Environmental Law 101: Been There, Done That, From the Beginning.

Life sometimes just happens. I was lucky. I always wanted to be a lawyer. I didn’t know what lawyering was about or what lawyers did, but my grandfather was a lawyer and, even though I never knew him, I have his DNA.

When I attended law school at the University of Wisconsin, I learned about civil procedure, contract law, evidence, the Uniform Commercial Code and other electrifying subjects. Environmental law was not on the curriculum. I also worked in the office of Warren Knowles, a conservation minded Republican who loved to hunt and fish.

I graduated in 1968, spent two years in the Peace Corps and, when I returned, the environmental era had burst onto the scene with the occurrence of Earth Day, the enactment of the Clean Air Act and the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act. Today there are more than three dozen environmental and natural resource laws. Back then, however, there were just a few laws–and no lawyers that knew anything about them. As lawyers, we were all equally ignorant. But, again, I was lucky. I got retained by the Wisconsin Paper Council (the trade association representing the paper industry, the largest employer in the state) and the Wisconsin Manufacturers Association (the umbrella trade association for business in general). Pretty soon I had helped negotiate more than 20 state environmental laws and rules. Based on fate, and a love for nature and politics, I got in on the ground floor and rode the elevator to the top.

This blog will detail my 40 year journey as an environmental lawyer–first in Wisconsin and then, as a result of a health disability, in Arizona. I’ve been on countless state panels in Wisconsin and Arizona; and I’ve been on national panels created by the US Environmental Protection Agency and by the Centers for Disease Control. I’ve spoken at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Having worked in a Governor’s Office while in law school, I got to travel with the Governor of our state from the time I was 20 years of age. I got to work with the Legislature as a law student and with future political leaders like Dick Cheney (who was a co-worker in the Governor’s Office) and Tommy Thompson (who was just starting his legislative career). I got to see the likes of Mel Laird, Gaylord Nelson and Hubert Humphrey come through the office on official business. In practice, I got to negotiate projects, permits, laws and enforcement settlements with state and federal regulators and prosecutors; Native American communities; local, state and federal governments; and endless environmental groups and activists.

As I said, I’ve been lucky and one purpose of Environmental Law 101 is to share my experiences. Another is to share my thoughts on how the “regulated community” should deal with the complex environmental problems they may come to face. I’m going to explain what I’ve learned–how to make dealing with regulators, prosecutors and adversaries more of a science and less of an art. I’m going to explain a process to avoid (or extract yourself from) legal, technical or regulatory “messes” you encounter through a three step process of defining objectives, thinking strategically and focusing on outcomes. And, along the way, if you think I can help you, please contact me. If you have a small problem, you don’t need me; if you have a big problem, you will want me.

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