AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) This segment of The Means Report takes a look at our environment and the issues handled by environmental attorneys. Darren Meadows deals with these issues in his practice. Watch our interview and you will learn so much about what it takes to investigate an array of environmental cases.
Welcome back to The Means Report. If you have paid any attention to the news lately, you have seen all sorts of concerns when it comes to our environment, in the water, in the ground, in the air. So we figured that it would be a good time to talk about our environment and address some of those concerns, maybe assuage some of our anxiety about them. And for that, we can’t think of a better person to explain stuff to us than local environmental lawyer, Darren Meadows. Darren, I appreciate you specializing in this area, and I appreciate you taking the time to be with us today. So, lemme just ask you this to start off, is there a typical client who comes to you and says, “I have this kind of environmental need or concern?” Or are all your clients different?
Well, we have a pretty diverse array of clients that come to us. Probably the most common is environmental due diligence relating to transactions.
Whether it is just a one-on-one real estate transaction or whether it is associated with the purchase of a business, there’s environmental due diligence that is typically done, there are liability protection measures that are built into the laws. If you take the appropriate steps, then you can acquire a business or you can acquire a piece of property and not be held liable for what’s preexisting. If you don’t take those steps, you are assuming the risk and you become liable for what may have happened in the past.
So is it primarily the seller saying, “Hey, Darren and company, make sure that my property is environmentally sound before we put the sign in the yard?”
No, it’s most typically the buyer.
Because the way the laws are written, the buyer is the one who must do what’s defined as all appropriate inquiry, due diligence, prior to getting the property in order to invoke those liability protections. If they don’t do it, then they’re liable. Sellers, on the other hand, often are concerned that, “What if they find something? This may kill my deal or it may open up a liability problem for me.” And again, so if a seller comes to me, I’m asking, “Did you do proper due diligence before you bought this property?” Which gets you into the other realm of, “When did you buy it?” Because if you acquired it or if your company acquired it 50 years ago, that predates all the environmental laws.
So what kind of things do you see when you’re doing that due diligence? Is it dry cleaning fluid in the ground? Is it something else? What are some things that pop up on your due diligence reports, if you will, a lot?
Well, it’s interesting that particularly banks are often concerned about petroleum products, but I find petroleum products are not really that big of a problem. So if there’s a gas station next door, people get very concerned, but there’s really not that deep of concern with gas stations. There’s an entire structure of law that governs operation of gas station, underground storage tanks, and there is a trust fund that’s set up. So while that’s a fairly common problem, it’s not typically a big problem. The dry cleaners you mentioned, chlorinated solvents, they’re also used in things like machine shops. And a lot of industries that have heavy equipment, they have to be greased, they also have to be cleaned. And the solvents is what they use to clean the grease. So those are the types of things that are more of a problem because those things are denser than water. So once they get in the ground, they sink. Oil floats on top, you can get to it and clean that up fairly easily. Things that get in the ground and sink are harder to clean up.
We’ve seen water system problems in Jackson, Mississippi after recent flooding. We’ve seen the lead in the water up in Flint, Michigan. Have you come across any of that and should we as regular people be concerned about the quality of our water at this point? Is anything in your job led you to believe that there should be any concerns there?
No. I started my career, for five years, I was an in-house attorney with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Before I came to Augusta, I was in Atlanta working for EPD. And if those types of problems existed in public water systems, US EPA and at the state levels have already investigated and looked for those types of things.
So, Flint, Michigan is an unusual one. It has very old lead pipes and the lead is leeching into the water. The vast majority of the public water systems here in Augusta and really most of the, I live in McDuffie County, the outer counties, they didn’t start developing those public water systems until later. And so those pipes, where they had lead pipes, they’ve been replaced. Where they were developed later, they used different materials and don’t have those concerns.
Do you ever come across endangered species when you’re doing a transaction that you have to say, “Oh, careful, we have to leave this here”?
Yes. That’s part of the due diligence that we go through when you’re looking at a new development. One example, golf courses. I’ve been involved in the development of some golf courses over my career, and you have to look for archeological sites.
So, if you find Indian artifacts, if you find an old cemetery of some sort, that’s part of the review that you’ve got to do before you can get your approvals. And endangered species analysis, wetlands analysis, those are all things that are part of the due diligence process.
And just a couple more questions. From a tax standpoint maybe, I’m thinking, or just a “I wanna be ahead of the curve when it comes to our future” kind of thing maybe, should we be investing in more solar products, more clean energy products? Do you have any feel for how that’s going to go? Some people think these electric cars are just a fad, they’re gonna go away. What are your thoughts going forward?
Well, that’s more of a political question-
Than necessarily an environmental question. And I do think that there’s a future for both the internal combustion engines as well as electric cars. I do think that the political pendulum is kind of swinging the direction of pushing hard towards solar power, wind power, greener type of power. And it’s all good that it’s there, but we still have the existing sources that are tried and true and reliable. And so I tend to be more in the middle of the road of that it’s good that we’re developing these greener versions, but are we ready? One of the big debates is could the power of grid actually handle if we had 50 million people driving electric cars tomorrow?
We should do a full Means Report with you, Darren Meadows. Your expertise is very enlightening. I appreciate you sharing it with us. I’m sorry it flew by, but I learned a ton in that seven minutes and I appreciate you.
Okay, thank you.
Glad to be here.
Absolutely. Do your due diligence when it comes to our environment, and call Darren Meadows and his team at the Hull firm and let them handle it from there.