The immediate consequences of a major environmental incident require an emergency legal response to rapidly perform an initial site and incident assessment, take steps to prevent spoliation of evidence to the extent possible, record witness statements, and interface with government responders. A core group of legal professionals is then responsible for coordinating and overseeing the multiple, simultaneous related proceedings that can be expected from an environmental crisis—including internal investigatory work, criminal defense, state and federal litigation involving mass torts and class actions, related securities and insurance coverage litigation, and government agency and congressional investigation response.
Morgan Lewis has an established environmental crisis practice that includes a rapid-response environmental crisis team to provide clients with swift and critical guidance in environmental emergencies that threaten the environment, employees, or public health. We regularly assist clients in managing relations with the many US federal agencies that may be involved in responding to a crisis, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, Coast Guard, and other law enforcement agencies and their state and local counterparts; international environmental organizations; and nongovernmental citizen groups.
To manage the long-term impact of a crisis, we coordinate a team of lawyers with broad backgrounds in environmental regulation and government enforcement, natural resource damage and assessment, worker safety and health, toxic tort defense, criminal defense, insurance recovery, commercial litigation, congressional investigations, and press relations to limit adverse consequences—such as employee injury or toxic tort claims, or difficulty in recovering insurance assets—and ensure that clients receive integrated legal advice to help manage the multifaceted legal risks that accompany an environmental crisis.
While each incident requires its own specific solutions, we have often organized post-incident investigations to both identify accident causes and assist in drafting response plans for government review and approval. Such demonstrations of good faith have persuaded officials to either suspend or lessen penalties. Our background in handling crises and in working with government agencies and responding to civil environmental litigation lends us critical insight into the best, most effective risk-avoidance and crisis-management strategies.