Categorized | Tulsa News

New regulations emphasize importance of environmental law

When it comes to environmental regulation, there are the free market purists who will always say government is doing too much, the off-the-grid, carbon-neutral crowd that will always say the government isn’t doing enough, and a slew of confusing — and sometimes conflicting — local, state and federal agencies caught in the middle.

All of which creates the need for a group of ultra-specialized lawyers to sort it all out. Enter Tulsa-based law firm Hall Estill.

The firm, which has operated a Tulsa office since 1967 and employs more than 80 attorneys here, and is also a sponsor of the Tulsa Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, founded its environmental law practice in late 1970s following the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and passage of amendments to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, among others.

Since then, the group has made a name for itself, organizing and counseling potentially responsible parties at Oklahoma Superfund sites, as well as handling Superfund actions in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas and Washington.

Now, with the current administration imposing a new group of strict regulations on business, that expertise has become more valuable than ever.

“Environmental law is a hard area to write or talk about if you aren’t involved in it day-to-day,” said Garry Keele, a shareholder with Hall Estill and part of its environmental law section. “The reason all of these agencies even developed was in response to the extraordinarily complex and specific nature of the regulations.”

Keele is more qualified than most to speak about the complexity of government regulation — he worked for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality for 10 years before going into private practice. Keele is also moderating a panel on new Clean Air Act regulations at the American Bar Association energy and resources conference, scheduled for June 14 and 15 in Dallas.

One particularly hot issue pertaining to the new regulations is the issue of state versus federal authority.

“They’re having a very public feud right now in Texas between the EPA and the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality,” he said. “Traditionally, permitting has been a state function, but the feds have still had final oversight. Now the EPA is calling into question the adequacy of the state’s permitting process, and the question has become: Will the EPA now write the air permit for Texas instead of the TCEQ?”

Another area of concern is the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.

“Part of NESHAP requires specific things of various industry sources and segments, and there is a fair amount of regulation there,” Keele said. “I think (the new rules) will hit the natural gas industry particularly hard because of the amount of compressor engines that are stationed along a pipeline to transport product or to drive drilling.”

Greenhouse gas controls will be another issue important to Oklahoma industry.

Keele said as more regulatory legislation like the Clean Air Act is passed, environmental law will likely grow as a sector, including at Hall Estill.

“We will certainly apply resources as our clients see fit, and I would

like to think that we will be growing,” he said.

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44 Responses to “New regulations emphasize importance of environmental law”

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