Practice Areas main banner

Environmental Law

Peter has been an environmental lawyer since 1980. His career in this area has spanned six years with federal and state government agencies as an enforcement official, six years of in-house corporate experience that included compliance, defense, brownfields, and Superfund issues, and seven years with a prominent Los Angeles law firm as its sole environmental lawyer. His solo practice continues to focus on this area.

Contaminated Property Cleanups

Peter has extensive experience in advising clients about cleaning up contaminated properties. In many instances, he has advised clients who have received cleanup orders from state and local agencies on how to respond to these orders, and assisted such clients in negotiating workplans, schedules, and cleanup levels. In other instances, he has assisted clients who discovered that properties they owned were contaminated, and who needed to conduct cleanups either in anticipation of selling the property, or to avoid liability to the government or adjoining property owners. He negotiated one of the earliest Voluntary Cleanup Agreements with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Many other cleanup projects have involved the cleanup of underground tank problems. Peter’s expertise in property cleanups has enabled him to effectively advise clients selling, purchasing, or leasing brownfields properties. Finally, Peter has been involved in litigation over responsibility for cleanups, both as plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel. In at least three instances, he guided these cases to a successful resolution for his defendant clients on summary judgment, a rare achievement in environmental litigation.

Underground Tank Problems

Peter is experienced in addressing problems related to underground storage tanks – not only because they are a common source of property contamination, but also because of his three years as in-house counsel for Unocal, where his client group was responsible for addressing tank issues. Peter has been involved in both the prosecution and defense of private litigation and government enforcement actions over responsibility for spills associated with underground tanks. He has negotiated cleanup standards with government agencies, and successfully handled an appeal of a local agency’s denial of a closure letter. He has counseled clients over eligibility for the California Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund, structured the assignment of claims against the Fund, and handled an appeal over access to the Fund. He filed amicus briefs in Kelsoe v. State Water Resources Control Board (2007), 153 Cal App. 4 th 569, a case interpreting the statutes governing eligibility for the Fund. He found sponsors for, drafted, and negotiated changes to legislation that broadened eligibly for the Fund in the wake of the Kelsoe decision. That bill, AB 1437, became law on January 1, 2008.

Superfund Issues

Peter has represented clients who have been identified as “potentially responsible parties” in connection with many federal Superfund sites, including some of the largest sites in California, such as Operating Industries, and the San Fernando and San Gabriel Superfund sites. While serving as in-house counsel at Southern California Gas Company, he chaired the legal committee for the OII Site Steering Committee. He later served as general counsel for the corporation established to carry out the first stage of the cleanup of that site. While an in-house attorney at Unocal, he represented that company on steering committees throughout the western United States.

In addition to his corporate employers, Peter has represented individuals who have been identified as “potentially responsible parties.” He has assisted clients in obtaining “Ability to Pay” settlements with the Environmental Protection Agency and has obtained dismissals from cost recovery litigation in connection with a Superfund site on the basis of such settlements. He also assisted a client in selling a property adjacent to a Superfund site to that site’s steering committee.

Business Transactions

Peter has guided environmental due diligence and provided advice on environmental risk allocation in corporate acquisitions. He has also advised businesses on environmental compliance issues both for ongoing operations and for new business ventures.

Defense of Enforcement Actions

Peter has represented clients who were the subject of investigations or enforcement actions over a wide variety of issues, such as:

  • An investigation into the handling of materials associated with pipeline operations.
  • A civil enforcement action alleging widespread violations of cleanup requirements for underground tanks.
  • An administrative complaint alleging reporting violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to Know Act (EPCRA).
  • A misdemeanor action against a gasoline retailer for alleged violations of orders to investigate a gasoline spill.
  • An investigation into alleged violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
  • Notices of Violation issued by local air quality districts.

Peter has addressed a wide variety of asbestos issues for clients. He has guided owners of commercial and residential buildings through the process of assessing the presence of asbestos in their buildings, developing asbestos management plans, and making required notifications under California’s Connelly Act and Cal-OSHA. He successfully defended an owner of an office building against claims by a tenant, brought under CERCLA, for asbestos contamination that resulted from a building fire. That decision is reported at California v. Blech, 976 F.2d 525 (9th Cir. 1992). Peter was successful at obtaining insurance coverage for the defense of that case. He has also represented a tenant in connection with claims for asbestos contamination of living quarters. He has provided expert services in connection with a lawsuit brought by an employee alleging wrongful termination over handling of an asbestos problem.

Legislative and Regulatory Development

Peter's experience in both the public and private sectors has given him a deep understanding of the legislative and regulatory processes. During his six years of government service, Peter played a leading role in a wide range of regulatory and policy initiatives, including the PCB Penalty Policy, the National Municipal Policy for local sewage treatment facilities, pesticide establishment regulations, and obtaining federal program authorization for Indiana's hazardous waste regulations. Since leaving government, he has been involved in drafting and negotiating legislation on subjects including contribution under California's Superfund law, the sale of landfill gas, and, most recently, eligibility to file claims under California's Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund. While at Southern California Gas Company, he represented that company at the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance, which monitors environmental legislation pending before the California legislature. In 2009, he served as a member of the Leaking Underground Fuel Tank Task Force (established by the State Water Resources Control Board Resolution 2009-0042), which developed recommendations to the State Water Control Board to improve the underground tank cleanup program.

Proposition 65

Peter has provided advice regarding compliance with the warning provisions of Proposition 65 to many clients. He played a leading role in the development of his former employer’s company-wide Proposition 65 warning program shortly after this law was passed in the 1980s. Compliance with Proposition 65 is a factor in his advice to purchasers of contaminated properties for redevelopment.