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When New Jersey proposed at the end of 1982 that the PJP Landfill in Jersey City be included on the National Priority List, William Hyatt, Michael Rodburg, William Warren, and John Lynch had little idea just how large Superfund practice would become. But between its passage in 1980 and the end of 1998, the federal Superfund program had created a windfall worth an estimated $2-6 billion for environmental lawyers and cross-over litigators. Now, after 20 years of joint-and-several liability battle royales, the repositories of hazardous sludge are running dry, and Superfund lawyers are branching out. Hyatt, Rodburg, Warren, and Lynch — all members of the New Jersey state bar — latched onto Superfund litigation at its inception, when antagonism between government and the private sector was intense and knowledge about the science of cleanup uncertain. “It was all virgin ground back then,” explains Warren, 52, a small-firm veteran and current partner in Drinker Biddle & Shanley, the Princeton, N.J., office of Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle & Reath. They were simply in the right place at the right time. A historical center for the chemical and drug industries, replete with its own strong environmental laws, New Jersey aggressively pursued Superfund money from the start. In a decisive grab at the $1.6 billion Superfund trust, the Department of Environmental Protection proposed 65 sites, including PJP, for the priority list in a single day. Although other states thought inclusion on the NPL was a black mark, New Jersey saw it as a public works program. Of the first 400 NPL sites, roughly 75 were in New Jersey, the most in any state. The state’s list has since grown to 130 sites. The result was that New Jersey attorneys were soon negotiating percentages of responsibility for companies around the country, and gaining national recognition. “There were so many cost recovery actions. We were getting so much more experience than anyone else,” explains Warren. Rodburg, 53, managing partner at Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, New Jersey, and an environmental attorney since the early seventies, qualifies the point, noting that in the beginning a lot of Superfund work was farmed out from New York firms that did not yet have environmental groups. During the peak Superfund years from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, Bill Hyatt’s environmental group at Morristown, N.J.’s Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch grew to 30 lawyers. Hyatt, 61, who started out as a general litigator, made a name on the scene as a common counsel, coordinating the defenses of responsible parties. He says he has worked on about 75 Superfund sites nationwide, including five of the most polluted — such as the Lipari, Price, and Helen Kramer landfills, all in New Jersey. But the lawyers’ Superfund bonanza started to die down as technology made cleanup more economically feasible, and after administrative reforms in 1995 took the edge off the government’s approach. Pitney Hardin’s group is now down to 15. And Hyatt, who sits on the firm’s management committee, admits that the group is doing more Clean Water/Clean Air Act lawyering, and performing more environmental due diligence for corporate transactions than ever before. “There is much more of that work than during those Superfund years, when we really couldn’t do much else,” he says. Warren and Rodburg have also been involved in due diligence, coping with liability issues and structuring deals that involve “everything from access to use of equipment to permission to use sanitary facilities” at a site, according to Warren. Rodburg credits the diligence work with ultimately affecting larger firms. Hyatt, Rodburg, and Warren are still involved with Superfund sites across the country, although their roles have diminished considerably. Hyatt maintains a full Superfund practice, but the others have increasingly focused their practices on offshoots of Superfund — such as “the orphan of CERCLA,” natural resource damages, which makes entire valleys subject to a single suit, and so-called brownfields redevelopment, where they get to play peacemakers as well as real estate lawyers. Both Rodburg and Warren have also found themselves litigating toxic torts such as property value diminution, medical surveillance, and personal injury. Lynch, 61, who does complex litigation at Newark’s Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey, was brought into Superfund litigation in 1984 by General Motors Corporation, which asked him to learn the business in anticipation of a litigious onslaught. But Lynch, who “got into [law] to be a trial lawyer,” has a different take than the others on what to do now. “I’m scrambling,” he says. “I’ll take anything. The Superfund run has been really stimulating, and we’ve done a lot of good. We shaped some law. It was a lot of fun. But I’ve got to get back into court.” Superfund cases rarely go to trial. And with only a few cases left likely to resemble the old guard of the NPL, Lynch, like so many others, has good reason to look elsewhere for work.

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