August 31, 20190

In Rhode Island, several state agencies regulate businesses. Corporate law related to coastal and environmental management follows specific regulatory tracks. Environmental law and coastal law compliance and enforcement are important initiatives for the government. This includes federal, state, and municipal branches. Just as individuals can be found liable for violations of environmental laws and regulations, so can companies.

Coastal Law and Companies

The Coastal Resources Management Council (“CRMC”) requires approval for any activity that impacts the state’s coastal resources. There is a written process that a company must follow to receive approval for the activity. Business owners are not likely to consider coastal permitting as part of their day-to-day. At least, not until they are served with an enforcement action or they wish to expand in coastal jurisdiction. Coastal permitting, in corporate law, is dealt with in the same manner applied to individuals.

For example, in 2016, the CRMC approved a “maintenance repair” to a stone wall revetment associated with a popular oceanfront bar and restaurant in Narragansett. The application was highly controversial. In the course of the application review, the CRMC staff analyzed the merits of the application. Staff included a biologist, engineer, and geologist.

One of the project applicants was a corporate entity. The entity was treated the same way that an individual would be, under the regulations and state law. Corporate law does not shield a corporate entity from the requirements of regulatory programs.

An example of such a requirement comes from the “maintenance repair” application discussed above. The CRMC included conditions when it approved the corporate entity’s application for revetment. According to the approved plans, the CRMC granted permanent public access along the top of the revetment wall through a public shoreline access easement. This means that, under corporate law, the company conveyed a property interest to the public and to a state agency. Property law plays a role in the corporate setting, too.

Environmental Law and Companies

Rhode Island’s regulatory regimes impact corporations on many levels. The state’s Department of Environmental Management (“DEM”) has specific mandates. Corporate law does not change a state agency’s jurisdiction or statutory obligations. An enforcement action issued by the state must be served on a property’s owner of record. If the owner of record is a corporation, the enforcement action is issued to it. In Rhode Island, any corporate entity must maintain a resident agent for purposes of service.

In terms of international environmental protocols, corporate law has resulted in new regulations, demands for environmental preservation and sustainability.  These international initiatives created high compliance costs for the corporate entity. Also, environmental compliance became a marketing edge that businesses use to sell their product or service.

Companies are most often subject to civil liability in the environmental context. However, corporate law also includes an element of criminal liability. When a business is found liable for certain actions, it may be subject to criminal punishment. Its employees may also be subject to indictment. The corporation itself may be placed on probation by the prosecuting agency. Further, the agency may request various reporting and monitoring conditions and monetary fines and penalties.

Desautel Browning Law works daily with businesses affected by environmental and coastal corporate law. To learn more about how we can help you, call us today at 401.477.0023.

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