Environmental Litigation

As our country balances the important objectives of economic growth and environmental protection, disputes arise.  Climate change impacts, land ownership ambiguity, regulatory scrutiny, insurance coverage claims, challenges from environmental groups, royalty disputes and disagreements over  access to natural resources are resulting in litigation.

Key Contacts

Jason T. Morgan Partner Seattle, WA
Martin K. Banks Partner Salt Lake City, UT
Beth S. Ginsberg Partner Seattle, WA
Ryan P. Steen Partner Seattle, WA
See all contacts
Overview

Our environmental litigators practice side by side with attorneys experienced in environmental, land use and natural resources law. This distinct model means clients work with experienced administrative, trial and appellate attorneys who know and understand the complexities of the relevant environmental laws.  We’re national leaders in litigation involving the Clean Water Act (CWA); Clean Air Act; Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; Endangered Species Act (ESA); National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); and Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Additionally, we have substantial experience with laws governing federal and state contaminated site activities, fishery and marine mammal protection, and avian protection. 

Our Services

  • Criminal and civil enforcement defense
  • Permitting and project defense against all types of challenges
  • Preliminary injunction defense
  • Cost recovery claims and natural resource damage actions defense
  • Proposition 65 bounty hunter claims and enforcement defense
  • Government action and rulemaking challenges
  • ESA species listings and critical habitat designation challenges
  • ESA Section 7(a)(2) biological opinion challenges and ESA Section 9 take defense
  • Claims for injunctive relief against environmental groups and government agencies
  • Ground water toxic tort claims
  • Insurance recovery environmental claims 

Our team is one of the largest and most respected in the U.S.  Some of our attorneys have backgrounds in science, engineering, geology, economics and public policy. Many have worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Justice and Offices of the U.S. Attorney, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Our constructive working relationships with government attorneys and staff, tribes, and environmental groups provide value to individual businesses and trade associations negotiating and defending their interests before these regulators and stakeholders.

We act as lead counsel or co-counsel in agency challenges, at times representing coalitions and trade associations of like-minded members of the regulated community to minimize the cost and attention for any one business in these federal, state and local agency challenges. 

Our team also successfully defends against agency actions.  Public land rights-of-way, air and water quality permits, solid and hazardous waste facility permits, and other environmental, natural resource and land use entitlements are essential authorizations for businesses to obtain in a timely fashion and with practical implementation obligations.  Some activities cannot avoid challenge from local or national environmental groups, neighborhood groups, or project competitors. That’s why we strategically and proactively develop an administrative record to withstand challenge and litigation, and if an appeal is initiated, we focus on minimizing delays and ensuring the ultimate obligations are reasonable.

Our enforcement defense team responds when civil cases are threatened or initiated by regulatory agencies or citizens’ groups, or when criminal investigations and charges are threatened or alleged  involving spills, hazardous substance releases and reporting, air quality, water quality, waste handling, and compliance with species protection programs. Our success in enforcement defense is rooted in the combination of our substantive knowledge, litigation experience, prior agency enforcement experience, constructive working relationships with government attorneys, and familiarity with the enforcement process. 

While our environmental litigators are well known to the courts and prosecutors in the jurisdictions where our team members are based, our litigation capabilities are nationally recognized, and we have  resources to litigate effectively in any venue.

Matters
  • Represented the City and developer in CEQA litigation that established a California state-wide precedent regarding the appropriate legal standard of review applied to a government agency’s identification of historic resources.
  • Represent the City in defense of a CEQA lawsuit challenging the 2015 adoption of the City's 2035 General Plan.
  • Successfully defended the City of Sacramento and its former Redevelopment Agency in CEQA challenges to a large-scale, mixed-use redevelopment project at the former Railyards site in downtown Sacramento. The Railyards has been touted as the single largest undeveloped urban infill site in the western United States.
  • Successfully represented the County of Colusa in joint defense of the County and a private landowner, the Adams Trucking Group, in litigation under CEQA challenging the subdivision of land by Adams. The reported decision upheld all of the County’s environmental determinations, save one.
  • Represent the Northwest River Partners — a coalition of more than 100 companies, public and private power interests and utilities, public and private ports, and agricultural and other industrial and commercial interests (in the four-state region encompassed by the Columbia River) — in environmental litigation led by Earth Justice on behalf of a number of environmental groups, the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe. The litigation involves the ongoing operation of the federal Columbia River Power System and its effect on ESA-listed species of salmonids and steelhead.
  • Served as counsel to the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute in a successful challenge to the listing of Arctic ringed seal stocks as “threatened” under the ESA. The court ruled that NMFS made an arbitrary and capricious decision when it issued a rule listing the Arctic ringed seal as “threatened” because the rule was based on speculation regarding future climate change effects, and the listing decision demonstrated no serious threat to the Arctic ringed seal population prior to 2090.
  • Successfully represented ConocoPhillips in litigation challenging compliance with the CWA and NEPA by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in approving a CWA 404 permit for ConocoPhillips’ CD5 project. The CD5 project is the first oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. In this federal district court litigation, one plaintiff (the Center for Biological Diversity) was dismissed for lack of standing, while the efforts of the other plaintiff to obtain a preliminary injunction were denied and their merits claims ultimately dismissed.
  • Represent Pacific Northwest Waterways Association in litigation concerning the Corps of Engineers’ maintenance dredge of the lower Snake River, home to the lower Snake River hydroelectric power facilities and dams. Earth Justice, on behalf of a number of environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe, brought an unsuccessful motion to enjoin the dredging under the ESA, CWA and NEPA. The court denied the injunction and allowed completion of the work.
  • Millennium Bulk Terminals Longview (MBTL) is attempting to convert a former aluminum plant and 400+ acre brownfield site on the Columbia River into the first major coal export facility on the West Coast. We are advising MBTL on permitting, citizen suits, environmental analysis, appeals and site cleanup work related to the redevelopment. Multiple federal and state agencies, community stakeholders, and local officials are involved in permitting, compliance and finalizing site cleanup requirements.
  • Represent the Northwest River Partners in a challenge brought by the Audubon Society of Portland under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and NEPA challenging the Corps of Engineers’ decision to cull cormorants in order to save juvenile salmon upon which cormorants prey. The District of Oregon denied the Audubon Society’s motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the bird management program.
  • Represent two subsidiaries of Shell Oil Company as plaintiffs in litigation against Greenpeace USA to protect Shell’s 2015 Arctic exploration activities and vessels on U.S. Outer Continental Shelf leases in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. We obtained a temporary restraining order and a subsequent preliminary injunction against Greenpeace USA enjoining intentional tortious and illegal actions intended to prevent or delay Shell’s activities. The rulings were upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Successfully defended challenges to an incidental take regulation issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act by the USFWS that addressed the potential incidental take of Pacific walrus and polar bears associated with Arctic oil and gas operations.
  • Represent the Hawaii Longline Association as a Defendant-Intervener in pending litigation in the U.S. District Court for Hawaii involving a challenge to a NMFS final rule establishing regulations governing the international management of bigeye tuna stocks. The case involves complex international issues as well as domestic legal issues arising under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Summary judgment briefing is currently underway and a hearing on motions for summary judgment is pending.
Team
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