against a former owner of a coal-fired power plant seeking extensive injunctive relief; Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal in unanimous 68-page opinion

  • Representing a client in an EPA enforcement action alleging violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) requirements and exceedences of air emissions limits

  • Defended a client in a multi-media enforcement action with particular focus on benzene violations arising from investigation of the plant’s operations after an explosion occurred at the facility 

  • Defended an international energy company against administrative, civil, and criminal claims under federal environmental statutes arising out of an explosion at an oil refinery

  • Defending a large midstream energy company in a U.S. EPA investigation relating to hazardous waste generation and disposal practices

  • Represented a client in the aftermath of an oil spill in a region subject to a high level of public attention, defended investigations and prosecution by numerous federal and state agencies and a Congressional oversight hearing and investigation, all of which engendered significant media scrutiny, with ultimate disposition in a plea agreement and federal judicial consent decree

  • Defended three different pipeline companies in enforcement actions brought by the government under Section 311 of the Clean Water Act resulting from numerous and significant releases of oil from the pipelines; in each case, the client incurred minimal injunctive requirements and among the lowest fines in relation to the amount of oil released of any similar enforcement actions brought by the government 

  • Defended federal, state, local governmental and private party claims arising out of the largest inland gasoline spill in U.S. history and obtained a defense jury verdict in the first civil case by a group of 14 plaintiffs and settlement of the Natural Resources Damage claims for a fraction of original damage estimates

  • Lead negotiator for a federal-state CERCLA consent decree in EPA Region 2 for remediation of dioxin and other chemicals; an Administrative Order on Consent for a remedial investigation and feasibility study of six miles of contaminated sediments in a northeastern river; an additional Administrative Order on Consent for RI/FS on a Bay; an Administrative Order on Consent for an early Removal Action; an Administrative Order on Consent for a CSO/SSO study; Cooperative Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Funding Agreements and response to a Unilateral Administrative Order

  • Represented a large natural gas transmission company in the negotiation of a system-wide resolution of all alleged violations of federal and state statutes for past spills and remediation obligations at more than 100 facilities in 12 states and 6 EPA regions; the terms of settlement allowed the client flexibility to implement required response