Everything You Need to Know About Environmental Law

What Is An Environmental Attorney?

An environmental attorney works with the federal and state government to make sure that your business is adhering by all of the environmental regulations. Environmental attorneys ensure that you conduct the proper studies on areas of land you’re looking at for development, and can be useful for anything environmentally-related.


When Do I Need An Environmental Attorney?

There are a multitude of cases where you should consider hiring an environmental lawyer. Essentially, any case that affects the air, soil, or water is likely to be handled by an environmental lawyer. Other cases could include work involving clean technology, animal rights cases, or lawsuits related to personal injury due to pollution. More specific cases where you may need an environmental attorney are: you want to construct a building on a piece of property, your business has created some sort of pollution outside of normalcy, you intend to consume massive amounts of water (i.e. for a water park or irrigation), your business will somehow affect soil, water, or air quality, or if you need to dispose of toxic waste.


What Can I Do If I Think That A Company Is Causing Environmental Harm?

There are several federal environmental statutes that allow an individual to bring a “citizen suit” against the company and force them to clean up the environmental contamination. Some of these statutes include: the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), and the comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act (CERCLA) to name a few.


What Kind Of Claims Could Be Brought To Court Against The Perpetrators?

There are a few different types of lawsuits that you could bring to court for environmental issues:

-Nuisance: A nuisance claim is based on the unreasonable interference, or loss of use/enjoyment of your property due to the actions of a nearby landowner. An example of this would be if a large, extremely smelly pig farm moving in right next to a residential area. If the smell is so protrusive that the homeowners in the residential area are unable to enjoy their land, then a nuisance case could be brought to court.

-Trespass: A trespass claim is based on the physical invasion or contamination of a person’s property. An example of this would be if your neighbor threw their trash onto your lawn, or if a new factory contaminated a drinking water well on your property.

-Strict liability: A strict liability claim is based on the usage of hazardous materials by a neighboring party. For example, if your neighbor uses a hazardous chemical on their lawn (one that is not commercial sold) you could have a strict liability case.

-Negligence: A negligence claim is based on the fact that one party acted, or failed to act in a manner that caused harm. For instance, if someone did not take the proper precautions while handling hazardous materials, and this negligence resulted in contamination, then you could file a claim with the courts. It should be noted that negligence is only enforceable if the defendant used the contaminant in a way that falls below the standard of what a reasonable person  would have done under similar circumstances.


What Are Some Outcomes That I Could See From The Case?

The penalties against the defendant differ greatly depending on who the defendant is and what their financial resources are. It is often declared that pollutants must be removed through a remediation program (where contaminants are removed until the soil or groundwater reaches what is considered safe levels by the overseeing governmental environmental agencies). The courts may also declare that the landowner must pay for damages resulting from the contamination.


How Long Does An Environmental Law Action Take Typically?

Environmental law cases usually involve complex legal and scientific issues, and thus can take several years to move through the courts. Many times, experts in several fields are required to investigate and write reports on claims, which can prolong the legal process.

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Revised: Feb. 11, 2016, 7:26 p.m.
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