Environmental practice head, Dentons, LLC and predecessor law firms; General Counsel, U.S. Council on Environmental Quality; Head of first Environment Section of California Attorney General’s Office
Interview Year: 2014
Nicholas Yost recalls gazing out his apartment window on a public park enjoyed by Mexican American families and targeted by the Mayor of Los Angeles for development. Saving the park was his first foray into environmental dispute resolution; and in 1970, he became the first head of the environmental section in the California Attorney General’s office. That office soon began to enforce the new California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) calling for study of the environmental impacts of major proposed projects. The Attorney General won a major case holding that the law applied to private as well as public projects and that it required the sponsors to deal with the environmental problems that surfaced and not just describe them. The California legislator who authored the law, Charles Warren, became the third chair of the new U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and took Yost with him to Washington to be General Counsel.
During Yost’s tenure, CEQ developed major rules for environmental impact assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that have stood the test of time. The Council also prepared the Global 2000 Report defining emerging environmental and public health trends and calling for action on issues like greenhouse gas emissions. The report was published in late 1980 and left on the shelf by the new Reagan Administration, a big disappointment for Yost and pioneer Gus Speth who were both ready to work on implementation plans.
Yost entered private practice in Washington and then California and is a partner with Dentons LLC. He has been a champion of the environmental assessment process throughout his career and thrives on the wide range of issues and multi-party dialogue that can produce negotiated solutions. He is proud that no NEPA document that he has worked on has ever been overturned in court, a record that is not surprising for the acknowledged master of the field.