David T. Buente Jr.



1501 K Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005


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 matters. Building upon his 15 years as an environmental prosecutor, including at the Department of Justice (DOJ), corporations—including American Electric Power, Cinergy, Duke Energy, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Georgia Pacific, Ford Motors, Honeywell, Tyson Foods and Verizon —turn to David for representation in complex federal environmental enforcement matters with DOJ and EPA. He also advises trade associations on diverse legislative, regulatory and litigation environmental issues.

Recognized in The Legal 500 US (2012) “one of the best environmental lawyers anywhere,” David has tried over 80 evidentiary cases and handled numerous appeals in federal and state courts. His 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 over carbon dioxide emissions. 
  • Convincing federal prosecutors to decline pursuit of environmental criminal investigations for several clients.

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 2013 and 2012. He has been named by Chambers USA as one of the nation’s Leading Lawyers since 2006. The 2014 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. David is an elected member of the American College of Environmental Lawyers and 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, Duke, 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, in 2011, 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 Represented Duke in successfully opposing the plaintiffs’ mandamus petition to the U.S. Supreme Court in a climate change nuisance case, twice winning dismissal of the case from the district court and 5th Circuit. (A class action suit had been brought on behalf of residents of Mississippi alleging that a variety of companies emitted greenhouse gases (GHG) and thereby intensified Hurricane Katrina, causing damage to plaintiffs’ property.)
  • 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 is representing 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.

Criminal Litigation:

  • 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.
  • Representing 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.
  • Represented a Midwest chemical plant company in convincing DOJ not to pursue a criminal investigation over Clean Air Act Leak Detection/Repair issues.


  • 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.
  • Advising two corporations in disputes with federal government over relative remedial responsibilities for a former nuclear weapons material processing plant in Connecticut and New York.
  • Representing CSX Transportation, Inc. concerning the Anacostia River Sediment Site in the District of Columbia.
  • Represents Coronet Industries, Inc. in 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 assists 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.
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 and Regent of the American College of Environmental Lawyers, and is a member of the Defense Research Institute, Ethics and Climate Change Committees, and 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 and surface mining permits for a proposed shale mine as amicus in litigation in Maryland over public access to the Potomac River, and in a Clean Water Act citizens enforcement suit in Maryland.
News & Achievements