Background - Practices (Details)

Environmental and Safety Compliance and Investigations


Investigations involving environmental and safety issues can take many forms: civil investigations by state or federal regulators, internal investigations triggered by whistleblowers, compliance audit results, or a threatened private party citizen suit, criminal investigations by government enforcement authorities, and a combination of all three in response to an industrial facility incident. Environmental and safety compliance requires constant diligence and a robust compliance program and culture; the handling of an investigation must have similar rigor. While most day-to-day compliance can be handled effectively by trained environmental, health, and safety personnel, an investigation requires the additional layer of experienced legal counsel to navigate the complex elements of conducting a thorough investigation, communicating with government enforcement (including timing and substance of disclosures), and developing appropriate corrective actions.

Crowell & Moring’s Environment and Natural Resources Group, ranked by Chambers USA both nationally and in Washington, D.C. as a top environmental practice, has deep experience with the myriad investigation scenarios that spring both from day-to-day business and from industrial facility incidents. Our team includes former civil and criminal government officials who know how to most effectively engage with government enforcement, along with practitioners with decades of experience in representing the private sector in investigations triggered not just by government but also private citizen activists and internal whistleblowers. Our work also includes crafting strategies with clients to prepare for investigations, enforcement, and incident response, as having a thorough and proactive plan can be a helpful and productive element in demonstrating a strong compliance culture to government investigators. Our team incorporates all of these elements in assisting clients navigate challenging and complex investigation and enforcement matters.

Representative Matters

  • Represented a global biotechnology company in an investigation of an EPA enforcement action that alleged violations of the "worker protection standard" (WPS) under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Successfully settled the matter under very favorable terms.
  • Represented a national laboratory in the investigation of the causes of an incident and the related EPA and state environmental authority enforcement and penalties for alleged environmental violations.
  • Represented a major automobile manufacturer conducting an internal review of its vehicle lines to assure compliance with U.S. and EU emissions standards following disclosure of Volkswagen's emissions issues.
  • Represented a global biotechnology company in a multi-agency investigation resulting from the distribution of an unapproved genetically modified commodity food crop. Obtained quick federal government determination that the product was safe for consumption, thereby avoiding possible recalls, market disruptions and potential commercial liability. Successfully settled resulting enforcement cases
  • Represented a large pesticide manufacturer in USEPA and state investigations stemming from reports of widespread adverse effects associated with the client’s product. Successfully settled associated enforcement case.
  • Represented a large telecommunications company in a multi-region investigation of the company’s compliance with chemical reporting obligations at several hundred facilities nationwide. Successfully utilized EPA’s Audit Policy to avoid any civil penalties.
  • Conducted an internal investigation and risk assessment for a Fortune 100 corporation related to the company's remediation activities.
  • Conducted an internal Clean Water Act investigation for a corporation related to historical development activities in wetlands.
  • Defended a Clean Water Act criminal investigation and enforcement action against a private wastewater treatment corporation.
  • Defended a large natural gas producer in investigating and avoiding threatened Clean Water Act citizen suits related to hydraulic fracturing operations.

Safety Investigations – MSHA

  • Fatality Investigations. We regularly counsel our mining clients through the emotionally draining process of MSHA fatality investigations, which frequently also require coordinating responses to related state and local law enforcement investigations, and coordinating with tort counsel in anticipation of civil suits.
  • Retaliation Investigations (Mine Act 105(c)). When our mining clients are accused of taking adverse employment actions against employees for exercising their rights under the Mine Act, we lead our clients through the MSHA investigation, interview, and document-production process, and defend them in civil litigation if the charge is prosecuted by either MSHA or the individual.
  • Individual Supervisor Investigations (Mine Act 110(c)). A charge of individual culpability for violations of federal mine safety and health laws can take an personal toll on the individual charged; we counsel our clients through the MSHA investigation to safeguard their interests and minimize their legal exposure to both civil and criminal liability.

Representative Criminal Environmental and Safety Matters

  • Defended a major construction company on felony charges, obtaining an acquittal following a month-long jury trial involving Clean Air Act and related allegations.
  • Defended several mining companies in high-profile investigations of alleged criminal violations of the Mine Safety Act, including conducting the necessary internal investigations, managing subpoena responses and document productions, and defending the companies during resulting congressional inquiries and hearings and grand jury proceedings.
  • Represented a barge hauler that carried scrap metal on the Mississippi River, and a chemicals manufacturer in Louisiana, in grand jury Clean Water Act investigations of a joint venture engaged in dam construction on the Ohio River.
  • Defended a Texas oil refinery in a federal grand jury investigation involving allegations of Clean Air Act violations.
  • Defended an asbestos remediation company and its chief executive on federal charges of defrauding EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in their licensure, oversight, and enforcement functions.
  • Defended several individuals in a three-week jury trial alleging criminal violations of the Lacey Act in connection with the importation and distribution of mislabeled seafood.
  • Defended an owner of a wholesale seafood company in a five-week jury trial concerning allegations of illegally harvested striped bass under the Lacey Act.