Environmental legal disputes are among the most difficult to resolve. A single case can take decades to resolve, and involve up to hundreds of parties, regulatory agencies, and dozens of court appearances.
Considering the many layers of complexity in these cases, finding easier ways to resolve such cases is alluring.
Is it possible to cooperate?
Often, people assume disputes involving influential institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency will be bitter, expensive, drawn-out battles. Historically, this may have been the standard, and it still is today, in some cases.
However, as discussed in this Bloomberg Law article, we are increasingly seeing parties work more in alignment with the EPA as opposed to choosing more combative approaches such as litigation and prolonged negotiations. In fact, there is currently speculation among practitioners that lengthy legal battles will be usurped by a kinder, gentler approach where involved parties take a more collaborative approach that can help all parties lower costs and find faster remedies.
Benefits of adverse parties working together
While it’s difficult to keep a cool head when millions of dollars are involved, it makes sense for potentially responsible parties (PRPs) to try working together along with state and federal agencies to clean up massive environmental projects. Under this model, everyone benefits.
There are far fewer delays with the cleanup process, as there are generally fewer setbacks and time-lags stemming from the legal system under normal operations, not to mention the current extraordinary circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also makes it easier for parties to find satisfactory remedies. Reaching an agreement together makes it more likely for parties to work in a cooperative manner. And when there are dozens of parties involved, determining liability through the courts is often prohibitively expensive.
Furthermore, parties can retain more control over the outcome when they resolve matters themselves. And while litigation is not always avoidable, when a case goes to court, the result is almost always much harder to predict.
While the cooperative, non-litigious approach to resolving environmental disputes is often not feasible in all cases, it can be worth considering under certain circumstances. Ultimately, clients need legal counsel with deep experience defending clients in environmental law disputes to navigate this challenging territory.