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Environmental emergencies, such as oil or chemical spills, accidental leaks, fires, and train derailments, can have significant impacts on the environment, the local community, and our clients' business. Most emergencies occur as a result of operational malfunctions or natural disasters such as hurricanes and other weather-related events; some are preventable and some are not.

In all circumstances, whatever the cause of the environmental emergency, prompt and appropriate action is required not only to mitigate the potential environmental impacts, but also to enable the entities involved to avoid potentially significant penalties for the violations of environmental laws that may have occurred as a result of the emergency. The best way to limit the environmental impacts and associated liabilities from environmental emergencies is to have in place comprehensive environmental response plans that are updated and tested through periodic practice drills.

MGKF has assisted clients, ranging from Fortune 100 companies to smaller businesses, in preparing emergency response plans required under federal and state environmental laws and in responding to environmental emergencies. In addition, built upon the common objective of immediate and effective response actions, we provide counsel, in some cases at the scene of the incident, to assist clients with the variety of tasks required as part of an effective response to an environmental emergency. Among the issues we have addressed under these circumstances include agency and public notice requirements; response obligations under applicable statues, regulations, and ordinances; and coordinating the data collection process. In all instances, our legal advice takes account of the potential for future litigation as a result of the emergency, which is a likely outcome, no matter how responsive the client's actions, where the emergency gives rise to substantial impacts to the environment and the public.

In the midst of an emergency response, decisiveness and clear thinking are essential as important decisions, both substantive and strategic, must be made quickly. Our multidisciplinary team, combining the experience of our attorneys with our in-house technical consultants, is an important asset in quickly bringing to bear the combination of technical, scientific, legal, and strategic disciplines that are necessary to provide on-scene assistance and coordination in these fast-paced matters.

In addition to interfacing with federal, state, and local agencies to present the relevant incident information with sensitivity to the client's legal obligations, we also have provided guidance and counsel related to public relations, post-incident investigation, and financial mitigation. When needed, our firm collaborates with an extensive network of environmental consultants and first responders experienced in the fields of emergency response, site remediation, and ecological monitoring.

Photo ©2013 Avi Loren Fox Photography

Representative emergency planning and response matters in which MGKF has assisted clients include the following:

  • We have represented refineries on numerous occasions in response to release events. In these matters, we have counseled them with respect to release reporting requirements, modeling of emission impacts, emergency response, and interactions with state and federal officials. We also have participated in their "command centers" to assist in guiding the emergency response efforts.
  • MGKF has assisted clients both at the scene and in all facets of follow-up actions arising out of train derailments, including both minor and very significant incidents. In addition to the environmental regulatory agencies typically involved in matters of this sort, industry-specific authorities also must be satisfied that the emergency response was properly handled. We also represented the companies in litigation arising out of these incidents.
  • The firm has counseled clients regarding the remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls ("PCBs") and PCBs in several buildings affected by major fires. These incidents involve dealing with the municipality in which the buildings are located, and also with state and federal agencies.
  • We were consulted in connection with liability and potential insurance coverage issues associated with a building contaminated by anthrax. This matter also involved providing input on the appropriate decontamination methods and procedures. This highly sensitive matter, by its very nature, also involved significant interface with the regulators and the public.

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