Frequently Asked Questions - Environmental Law

What exactly is environmental law?

Environmental laws include federal, state and local laws and regulations that are designed to protect the environment and public health. Businesses who handle hazardous wastes, emit pollutants to the air and water, and who store petroleum and other substances in tanks all are subject to environmental statutes and regulations. In many cases to open a new operation, a business may be required to obtain environmental permits. Once a business is operating, it needs to maintain compliance with permit terms, laws and regulations that apply to those operations. Environmental lawyers advise businesses on their compliance obligations, assess liability in business and real estate transactions and represent parties in Court and before administrative agencies in permitting and enforcement matters. For further information as to how environmental laws affect businesses, please see the Attorney Tab at Federal Regulations That Affect Businesses and Regulated Parties below.

When should an environmental law attorney be hired?

When should an environmental law attorney be hired?

If your business has been inspected or has received a notice from the federal, state and local environmental agencies you should consider retaining an environmental lawyer. Environmental laws are complex, vary from state-to-state, and require extensive knowledge and expertise to navigate. The lawyers at Hessian & McKasy's work with businesses and their counsel to address environmental liability concerns. We represent businesses ranging in size from Fortune 500 companies to medium and small businesses. We provide advice as to environmental conditions that exist on property and investigation and cleanup of those conditions. To avoid or minimize liability, property needs to be assessed to ensure that liability concerns have been properly addressed. Parties who purchase industrial or commercial property without conducting due diligence may be liable for existing contamination. It is prudent to address concerns prior to purchasing the property. For additional information on the types of environmental law matters we assist with, please see the descriptions on the Practice Area Tab.

What type of cases can you NOT handle?

We primarily represent businesses. We also represent units of local government who face compliance, permitting and related issues. In most cases we do not represent individual property owners, employees or other persons who may have environmental claims. We do not handle cases where individuals have been exposed to chemicals in their workplace or through consumption of contaminated groundwater in a residential setting.

How do I respond to an administrative order?

Federal and state environmental agencies have broad authority to issue administrative orders, including administrative penalty orders (APOs), to address noncompliance with environmental laws, regulations and permit terms. We assist clients in responding to government notices of alleged violation, inspections and requests for information (RFIs). Federal and state agencies use information they have gathered with these processes to allege violations and seek administrative or civil penalties. In most cases regulated parties have a right to a hearing where they can contest government findings and seek review of administrative orders including administrative penalty orders (APOs). In Minnesota, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) resolves the vast majority of alleged environmental violations through APOs where the maximum penalty that may be assessed is $20,000. For more serious or repeat violations, the MPCA may seek higher civil penalties through negotiated settlements know as Stipulation Agreements. If your company is subject to an inspection, an administrative order or administrative penalty order, consider contacting the attorneys at Hessian & McKasy's. We can explain the administrative or civil process and assist in resolution of the matter.

When is an environmental assessment required?

When a buyer purchases industrial or commercial real estate, it is important to understand the environmental condition of the property. Purchasers of property can be liable for the investigation and cleanup of underlying environmental conditions id they do not conduct proper due diligence. Often environmental problems lie hidden in or on land or under a building and cannot be observed. A former property owner may have used tanks to store chemicals or petroleum. Chemicals may have spilled or been discharged into soils. Neighboring properties such as gas stations, dry cleaners or other industrial operations may be a source of groundwater or soil vapor contamination. An environmental consultant can assess the condition of a property by conducting an environmental assessment. Conducting a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (Phase I) is now considered standard industry practice and is used as a means to limit liability. A Phase I report contains a review of regulatory records, past use and history of the property, neighboring properties of concern, an interview of key employees relating to environmental concerns that may be present, a site visit or walkover and other investigative elements. If a Phase I or environmental assessment reveals issues - known as recognized environmental conditions (RECs) - further investigation of underlying conditions may be recommended. At the Hessian & McKasy Environmental Practice Group we are involved with ordering environmental assessments, review and analysis of Phase I reports, issuance of environmental risk assessment letters and directing follow-up work that may be required to limit a party's liability and proceed with a property transaction.

Where are you qualified to provide services?

The attorneys at Hessian & McKasy, PA primarily serve clients in Minnesota and other states in the Upper Midwest. We also work on matters across the country in different jurisdictions. We are often asked to assist corporate or in house counsel or other attorneys to assist and advise on environmental matters. We assist clients in responding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") on permitting, enforcement and regulatory matters and before state and local environmental agencies. We appear before administrative agencies in Minnesota including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency ("MPCA") and in many states. We are admitted to practice in Minnesota and federal courts.