David T. Buente Jr.

Buente Jr., David T.


Washington, D.C. +1 202 736 8111

1501 K Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
+1 202 736 8111

dbuente@sidley.com dbuente@sidley.com

Admissions & Certifications

David T. Buente Jr.


DAVID BUENTE, co-leader of Sidley’s Environmental group, represents clients in complex environmental litigation and rulemaking matters, with an emphasis on Clean Air Act (CAA), Clean Water Act, CERCLA (Superfund) and RCRA, environmental criminal and toxic tort litigation. Building upon his 15 years as an environmental prosecutor, including at the Department of Justice (DOJ) where he served as Chief, Environmental Enforcement Section, corporations—including American Electric Power, CSX, Duke Energy, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Ford Motors, Honeywell, Norfolk Southern, Tyson Foods and Verizon —turn to David for representation in complex federal environmental enforcement matters with DOJ and EPA and in defending toxic tort claims by states and private parties.

David's recent experience includes:

  • Handling CERCLA cases for remedial costs and natural resource damage claims.
  • Defending a number of companies in Clean Air Act New Source Review enforcement litigation with DOJ/EPA, State AGs and NGOs. 
  • Representing companies and trade associations in successfully defending against precedent-setting common law torts-based claims including over carbon dioxide emissions. 
  • Convincing federal prosecutors to decline pursuit of environmental criminal investigations for several clients and defending against prosecutions. 

A recognized leader in his field, David has been named the Best Lawyers’ 2015 Washington, D.C. Environmental Law “Lawyer of the Year,” an accolade awarded to only a single lawyer in each practice area and geographic region; he also received this recognition in 2012–2014. He has been named by Chambers USA as one of the nation’s Leading Lawyers since 2006. In the 2015 edition of Chambers, David is praised as “extremely well grounded in the substance of a matter, and is somebody you can turn to in a situation as he keeps his head and keeps his focus.” The Legal 500 lists David as a leading lawyer in the product liability and mass tort defense: toxic tort category. The 2015 edition of Chambers includes David in its top-tier of Washington, D.C.’s environmental lawyers, noting that “According to his peers, in the area of civil and criminal enforcement, ‘no one has as much knowledge of the issues and history of those issues as’ David Buente.” Chambers also includes David in its nationwide list of top Product Liability & Mass Torts lawyers, acknowledging that he “is highly regarded throughout the market, earning praise as a fantastic litigator.”

David also regularly is named in other surveys of private sector lawyers, including: Who’s Who Legal USA: Environment, PLC: Which Lawyer? and The Legal 500 US. In 2016, Who’s Who Legal named David the 2016 Environmental Lawyer of the Year. David is an elected member of the American College of Environmental Lawyers and of the National Trial Lawyers “Top 100.”


David joined Sidley in 1990 from the U.S. Department of Justice where he was the Chief of the Environmental Enforcement Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division from 1985 to 1990, directing all federal civil and criminal environmental enforcement litigation. Prior to that, he handled a broad range of federal environmental trial and appellate litigation for EPA and other federal agencies as a Justice Department trial attorney and also served with the Interior Department and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

The breadth of David’s practice is reflected in his recent work, which includes:

Civil Litigation:

  • Has represented numerous companies, including American Electric Power, Columbian Chemicals, Continental Carbon, Duke Energy, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Georgia Pacific, SABIC, and Willamette Industries in Clean Air Act New Source Review enforcement cases by federal and state governments and NGOs. These included several trials and numerous consent decrees.
  • AEP v. Connecticut. Represented American Electric Power (AEP), Duke Power Co., Xcel Energy and the Southern Co. in the precedent-setting climate change nuisance case. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision holding that the Clean Air Act displaces any federal common law right to seek abatement of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants. The leading Supreme Court blog called this litigation “the biggest-ever case on the issue of global warming.”
  • Comer v. Murphy Oil Co., 5th Circuit and Village of Kivalina (9th Circuit) Represented Duke in successfully opposing climate change nuisance cases, twice winning dismissal of the Comer case from the district court and 5th Circuit and in Kivalina from the district court and the 9th Circuit. 
  • Alec L. et. al v. Jackson et. al., D.C. District. An NGO filed suit on behalf of teenagers against six federal agencies claiming that the “public trust doctrine” requires that the federal government drastically reduce GHG emissions from U.S. businesses. David represented the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in this precedent-setting case as an intervener-defendant; the district court granted NAM’s motion to dismiss which was affirmed by the D.C. Circuit and certiorari denied by the Supreme Court.

Criminal Litigation:

  • Represented Duke Energy subsidiaries in a Clean Water Act prosecution over the companies' North Carolina coal ash ponds and on a related EPA Compliance Agreement.
  • Representing a major transportation company and a petroleum refiner in Clean Air Act criminal investigations.
  • Defended an Ohio-based iron foundry in a U.S. EPA criminal investigation of the foundry’s compliance with the Clean Air Act, and related Ohio EPA civil enforcement actions. Criminal case declined and civil case settled.
  • Represented the former owner of a New York chemical plant with respect to a federal grand jury investigation arising out of the plant’s compliance with the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Criminal case declined and civil case settled.
  • Represented a Midwest chemical plant company in convincing DOJ not to pursue a criminal investigation over Clean Air Act Leak Detection/Repair issues. Civil case settled.


  • Negotiated consent decrees for remediation/natural resource damages at numerous EPA National Priorities List Sites, including General Electric/Housatonic River, Ford/Tibbetts Road, N.H., and W.R. Grace/Wayne Township, N.J.
  • Advised two corporations in disputes with federal government over relative remedial responsibilities for former nuclear weapons materials processing plants in Connecticut and New York. One recently settled with recovery for client and the second is in mediation.
  • Representing CSX Transportation, Inc. concerning the Anacostia River Sediment Site in the District of Columbia.
  • Represented Coronet Industries, Inc. in settling a mass-joinder toxic tort suit in Florida State court where roughly 1,000 individuals allege wrongful death, personal injury, medical monitoring, and property damage associated with purported exposure to chemicals from historic phosphate mining operations. Also assisted Coronet in negotiations with EPA and the state environmental regulatory agencies concerning site assessment and remediation (which negotiations have led to the entry of multiple state and federal administrative agreements), and helps to manage the interplay between regulatory and litigation issues.
  • “Congress Adopts NEPA Reforms for Major Infrastructure Projects,” Westlaw Journal, February 17, 2016 (co-authored with Peter Steenland and Jim Wedeking).
  • “Environment & Climate Change—USA,” International Law Office, published in conjunction with its 2014 Environment Year in Review, April 20, 2015 (co-authored with Byron Taylor, Roger Martella and Judith Praitis).
Memberships & Activities

In addition to his role as a global coordinator of Sidley’s Environmental group, David is an active member of the American Bar Association (ABA) Sections on Environment, Energy and Resources and Litigation, serving as the Vice-Chair, American Bar Association, Environmental Litigation Committee. He also is a member of the American College of Environmental Lawyers and is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100.

Pro Bono

David and Sidley’s Environmental group are representing non-government organizations (NGOs) in challenges to West Virginia National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and surface mining permits for a proposed shale mine as amicus in litigation in Maryland over public access to the Potomac River, and a challenge to a federal institution’s NPDES permit for a discharge into the Potomac. David recently brought  a Clean Water Act citizen’s enforcement suit in Maryland over sewage pollution which was successfully settled. For his work David was given the Potomac River Protection Award for 2015 by The Potomac Riverkeeper.

News & Achievements