When should you call your environmental lawyer? Some reasons are obvious: when you get sued or to review the environmental provisions of a contract, for example.
But here’s another good reason, based on a recent project I worked on: Environmental attorneys can provide oversight of your environmental consultant and be the “bad cop” with the government agency.
I have many friends who are environmental consultants. They do great work but are sometimes reluctant to take an adversarial stance with the government agency or offer cleanup alternatives that are contrary to the agency’s recommendation. Consultants work almost daily with the government agency project managers and want to stay on good terms with them.
But, sometimes, a bit of toughness is required. And that’s where your lawyer can come in handy. Nobody expects us to be nice.
Recently, I worked on a project where the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) wanted my client to install additional monitoring wells and conduct more sampling to prove that the contamination was sufficiently low to close the file.
I didn’t support their reasoning. There were other businesses nearby with similar contamination, so how would we ensure that we weren’t detecting their contamination? Moreover, TCEQ had granted closure on those similar properties in the neighborhood with higher contamination levels than my client’s.
Our consultant wanted to propose some limited sampling to satisfy TCEQ, but I wanted to push back and say the data were sufficient to support closure. I found TCEQ guidance to back me up and, after a few emails and letters, TCEQ finally agreed with me and closed the file.
Nobody likes to spend money on lawyers, but spending a few hours of my time cost significantly less than installing the additional wells requested.
Attorneys are ethically obligated to act in their client’s best interest, and sometimes that means playing Bad Cop. I’m not saying that consultants are not similarly ethically obligated, but sometimes they are hesitant to push back to a project manager they deal with on a regular basis.
Bringing in a lawyer to play hardball lets the consultants maintain the camaraderie they need to do their jobs without sacrificing the client’s goals or needs.