Skip to content

Environmental and Natural Resources

Varnum helps clients move forward with plans and projects by resolving complex environmental compliance issues at the federal, state and local level

We have developed deep experience in representing clients in judicial and administrative environmental enforcement proceedings at the federal, state and local levels – including alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Our focus on regulatory compliance and problem avoidance emphasizes early planning and preventive action. Our proactive approach to complex regulatory schemes includes:

  • Educating clients on the scope and consequences of environmental regulations
  • Counseling clients on minimizing environmental liabilities in commercial and real estate transactions
  • Advising clients on the environmental impacts of their current and future operations

Our environmental experience includes:

  • Air quality (including mold and asbestos)
  • Land use permitting, due diligence and real estate development
  • Regulatory compliance (including audits and ISO 14001)
  • Waste management (including generators and landfill operators)
  • Water law (including National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting, stormwater and groundwater)
  • Environmental litigation (including toxic torts) and administrative enforcement

As a Varnum client, you have access to attorneys with engineering, technical and science backgrounds – as well as Varnum’s extensive network of engineering and science consultants – for timely advice within environmental technical disciplines and for expert witness testimony. Our team members are recognized by industry publications as professional sources on environmental matters and trending issues. In addition, clients are able to draw upon Varnum’s full-service legal offerings in related areas, such as real estate, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, energy, oil and gas, insurance coverage, criminal defense, and bankruptcy law.

With one of the largest environmental law practices in the Great Lakes region, Varnum’s Environmental and Natural Resources Practice Team provides unprecedented value by assisting clients in effectively planning for and responding to all types of environmental challenges and situations.

Air Quality

Varnum attorneys have addressed a variety of air quality issues for clients, including:

  • Acquisition of air emission permits for construction, modification, renovation and operation of industrial and municipal sources, including Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD), New Source Review and Title V/Renewable Operating Permitting
  • Defense of federal and state Clean Air Act administrative and judicial enforcement proceedings
  • Counseling on air emissions compliance issues, including National Security Personnel System, National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, Maximum Achievable Control Technology, New Source Review, PSD, Reasonably Available Control Technology and emission credit trading, as well as record-keeping and reporting requirements
  • Indoor air quality and OSHA concerns of employers/operators
  • Expedited negotiation of air quality consent judgment for million-dollar asset purchase
  • Defense and favorable resolution of air emission exceedance and permit violation claims against plastic parts coating operation
  • Avoidance of penalties and extension of air pollution control equipment installation by court order for automotive parts supplier
  • Power plant air emissions monitoring and exceedance reporting enforcement legal counsel
  • Counseling on air quality regulatory requirements for due diligence efforts of buyers and sellers
  • Assessment of strategic air quality compliance issues in Greenfield developments and facility expansions
  • Printing company installation of exempt equipment and facility-wide air use permit negotiation

Environmental Litigation

Over the years, Varnum’s Environmental Litigation Team has developed deep experience in representing clients in judicial and administrative environmental enforcement proceedings at the federal, state and local levels. We regularly defend clients faced with environmental litigation and administrative actions brought by government agencies. In addition, we represent clients in matters such as private-party cost recovery,  contribution and toxic tort claims. Clients value our experience and results.

Our environmental attorneys have handled environmental litigation and related matters throughout the country and are admitted to practice before many courts, including Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Wisconsin, U.S. Appeals 3rd, 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th Circuits and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Environmental Litigation Team is also supported by Varnum’s Environmental and Natural Resources Practice Team, which includes attorneys with engineering, technical and science backgrounds to guide clients through complex regulatory schemes. In addition, we have cultivated a network of engineering and science consultants who can be relied upon for timely expertise and advice on environmental technical disciplines, as well as expert witness testimony.

Mining, Mineral Development and Mineral Exploration

Varnum attorneys have worked on mine and mineral development and exploration throughout the United States. We are experienced with environmental permitting and review issues at federal, state and local levels, and we have handled a broad range of other legal matters, including:

  • Exploration and mine development access issues
  • Due diligence for documentation and management of historical contamination
  • Land use and other local permits
  • State permits and authorizations for air emissions, wastewater discharges, development affecting wetlands, facility siting, stormwater discharges and waste disposal
  • Mine permitting for metals, coal and nonmetallic minerals development
  • Environmental permitting for ancillary facilities and processes, including underground injection control
  • Reviews and assessments for implementing federal and state environmental impact investigation and analysis requirements (e.g., National Environmental Policy Act and parallel state requirements)
  • Natural resources damages and citizens’ suits defense
Mining Development and Exploration

In addition to our regulatory experience, we have experience in other areas related to mining development and exploration, including:

  • Power and fuel contracting and sales matters
  • Labor and employment law issues
  • Real estate, zoning/land use and tax aspects
  • Native American lands matters
  • Public relations and community relations communications
  • Economic development assistance and tax abatement matters
  • Construction contracts and agreements
  • Legislative and policy analysis
  • Health and safety regulatory matters
  • Oil and gas regulatory matters
Sand, Gravel and Limestone

Our representation in sand, gravel and limestone mining cases includes:

  • Obtaining zoning and regulatory approvals for mining operations
  • Successfully resolving intervenor challenges to zoning and regulatory approvals
  • Litigating constitutional takings and due process claims related to zoning and regulatory matters
  • Litigating of hauling issues

We work with a range of experts concerning particulate control, traffic, land use planning and impact of mining operations on surrounding properties.

Regulatory Compliance

Understanding the rules and regulations is key to the success of any environmental issue. At Varnum, we have represented clients on many regulatory compliance issues and cases, including:

  • Compliance audits, legal counsel and assistance with ISO 14000 Environmental Management Systems legal issues, registration, and auditing
  • Environmental sustainability, legal issues and counseling
  • Representation of municipalities as general and special counsel for environmental regulatory and enforcement matters, including landfill liabilities and industrial pretreatment programs
  • Representation on underground storage tank (UST) regulatory compliance and removal and remediation of leaking USTs
  • Preparation of technical and support documents for environmental impact reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act
  • Response to client concerns in federal and state agency environmental rule-making
  • Environmental record-keeping, retention/destruction policies and document management/control
  • Guidance to clients concerning employee and community hazardous chemical “right-to-know” laws, including, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act Title III
  • Counsel regarding compliance with polychlorinated biphenyls, lead paint and asbestos regulations; spill reporting; and remedial solutions
  • Michigan Underground Storage Tank Financial Assurance (MUSTFA) reimbursement denials appealed successfully with UST corrective costs paid to clients from State Fund
  • Advice on air, waste and water permitting developments for industry and local government, including underground injection control permitting
  • Environmental justice considerations for permitting and development

Waste Management

Many clients have turned to Varnum’s environmental attorneys for assistance in waste management legal issues, including:

  • Acquired state and local solid waste disposal construction and operation permits.
  • Counseled concerning landfill siting, licensing, license renewal and closure, under both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Michigan’s Act 641/Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act Part 115.
  • Prepared hazardous waste permit applications, closure plans, post-closure plans, financial assurance materials and other regulatory compliance steps, under both the RCRA and state laws.
  • Counseled on waste-to-energy, recycling and reuse options.
  • Defended U.S. EPA civil penalty litigation for treatment, storage and disposal facility (T/S/DF) permitting and financial responsibility violations; accomplishments of “clean” closure of surface impoundments.
  • Represented manufacturers in RCRA proceedings with Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio, corrective action strategies (including Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Baseline) and response to visual site inspection/preliminary assessment.
  • Defended Michigan automotive parts manufacturer in state administrative civil penalty action for generator waste management violations; T/S/DF violations and penalties withdrawn based on wastewater treatment system exemption.
  • Defended U.S. EPA Region 6 enforcement proceedings, coordinated RCRA facility investigation and corrective measures study, closure under New Mexico law and corrective action, and pursued Engineers India Limited insurance coverage.
  • Represented various foundries regarding closure of surface impoundments and waste pile units, corrective action, and inspection assessment response strategies.
  • Defended State DEQ litigation claim of penalties for waste manifesting system violations, inadequate closure and spill reporting, as well as corrective action.
  • Challenged listed hazardous waste exclusion denial in District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

Water Law

The attorneys on Varnum’s Water Law Team focus on assisting clients in successfully navigating the complicated array of state, federal and regional water laws, regulations and agreements in order to meet the client’s objectives. Our attorneys work with clients in a number of sectors and on a range of Michigan and Great Lakes water issues. We are experienced in working with both state and federal agencies on local and Great Lakes issues, including the U.S. EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard, among others.

Below is a sampling of some sectors we have represented and examples of work we have done on behalf of clients in those sectors. In addition, our water law attorneys participate on behalf of clients in proceedings leading to the development of policy, statutes and regulations in the water area. This has included working on behalf of clients on sensitive and potentially controversial projects and topics. We routinely aid clients in effectively managing communications with regulatory agencies and the public to achieve client goals with minimum controversy.


Clients in this sector are often faced with navigating regulations under both state agricultural and environmental agencies. Our water law attorneys are experienced in assisting large and small agricultural operations in a variety of areas, including the following:

  • Regulatory compliance for irrigation withdrawals
  • Enforcement defense, groundwater and surface water discharge permitting, and the addressing of groundwater and surface water impacts
  • Water management, including on-site stormwater and wastewater reuse or treatment
Food Processors and Beverage Producers

Varnum’s water law attorneys have experience working with clients in the food processing and beverage product sectors and have addressed such legal and regulatory issues on behalf of these clients as the following:

  • Groundwater and surface water discharge permitting and compliance defense
  • Mitigating and remediating groundwater impacts
  • Process water management
  • Planning and implementing water sustainability and reuse practices for complex process flows
  • Water withdrawal regulatory compliance

Our water law attorneys routinely represent a range of clients in the industrial sector and have represented these clients on diverse issues. The following is a small sample:

  • Discharge permitting and compliance defense, including total maximum daily Load (TMDL) issues
  • Addressing groundwater and/or surface water impacts and remediation
  • Establishing contracts for purchase of municipal water for use in industrial processes
  • Planning and implementing corporate water sustainability practices
  • Permitting offshore industrial uses in the Great Lakes, including bottomlands leasing
  • Water withdrawal regulatory compliance and enforcement defense
  • Permitting water diversions and stream modifications (e.g., Wetlands, 404 and Inland Lakes and Streams Act (ILSA))
Land Development

Varnum’s water law attorneys have routinely worked with clients in this industry sector on issues such as:

  • Wetlands permitting
  • Riparian rights and boundary determinations
  • Waterfront access
  • Waterfront management and protection, including the use of conservation easements
  • Establishment of marinas
  • On-site wastewater treatment permitting and compliance
  • Stormwater management and permitting
Mining and Mineral Development

Clients in this sector face challenges and regulatory complexities different from those of traditional industrial users, and state laws and Great Lakes regional agreements apply differently to them than to other industries. Our experienced water law attorneys have assisted clients in this sector with such issues as:

  • Planning and permitting for water use and water management
  • Compliance with state water withdrawal regulations and Great Lakes regional agreements
  • Discharge permitting and compliance under various mineral development and water regulatory programs
  • Water impacts of mining reclamation
  • Permitting for water diversions and stream modifications, including state wetlands permitting, Clean Water Act Section 404 and Michigan’s ILSA.

Our water law attorneys have represented municipal clients on water supply, treatment and other water-related issues, including:

  • Water supply development and funding
  • Navigating water withdrawal regulation
  • Wastewater treatment plant permitting, ordinance development, enforcement and compliance defense, including contesting TMDLs
  • Well head and watershed restoration and protection
  • Hydropower development
  • Dam decommissioning and river restoration
  • Waterfront restoration, remediation and development
  • Water sale contracts to bottlers negotiations
Recreational Users

Clients in this sector include ports and marinas, lake associations, and individuals. Our water law attorneys have represented such clients on a variety of matters, such as the following:

  • Establishing or challenging lake levels
  • Challenging or defending lake access restrictions
  • Riparian rights and boundary disputes
  • Waterfront management and protection, including establishment of conservation easements
  • Development, permitting and regulatory compliance for marinas and ports

“Varnum is an excellent firm. We use them more for corporate matters, but we do use them occasionally for environmental law. They have been pragmatic and cost-effective in that area.”

Client, US News – Best Lawyers® Best Law Firms

Sign up to be the first to access our leading legal insights.

The link you have selected will redirect you to a third-party website located on another server. We are offering the link for your convenience. Varnum has no responsibility for any external websites and makes no express or implied warranties about any external websites.

Please be aware that contacting us via e-mail does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm. Do not send confidential information to the firm until you have spoken with one of our attorneys and receive authorization to send such materials.