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The increasing focus on environmental issues and the trend toward more aggressive government enforcement has created an environment in which a wide variety of businesses can find themselves the subject of regulatory investigations. Bracewell's White Collar Defense, Internal Investigations and Regulatory Enforcement Practice handles high-stakes and high-profile environmental criminal matters on behalf of companies of all size.
We defend companies and executives nationwide against criminal allegations involving issues such as hazardous materials spills and exposures, violations of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and associated fraud and conspiracy issues. We represent these clients before the Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, state enforcement agencies, local district attorney's offices, and before local, national and international media.
Environmental Criminal Defense Team
Our environmental criminal defense team is led by a number of White Collar Practice partners with deep experience in representing companies, corporate boards and committees, and individuals in criminal enforcement matters. Our white collar team works closely with lawyers in our Environmental Strategies Group, who are experienced in the representation of clients in environmental criminal matters and who have served in high-level environmental regulatory and enforcement positions in federal and state environmental agencies.
Environmental issues and accidents are frequently a matter of public concern. When criminal allegations become a matter of public record, our firm is unique in being able to successfully manage the crisis response for our clients, including the political and media-related aspects of a matter.
- Represented Halliburton in the federal criminal investigation that arose from the Deepwater Horizon explosion - perhaps the most significant criminal environmental investigation in a generation. Our team, working out of New York, Washington, Houston and New Orleans, brought the matter to a very successful resolution for Halliburton - one that included no criminal charges related to the explosion.
- Defense of a shipyard services company against multiple criminal inquiries and charges for alleged illegal wastewater discharges from its ship cleaning and repair yards. Despite threatened prosecution of several individual managers by a strike team that included both federal and state prosecutors, we negotiated a plea agreement for the corporation that did not involve any individual guilty pleas and that expressly avoided debarment for the company.
- Defense of a major refining joint venture during the federal government's felony prosecution of a plant manager and environmental manager at a wastewater treatment plant in Texas. The client had to provide witnesses and information for use against other persons without becoming a target itself. The prosecution also involved a detailed conspiracy count that included communications and statements made in the company's presence. The client was not indicted and was dropped as a potential target.
- Defense of a natural gas production company in criminal, civil and administrative enforcement actions brought by the state and federal environmental agencies in relation to hydraulic fracturing activities.
- Defense of a major power producer in responding to a subpoena from the Attorney General of New York concerning the adequacy of environmental disclosures to shareholders about potential risks and liabilities arising from climate change. The Attorney General's subpoena marks the first overt legal investigation of climate disclosure in the energy sector.
- Defense of an international chemical company and successful resolution of an extended criminal investigation under the Clean Water Act.
- Defense of the nation's largest real estate investment trust in an investigation into alleged illegal filling of wetlands during the development of a master planned community.
- Defense of a major chemical company against criminal prosecution for wastewater discharges to a publicly owned treatment system that allegedly failed to meet permit limits, including discharges to an open ditch system. Through our efforts, virtually all of the charges were dismissed. The client agreed to pay a small fine and perform a Supplemental Environmental Project for the remaining misdemeanor count.
- Defense of a large refinery against federal felony charges for allegedly failing to handle its benzene wastewater streams in compliance with federal Clean Air Act requirements. The client ultimately resolved the violations with a civil administrative order and no criminal prosecution.
- Defense of a major oilfield services and gas compression company and its facility manager against misdemeanor storm water discharge charges. We negotiated the charges down to a minor misdemeanor and resolved it with a separate deferred prosecution agreement.
- Defense of a petrochemical manufacturer who unintentionally provided flammable raffinate materials to a sham fuel recycling operation. The federal government did not pursue charges.
- Defense of a large defense contractor that faced potential debarment (and loss of billions in federal contracts) based on an alleged stormwater and wastewater discharge violation from one of its plating facilities. We proactively apprised EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) about the issue and thereby defanged a potential whistleblower claim by a discharged employee. Both EPA and TCEQ chose not to pursue any criminal charges.
- Defense of a large real estate corporation and its subsidiary against multiple felony indictments for its alleged failure to maintain wastewater systems at its facilities and causing multiple, continuous discharges into areas where children routinely played. The government agreed to accept a nolo plea to misdemeanor charges from the company and did not charge any individuals.
- Defense of a major port authority against a threatened criminal citation for allowing the discharge of spoils during dredging operations. We persuaded the District Attorney's office not to prosecute.
- Defense of the owner of a large warehouse whose storehouse of flammable materials exploded and burned; the resulting spill and firefighting water caused a 1,000,000-gallon discharge to an adjoining bayou that caused a large fish kill. The District Attorney expressed interest in the case, but we convinced them not to bring any criminal charges after discussing the company's spill response and preparation.
- Defense of a large oil and gas pipeline company that faced criminal liability for an accidental spill from one of its terminals. Given the applicable law and the District Attorney's aggressive policy, virtually every oil spill had become subject to threatened criminal action. We persuaded the District Attorney to drop any threatened charges after demonstrating the factors which caused the spill and the thoroughness of the cleanup.
- Defense of a large natural gas company that faced criminal prosecution in multiple states for mercury, PCB and other contamination from historical operations. After a system-wide investigation and audit of operations, we negotiated a global consent decree that precluded any federal criminal prosecution.
- Defense of a terminal manager of a large wholesale petroleum distributor against criminal charges for the improper discharge of gasoline-laden wash waters into a sewer system, allegedly creating an explosion risk. After the prosecutor threatened felony endangerment charges (and after we posed a vigorous defense), we brought the charges down to a misdemeanor plea with no jail time and a minimal fine.