Michael Jacob Steel

Senior Counsel | San Francisco

msteel@mofo.com | (415) 268-7350

(415) 268-7350

Environmental counseling is as much about understanding my client’s vision for the company as it is about being well-versed in the myriad environmental, health, and safety laws.

Michael’s practice emphasizes federal, state, and local regulatory compliance issues, crisis management, dispute resolution, and litigation under the Unfair Practices Act; Proposition 65; and other environmental, health, and safety laws.

Michael advises industrial companies – including automobile manufacturing, shipbuilding, electronics, communications, plastics, and oil concerns – about hazardous substance handling, air quality, and employee safety. He also provides compliance counseling to retail, pharmaceutical, biotech, food service, and grocery companies.

His practice spans a wide range of environmental disciplines, from land use to hazardous waste management and air pollution control. He was instrumental in shepherding one of the largest industrial projects in the Bay Area through the CEQA process, has obtained and defended land use approvals throughout the state, and currently manages land use approvals for a $400 million transportation project in Southern California.

Michael has advised clients on air quality regulatory requirements for more than 30 years, and has worked closely with the California Air Resources Board and California’s local air districts on a wide range of issues, from industrial emissions to consumer products to diesel regulation. With the passage of California’s climate legislation, he has continued to work with these regulators and his clients to ensure fair treatment and the smoothest transition to this new regulatory regime possible.

Michael frequently defends multi–party actions alleging misrepresentation of product characteristics, such as failure to disclose the presence of chemicals identified as carcinogens or reproductive toxins. His cases include defending actions alleging that faucets leach lead into drinking water, calcium dietary supplements contain unsafe levels of lead, and diesel engines expose people to unsafe levels of exhaust, and that packaged fruit and fruit juices contain lead.

He also has extensive experience in assisting clients in cases involving fatal or serious injuries; explosions; chemical releases; fires; and manufacturing, transportation, and construction accidents, as well as allegations of community exposure to toxics. In such matters, Michael helps the client create a coordinated defense strategy from the very beginning of a government investigation or enforcement action, coordinating accident reconstruction and root cause analyses, working with technical experts, managing government interviews and document production, and directing public relations consultants.

On behalf of his clients, Michael has appeared before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Product Safety Commission, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, California Regional Water Quality Control Boards, state and federal OSHA, and the state and federal courts.

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  • Represented railroad intermodal facility operator in enforcement action by California Air Resources Board alleging that the company was required to collect and report vehicle identification numbers from all trucks visiting the their facilities. Successfully settled the action with innovative compliance approach that avoids the requirement to collect VIN numbers. 

  • Retailers have paid California regulators over $200 million in penalties for failure to manage hazardous waste properly. The waste at issue includes shampoos, perfumes, soaps, and many other personal care products that few people would consider hazardous, but state laws designed for refineries and chemical plants have inadvertently subjected to their regulations. We represent these companies in ongoing negotiations with the relevant state agencies and the Attorney General in efforts to harmonize these requirements with the realities of retail operations.

  • Represented client on dozens of Proposition 65 claims.

  • Defended Lumber Liquidators an enforcement action by the California Air Resources Board (ARB). The regulations at issue affected thousands of products made by hundreds of companies, and this was the first enforcement action taken by the agency to enforce them.

  • Advising Union Pacific Railroad on land use and other environmental permitting matters for a $400 million rail facility in Los Angeles, a project is undergoing a detailed environmental review because of the opposition of some community groups.

  • Represented a mining company in connection with exhaust emissions from mining equipment and trucks that transport products.

  • Defended the four largest California grocers in a case alleging that exposure to diesel exhaust from their delivery trucks causes harm to people in surrounding communities.

  • Defended more than 30 companies, including most major cosmetics makers, in a suit alleging that titanium dioxide – a key ingredient commonly used in cosmetics and sunscreens – causes a risk of cancer. Our motion for summary judgment was granted. After the court agreed with our argument that plaintiff’s expert opinion did not provide a “credible factual basis” for going to trial. Plaintiff has agreed not to pursue an appeal of the judgment.

  • Represented a major oil company that had been threatened by a citizen’s group with litigation for allegedly causing the pollution of drinking water sources and air, and exposing residents living near 25 airports throughout California to lead from Avgas. Persuaded the plaintiff to withdraw its notice of intent to sue.



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