Robert Thornton is one of the foremost natural resources and Endangered Species Act lawyers in the country. He has represented landowners, resource developers, and public agencies on high profile matters, successfully defending over $5 billion in regional transportation improvements and developing regional conservation plans that now protect hundreds of thousands of acres.
Over three decades, Mr. Thornton has demonstrated his ability to use innovative strategies - such as habitat conservation plans (HCPs) - to ensure successful project delivery. His work is well respected by his colleagues and clients who have ranked him among the nation's top environmental lawyers.
Mr. Thornton regularly comments on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States on the Firm's Endangered Species Law & Policy blog.
He is AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell.
Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies. Devised and implemented a successful environmental compliance strategy to defend against twenty lawsuits challenging $3 billion in regional transportation improvements in Southern California. See Laguna Greenbelt Inc. v. United States Department of Transportation, 42 F.3d 517 (9th Cir. 1994).
Orange County Great Park Corporation. Supervising attorney to the nonprofit corporation formed by the City of Irvine to finance and develop a metropolitan park twice the size of New York City's Central Park at the former Marine Corps Air Station – El Toro.
South Bay Expressway (SR 125). Successfully obtained state and federal environmental clearances and permits for development of a 10-mile private toll highway in San Diego. Subsequently successfully defended against complex state and federal litigation brought by several environmental groups on CEQA, NEPA, ESA, the Clean Water Act and on Transportation Act grounds. See Center For Biological Diversity et al. v. Federal Highway Administration, 290 F.Supp.2d 1175 (S.D.Cal. 2003).
Woodside Natural Gas Inc. CEQA and NEPA counsel for a proposed liquefied natural gas project 27 miles off the coast of Los Angeles that would facilitate regasification of Australian LNG for distribution in Southern California.
Pacific Lumber Company – Headwaters Forest Transaction. Served as special endangered species and real estate counsel to Pacific Lumber Company on its sale of the Headwaters Forest to the California and U.S. governments. Concurrently developed a 211,000-acre HCP - the largest private timber HCP to date and the first timber HCP to be developed following the listing of a number of salmon species as endangered.
Imperial Irrigation District. Served as environmental counsel for the IID/San Diego County Water Authority Water Conservation and Transfer Project. Work involved negotiating and obtaining federal and state environmental approvals for the nation's largest agriculture to urban water transfer project.
Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation. Successfully challenged the critical habitat designations of four endangered species in Southern California, arguing - in part - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to adequately evaluate the economic impacts of the designation as required by the ESA. See Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation v. Norton, 231 F.Supp.2d 100 (D.D.C. 2002).
Solar Array Projects – Mission Energy/First Solar. Advising energy development clients on all aspects of permitting and environmental clearance related to several solar array projects throughout California (projects to construct and maintain solar photovoltaic cell modules in large arrays and transmission connections to provide alternative energy). Providing advice and counseling, including development of strategic plans for compliance with the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, NEPA, CEQA and early mitigation/mitigation banking. Providing counseling relative to federal and local agency entitlement processes and analysis for topics such as cumulative impacts, alternatives and greenhouse gas emissions.
Awards & Honors
Chosen for individual recognition in California Environmental law by Chambers and Partners, 2013
Ranked as one of the nation's top 10 environmental lawyers by United States Lawyer Rankings 2006 through 2013
Named a Southern California "Super Lawyer" for Environmental Law in 2004 through 2013 by Los Angeles magazine
Named as one of "The Best Lawyers in America: Environmental Law" in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012
Named a 2013 Top Rated Lawyer in Land Use And Zoning by Martindale-Hubbell and American Lawyer Media