John Greenthal has recently transitioned from partner to senior counsel, and his practice now concentrates on representation of the Government of Puerto Rico agencies, primarily with respect to contaminated properties. He also serves in the cabinet of the NYS Bar Association Environmental Law Section, focusing on the Section’s diversity initiative and on the Board of the New York League of Conservation Voters. In addition, he teaches a seminar to high school students called “Environmental Issues and Public Policy.”
What do you focus on?
I work with the Government of Puerto Rico on Superfund matters, representing the Government in the context of assertions of liability by federal and commonwealth environmental agencies. The work primarily involves the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company, a client I have represented since 1988. As a passive, non-operating owner of property leased mainly to industrial manufacturers, PRIDCO’s land is often contaminated, and my role has been to ensure that tenants bear the burden of remediating the sites, not PRIDCO.
I have practiced environmental law exclusively since 1976, over 10 years of which time were spent with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. At DEC, I developed the hazardous waste enforcement program, and so my experience in both the public and private sectors has been very valuable in my work with the Government of Puerto Rico.
I devote time to volunteer activities at the state and local levels, including as an appointee of the County Legislature to the Schenectady County Environmental Advisory Council. In addition to my volunteer teaching, I also mentor younger attorneys within the law firm.
What do you see on the horizon?
As pressure on the U.S. EPA, both financial and political, to spend as little as possible increases, the burden of paying for Superfund cleanups will fall almost exclusively on “responsible parties,” including those with an attenuated nexus to the contaminated properties. Attentive and aggressive lawyering will be essential to ensuring that the burden falls on those parties that actually caused or contributed to the environmental threat, rather than on innocent landowners.