Mr. Nicholas has been a litigator for over 35 years, with extensive experience as lead attorney in cases against many of the world’s largest companies. Mr. Nicholas began his career in New York City with Pryor Cashman and then in Boston with the firm Hale and Dorr (now Wilmer Hale), where he worked on cases involving civil RICO, fraud, breach of contract, and lender liability, among other disputes. In 1991 he joined the National Environmental Center in Boston and represented environmental organizations in federal enforcement suits against large industrial companies. Since 2003, and prior to becoming Of Counsel to Wolf Popper, Mr. Nicholas had been a solo attorney, continuing to represent citizen and environmental groups in public interest cases to protect natural resources and public health. In his career, Mr. Nicholas has been responsible for all aspects of litigation.
Mr. Nicholas has successfully brought cases against oil, chemical, steel, and food companies, among others. In 2014 he tried the largest Clean Air Act enforcement suit ever brought by citizens, against ExxonMobil in the Southern District of Texas for violations of emissions limits at the company’s Baytown complex. The case resulted in the largest monetary penalty imposed in the history of citizen enforcement of federal environmental laws, $14 million. (The judgment is currently on appeal.) Mr. Nicholas’s cases have also resulted in record-setting monetary penalties in a number of states, including California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maine.
In addition to the ExxonMobil case (Environment Texas Citizen Lobby, Inc. v. ExxonMobil Corporation), Mr. Nicholas’s cases have included:
- Environment Texas v. Shell Oil Company. Clean Air Act citizen suit against Houston area refinery and chemical plant for air pollution, including excessive emissions of air toxics. Resulted in consent decree requiring significant emissions reductions, extensive plant upgrades, enhanced monitoring of air emissions, and a $5.8 million penalty.
- Environment Texas v. Pasadena Refining System, Inc. Clean Air Act citizen suit against subsidiary of Petrobras, the state-owned oil company of Brazil, for violations of hourly and annual emissions limits on fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and other pollutants. Resulted in consent decree mandating pollution control upgrades at a 100-year old refinery, and a $3.25 million monetary penalty.
- USPIRG v. Atlantic Salmon of Maine and Stolt Sea Farm. Clean Water Act citizen suits against dominant companies of the Maine salmon farming industry for operating without discharge permits. Trial resulted in injunction imposing significant changes to operating practices of companies and a shutdown of new production for up to three years. Final order reported at 257 F. Supp. 2d 407 (D. Me. 2003). Injunction upheld on appeal at 339 F.3d 23 (1st Cir. 2003). A companion case against Heritage Salmon resulted in a consent decree imposing precedent-setting environmental restrictions on salmon farms.
- PennEnvironment v. ArcelorMittal. Clean Air Act citizen suit against the world’s largest steel company for violations at the Monessen Coke Plant in Pennsylvania. Consent decree required a full-scale trial of innovative technology to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and other environmental, operational and plant upgrades, and a $1.8 million monetary penalty. The U.S. EPA and State of Pennsylvania joined the suit as plaintiffs.
- Animal Protection Institute v. Martin. Endangered Species Act citizen suit against head of Maine fish and wildlife agency for violating the ESA by authorizing trapping that captures and kills threatened Canada lynx. Resulted in consent decree that banned traps likely to capture lynx.
- Environment Florida v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation. Clean Water Act citizen suit against second largest chicken producer in the world for illegally polluting the Suwannee River at its chicken processing plant in Live Oak, Florida. Resulted in consent decree requiring measures to upgrade wastewater treatment plant, reduce discharge of toxics, and reduce water use in processing, and a $1.3 million penalty.
Mr. Nicholas’s work has also resulted in halting aerial spraying of pesticides over commercial blueberry fields in Maine; cleanup of ordnance and chemical weapons at a former U.S. Army base in California; and upgrading the Newport, Rhode Island sewer system, among other achievements. He has represented public interest groups in state court cases involving a variety of constitutional issues.