Overview

About Michael

Michael N. Mills is an experienced environmental lawyer who represents his clients in complex regulatory, compliance and litigation matters. His scientific background in environmental toxicology, as well as his contacts within California’s state regulatory agencies, make him ideally suited to provide effective and practical solutions to environmental, regulatory and sustainability challenges that his clients confront.

Mike is a former co-chair of the firm’s Energy and Natural Resources Industry Group, and his deep connections within California’s oil and gas industry span over two decades. Oil and gas clients appreciate Mike’s experience as they manage business growth and risks in the challenging regulatory environment in which they operate in California. And as California pushes to decarbonize its economy, Mike’s knowledge of environmental policy helps all types of companies develop environmental strategies to navigate a rapidly changing regulatory landscape. This unique repository of experience allows Mike to offer valuable business counsel to oil and gas companies in California.

Natural resources development, energy and manufacturing companies look to Mike to skillfully advise and counsel them on development issues, sustainability questions, product stewardship, federal and state hazardous waste cleanup matters, and property tax valuation disputes. When necessary to protect his clients’ interests, Mike vigorously defends his clients’ interests in litigation, citizen suit claims, and regulatory enforcement actions.

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Experience

Experience

Environmental Litigation and Enforcement

  • Represented StanCorp Mortgage Investors LLC in negotiating a covenant not to sue and release agreement with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board based on a successful presentation of the lender liability exemption under California law that insulated the company from long-term liability for legacy contamination at a commercial property based on its status as an owner by way of foreclosure.
  • Represented a multinational consumer packaged goods, food & beverage manufacturing, and foodservice company headquartered in California in connection with a Clean Air Act enforcement matter brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an alleged failure to adhere to Risk Management Program requirements pertaining to the company’s Atwater, California refrigeration units.
  • Lead defense counsel for industrial client in hazardous waste enforcement action brought by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, Consumer & Environmental Division, alleging improper transportation and disposal of hazardous waste. Mike negotiated a favorable settlement with the District Attorney’s Office, which resulted in the entry of a stipulated judgment without a trial.
  • Defended Fortune 500 oil and gas company in Clean Water Act citizen suit arising from concerns over hydraulic fracturing and enhanced oil recovery techniques. Mike helped negotiate a settlement on terms favorable to the company.
  • Lead defense counsel for mining company in complex environmental enforcement action brought by the California Attorney General’s Office to require remediation of abandoned gold mine. The action was settled favorably following a multi-party mediation process and the identification of historic insurance coverage.
  • Successfully defended Fortune 500 oil company in CEQA challenge to drilling permits issued by the Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. Mike successfully resolved the dispute and maintained the permits for the client.
  • Lead counsel for Fortune 500 oil and gas company in CEQA challenge to residential development for lack of analysis of impacts to mineral resources. Following favorable trial court decision, Mike negotiated a favorable settlement for the company that preserved access to mineral resources.
  • Defended several aggregate mining companies in CEQA lawsuits throughout California challenging mine expansion approvals.
  • Represented landfill operator in complex litigation relating to closure of landfill.
  • Lead defense counsel for major upstream oil and gas company in a Clean Water Citizen Suit brought by the Environmental Defense Center in federal court in Los Angeles. The case arose from the company’s operations in Ventura County, California, and Mike successfully negotiated a very favorable settlement for the company, which consisted of an in-kind supplemental environmental project that did not include a cash payment to any non-governmental organization or environmental group.

Environmental Compliance and Remediation

  • Lead counsel for remediation trustee overseeing remediation of abandoned gold mine.
  • Advise major oil and gas company with compliance efforts under the Federal Clean Water Act and General Industrial Storm Water Permit for oil and gas fields in Southern California.
  • Legal advisor to commercial developer for cleanup and remediation issues resulting from the redevelopment of former industrial facility.
  • Evaluate environmental documentation for compliance with CEQA in preparation for permitting litigation.

Oil and Gas

  • Represent major and independent oil and gas companies in negotiating, reviewing and drafting oil and gas exploration and production agreements, including joint operating agreements, farmout agreements, pooling/unit agreements, leases and surface use agreements, easements, and purchase and sale agreements.
  • Conduct due diligence for acquisition of oil and gas leases and fee interests, including advice on compliance with terms of affected joint operating agreements, farmout agreements, unit agreements and leases.
  • Preparation of acquisition, division order and drilling title opinions.
  • Counsel oil and gas operators on subsurface trespass, pass-through rights and well setback requirements.
  • Advise on permitting applications and related CEQA review for oil and gas wells throughout California.
  • Defended major oil and gas company in claim of breach of Joint Development Agreement for exploration and development of California’s Monterey Shale formation.
  • Represented oil and gas operator in collection action against non-operators for unpaid charges under joint operating agreement.

Mining

  • Represented mining company seller in the negotiation of a purchase and sale agreement for a sand mine in Southern California.
  • Lead counsel for mining company in litigation brought against the Department of Conservation challenging procedures relating to a mine’s removal from the AB 3098 List.
  • Lead counsel for mining company in complex environmental enforcement action brought by the California Attorney General’s Office to require remediation of abandoned mine in Tuolumne County, California.
  • Lead counsel for mining industry plaintiffs challenging validity of certain financial assurance regulations under the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act.

Property Tax

  • Lead counsel for county in dispute with special district over property tax administration fees (successfully argued case before the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District).
  • Lead counsel for hydroelectric facility in assessment appeals in Lassen County, California and Shasta County, California.
  • Lead counsel for landfill gas power plant in assessment appeals in Placer County, California.
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Honors

Honors & Activities

Professional Honors and Activities

  • Included in The Best Lawyers in America© (currently: Oil & Gas Law), 2018–2021
  • Listed in Northern California Super Lawyers® (Environmental, Energy & Natural Resources, Environmental Litigation), 2013–2020
  • Listed in Sacramento Magazine’s Top Lawyers, 2016, 2018–2021
  • Member, State Bar of California, Environmental Law Section
  • Panel Mediator, California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, Appellate Mediation Program
  • Member and former President, former First Vice President, former Second Vice President, former Secretary/Treasurer and former Director-at-Large, Sacramento County Bar Association
  • Former Chair, Real Property Law Section, Sacramento County Bar Association
  • Member and former President, Vice President, Programs Director and Secretary, Sacramento Chapter, Federal Bar Association
  • Member, Natural Resources Section, American Bar Association
  • Member, Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation
  • Associate Member and Member of Board of Directors, California Independent Petroleum Association
  • Member, Sacramento Petroleum Association
  • Associate Member and Chair Emeritus, Western States Petroleum Association Associates Program, Central Valley Chapter

Civic Activities

  • Board Member, U.C. Davis School of Law, King Hall Alumni Association Board of Directors, 2011–2016
  • Member, School Site Council, Two Rivers Elementary School, Sacramento, California, 2015–2021
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Insights & Presentations

Insights & Presentations

Mike has published, presented and been quoted on a wide array of environmental topics, including the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, the implementation of Senate Bill 4, California’s well stimulation permitting law, California’s new industrial storm water permit, and California’s cap & trade program under Assembly Bill 32, and regularly contributes to Stoel Rives’ blogs, including California Environmental Law and Mineral Law. In 2014, the ABA’s Section of Environmental, Energy and Resources published Mike’s co-authored article, “What is Fracking Wastewater and How Should We Manage It?”

  • Frequent contributor to Stoel Rives’ blogs including California Environmental Law and Mineral Law
  • “Arguments: Does NGA delegate eminent domain powers to private parties? The U.S. Supreme Court recently considered whether the Natural Gas Act delegates the federal government’s eminent domain power to private parties and whether such delegation violates sovereign immunity.” (co-author), Daily Journal Perspectives, May 14, 2021
  • “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Carbon Capture and Sequestration in California” (co-presenter), Bakersfield Association of Professional Landmen, virtual meeting, May 6, 2021
  • “New Winery General Water Discharge Requirements” (co-presenter), Stoel Rives LLP webinar, Jan. 21, 2021
  • U.S. EPA Finalizes New Navigable Waters Protection Rule, Narrowing Scope of Waters of the United States” (co-author), The Conveyor, Winter 2020
  • “It’s 11 O’Clock. Do You Know Where You Pipelines Are?” (co-presenter), Bakersfield Association of Professional Landmen, Bakersfield, California, Jan. 28, 2020
  • “Just in the Knick of Time? How the U.S. Supreme Court’s Recent Decision in Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania will Remake Regulatory Takings Cases and Benefit the Construction and Industrial Materials Industry in California” (co-presenter), CalCIMA Education Conference, Napa, California, Nov. 2019
  • “The Ascendency of Environmental Justice in California and What it Means for our Industry” (co-presenter), CalCIMA Education Conference, Anaheim, California, Nov. 2018
  • “Environmental and Natural Resources Law in the Trump Era” (co-presenter), CalCIMA Education Conference, Olympic Valley, California, Nov. 2017
  • “Joint Cooperation Agreements: Resolving Conflicts Between Oil & Gas Operations and Solar and Other Renewable Energy Development” (co-presenter), Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Special Institute on Oil & Gas Agreements: Surface Use in the 21st Century, May 2017
  • “The Role of Oil and Gas Pipelines in California’s Energy System,” Los Angeles County Bar Association Environmental Law Spring Super Symposium, April 7, 2017
  • “Are You Next? How Minor Hazardous Waste Missteps Can Lead to Big Enforcement Actions,” CalCIMA Education Conference, Rancho Mirage, California, Nov. 8, 2016
  • “After leak, Obama re-ups pipeline safety” (co-author), San Francisco Daily Journal, June 24, 2016



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