The Environment: Q&A with Dennis Toft, chair, Environmental Law Group, CSG Law

Dennis Toft is a renowned environmental lawyer who applies a keen understanding of science and the complexities of regulatory process when addressing the wide range of issues that his clients face. He provides counsel on all aspects of environmental law, including regulatory counseling, environmental due diligence, permitting, enforcement and environmental litigation, development/redevelopment and environmental insurance.

Environmental firms work in a large number of areas; give us 3-4 skills that you specialize in.

Our firm specializes in finding the path to resolve environmental issues both to get deals closed on environmentally challenged properties and to assist our clients in obtaining the approvals needed to build their projects. Understanding the nuances of the regulatory process makes it possible to structure transactions and allocate environmental risks. Our greatest skill is in understanding the client’s objectives and applying our detailed knowledge of environmental laws and regulations to achieve those objectives. And, when the process fails, we have the ability to litigate environmental issues.

Give an example of a time when you helped a project stay on time or saved your clients a lot of money (or both) because of your work.

We were retained to assist a client in the remediation and redevelopment of an abandoned landfill into an industrial facility. The client was having issues with obtaining the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection permits needed for the project. We assisted the client by changing NJDEP’s focus from concerns over the industrial development to the benefits of the landfill closure and remediation. We also worked with the consultant to review historic information about the site, to show that certain features were manmade and, hence, not regulated. To resolve issues, we arranged for a site visit with NJDEP. By having the relevant information available and demonstrating the points in the field, we were able to overcome a permitting bottleneck and move the project forward, saving both time and money.

When most people think of remediation issues, they think of the cleanup of Superfund sites. Give examples of how you are used on smaller projects.

Most remediation sites are not Superfund sites, and most of our work on remediation projects are not on Superfund sites. We become involved in remediation projects to assist clients in retaining and managing Licensed Site Remediation Professionals and address issues with NJDEP. Often, our involvement arises as the result of a transaction involving a contaminated site. In those circumstances, we will assist in structuring the transaction and managing the remediation process. We also assist clients in pursuing recovery of remediation costs where appropriate, either from responsible parties or from insurance carriers.

At what point during a potential sale or project is it best to bring in your company for an evaluation?

For a seller, the best time to involve us is before a property is put on the market. We assist in evaluating the site and developing an understanding of potential environmental constraints and can better position the property for sale. The same is true for a buyer or developer. The sooner we become involved, the more we can assist a client in avoiding environmental pitfalls that add time and expense to a project.

Tell us one more thing we don’t know.

It is important to remember when dealing with NJDEP and other regulatory agencies that, like the rest of us, they are dealing with the post-pandemic reality of the world. Much turnover has occurred at the agencies, and lines of communication at the agencies are frequently stained. As much as it may appear to be the case to the outside world, agencies are not monolithic. Good communication becomes paramount when dealing with agency representatives, including making sure that different programs in the agency are aware of what is happening with other programs in the same agency.