Companies faced with an environmental enforcement matter may be uncertain whether the inspectors are focused on criminal, civil or administrative enforcement, or all of the above. Increasingly, local, state and federal environmental agencies and prosecuting authorities such as state attorneys general and district attorneys are working in networked task forces giving them multiple jurisdictions and avenues to prosecute environmental violations. The failure of a company to recognize when a routine regulatory investigation has turned criminal can lead to far-reaching and severe consequences for both the company and any individuals that may be the subject of the criminal probe.
Alston & Bird’s internal investigation and environmental defense team brings the perspective needed to address the evolving and multifaceted nature of simultaneous administrative, civil and criminal investigations and enforcement proceedings. Because our team is built around former federal prosecutors, district attorneys and environmental regulatory attorneys, we can readily analyze environmental violations to determine the agency’s focus and guide our client’s response. In some instances, such as a refinery explosion, the likelihood of joint civil and criminal investigations is so great that we advise clients to anticipate both from the onset. In other cases, such as with permit exceedances, the agency’s focus may remain administrative or civil well into the investigation. Each case requires a different approach when interacting with regulatory agencies.
While we pride ourselves on being formidable advocates and trial attorneys, our greatest successes are our least publicized ones—those in which the civil or criminal investigation is never commenced, or where it is terminated without any charges being brought.
With over 120 years of combined federal and state environmental and prosecutorial experience, we speak the language of environmental regulators and prosecutors. Our team includes a wide range of experienced industry experts:
- a former assistant chief of the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section;
- the former director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, who was also deputy secretary for law enforcement and general counsel of the California Environmental Protection Agency;
- the former EPA deputy regional administrator (Region IV), immediate past chair of the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) and SEER delegate to the ABA House of Delegates;
- A former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina;
- The chair of the ABA Environmental Enforcement and Crimes Committee; and
- A former member of the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Enforcement Section.
The depth of our subject matter experience and environmental regulatory expertise enables us to conduct effective internal investigations and present the facts in a thorough and credible manner that garners the government’s respect. This often bridges the gap between our clients and the authorities.