Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Office of Regional Counsel
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The Office of Regional Counsel is responsible for preparing administrative, judicial and criminal cases against violators of environmental laws. These cases involve developing and using technical and legal strategies for negotiation and litigation purposes. The primary statutes enforced by the EPA are the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The Office of Regional Counsel works collaboratively with state, tribal, and local governments to implement national environmental laws. The Region also has innovative initiatives addressing environmental justice, brownfields redevelopment, and urban and rural environmental issues, as well as programs to protect our air, water, and land.
In addition to preparing enforcement actions, attorneys are also responsible for counseling the Regional Administrator and Program Division Directors on the interpretation of environmental laws, regulations and policies. Furthermore, attorneys are expected to participate in civil or criminal litigation of cases referred to the Department of Justice and to represent the Agency in administrative proceedings. Attorney caseloads are not confined to one industry, statute, state or tribe. EPA is divided into ten regions, with Region 9 including California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, and over 140 Tribal Nations. The Region has over 850 employees, supported by approximately 70 attorneys in the Office of Regional Counsel (ORC).
Type of Work
ORC attorneys spend most of their time on enforcement matters. They work closely with Region 9 technical staff (such as inspectors and engineers) to develop cases for administrative and civil litigation. Administrative cases are handled exclusively by ORC attorneys who appear before administrative law judges and other hearing officers. Civil cases are handled jointly with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Offices. EPA also has an active criminal enforcement program.
As is typical of most litigation, few enforcement cases actually reach the trial stage. Thus, ORC attorneys spend most of their time in negotiations. Agreement is reflected in either judicial consent decrees or administrative orders that contain provisions for penalties and/or injunctive relief. Attorneys also participate in public outreach efforts.
Non-enforcement responsibilities entail counseling regional program staff and managers on the application of statutes, regulations, cases and policies to regional matters, as well as any other legal issues that arise. For example, issues often surface in connection with issuance of a permit or review of a state submission. In addition, ORC attorneys draft federal rules and defend the Region when litigation is initiated to protest a regional action.
Most staff attorneys work in one of two branches. The Hazardous Waste Branch handles all matters arising under the Superfund law and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Air, Toxics, Water, and General Law Branch handles most other areas. Two identical practice groups in that branch work on air pollution, pesticides, and toxic chemical matters. A third practice group specializes in the Clean Water Act, the Underground Injection Control provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Ocean Dumping Act. The fourth group handles general legal issues, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Freedom of Information Act, Indian law, contracts and personnel law, as well as some water pollution and drinking water issues. In addition, several attorneys work on criminal enforcement, as well as in such emerging areas as brownfields development (developing contaminated urban areas for reuse), environmental justice, the intersection of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and environmental law, and Mexican Border/North American Free Trade Agreement issues.