Ward and Smith, P.A.'s Environmental Practice Group attorneys help individuals, businesses, and local governments achieve compliance with applicable environmental laws, leading to a safer and cleaner environment. Achieving those goals requires both an awareness of the environmental effects of human activities and compliance with a variety of local, state, and national environmental laws and regulations.
North Carolina has comprehensive and stringent environmental laws and regulations. In many cases, these laws and regulations complement and reinforce existing federal environmental laws; in other cases, North Carolina has more stringent requirements. Detailed laws and regulations govern the disposal of hazardous and solid waste, handling and storage of chemicals, wastewater discharges from industrial and municipal facilities, air emissions from vehicles and manufacturing plants, leaks from commercial gasoline and home heating oil tanks, management of animal waste, discharge of stormwater runoff, land development, impacts on wetlands, and virtually every other aspect of human activity. Among the laws most frequently encountered are these:
- Federal Clean Air Act
- Federal Clean Water Act (includes stormwater and wetlands)
- Federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA/Superfund) and corresponding state act
- Federal Solid Waste Disposal Act and corresponding state act
- State Animal Operations Act
- State Brownfields Redevelopment Act
- State Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA)
- State Oil Pollution and Hazardous Substances Control Act
- State Water and Air Resources Act
We serve environmental clients in three major areas. The first is permitting and regulatory counseling. Our attorneys guide clients through identifying applicable regulations and permit requirements, complying with new regulations and policies, reporting environmental releases , assessing potential environmental liability, responding to enforcement actions, dealing with zoning and land use regulations, gaining adoption of environmental legislation, and obtaining permits for facilities of all types, such as steel mills, manufacturing plants, farm operations, bulk cargo port facilities, residential developments, marinas, hotels, food processing plants, waste incinerators, and numerous other developments. In addition, with the increase in residential and commercial development in eastern North Carolina on the coastal shorelines, our environmental attorneys regularly counsel clients on CAMA permitting matters affecting the use and enjoyment of water-front property.
A major industrial corporation needed attorneys specifically skilled in environmental permitting for its new facilities in North Carolina. Ward and Smith worked with the corporate counsel of the company to prepare supporting documentation for the various permits, including an extensive Environmental Assessment Report describing the likely impact of the facilities. We represented the client before regulatory officials throughout the process to resolve issues. The client obtained all necessary permits and approvals and began construction and operation of the facilities on schedule.
The second area in which we serve clients is environmental litigation. We represent clients in cases to determine property contamination liability, resolve environmental disputes, litigate clients' rights regarding the environment, and pursue administrative litigation to appeal permit decisions, respond to unfavorable regulatory actions, and defend against agency and citizen suit enforcement actions.
A group of citizens challenged the stormwater and CAMA permits issued by the state for a 57-lot low density residential development on the Outer Banks, claiming runoff from the project would pollute coastal waters and construction would impact coastal wetlands. Ward and Smith attorneys represented the client in defending against such claims and demonstrating in both administrative and civil courts that the project would have no adverse environmental effects. Ultimately, the validity of both permits was upheld.
The third area in which we serve clients is business and commercial real estate transactions. Our attorneys handle sales and purchases of companies, company assets, and real property, and we devise practical solutions to environmental problems. Today, virtually every business or real estate transaction includes environmental issues; we help identify what environmental liabilities exist and counsel clients on how risks can best be minimized and allocated among the parties.
A large wood products company needed to build bulk cargo facilities at a state port on an expedited basis in order to handle 400,000 tons of wood chips annually. The only available location was an old bulk tank farm, with substantial soil and groundwater contamination. Our attorneys planned the project by obtaining approval from the State Ports Authority, coordinating the construction and testing work, and obtaining all environmental and development approvals and permits, including one under CAMA. The facilities were operational within the seven-month deadline, and all necessary environmental monitoring and cleanup was implemented in a cost-effective manner.
Environmental Practice Group attorneys of Ward and Smith are experienced environmental professionals. We know the many environmental requirements and agency "vest pocket policies" facing clients. We know the regulators, citizens' groups, consultants, and other professionals involved in environmental issues, and we deal with all state and federal regulatory agencies. Our clients, whether plaintiffs or defendants, include banks, businesses, developers, educational institutions, farmers, hospitals, individuals, landowners, major industries, small-business owners, state and local governments, and trade organizations.
Our attorneys develop environmental management systems—plans to help companies address environmental issues in day-to-day operations and to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. We are well equipped to challenge local ordinances, regulations, and state laws to test their legal sufficiency when necessary.
Not only do Environmental Practice Group attorneys use their substantial knowledge and experience in environmental law, but they also draw upon the skills of attorneys in other practice groups to meet clients' needs. The interaction between the groups enhances Ward and Smith's ability to serve clients.
The regional reach of Ward and Smith, our skills in environmental matters, and our proximity to clients results in referrals from attorneys outside the Firm who are prevented from serving clients because of conflicts of interest. Because only two to three dozen full‑time environmental attorneys practice in North Carolina, our attorneys often are called upon to assist other law firms that do not possess such special capabilities.
A law firm in Charlotte that represented a major steel company sought the services of Ward and Smith for obtaining the necessary environmental permits for a new metal recycling facility in northeastern North Carolina because Ward and Smith knew the regional environmental regulators and had offices nearer to the plant.
The attorneys of the Environmental Practice Group go beyond the usual services by providing clients with news, through newsletters and bulletins, about recent developments in environmental law or personnel changes at regulatory agencies. The attorneys are on-call 24 hours a day to assist clients who face immediate environmental issues. In fact, we make a point of visiting new clients' facilities and meeting clients at sites at the heart of their environmental concerns.