By Kari HawkinsJuly 2, 2018
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The complex nature of environmental law has provided Army Materiel Command attorney John German with a career as a student, practitioner and teacher of statutes affecting the nation's environment and energy regulations and policies.
It's a career that has been both engaging and challenging as German has worked to ensure AMC and its major subordinate commands fulfill both state and federal environmental requirements while also meeting research and development, production and sustainment missions. For his proactive efforts, German has been named a recipient of the 2017 Dellamonica Award for Outstanding Personnel of the Year.
"Environmental law is probably one of the most diverse and complex areas of practice," German said.
"I've been practicing or teaching environmental law for the Army since 1993. There was a lot of development in environmental law in the 1980s and 1990s, so by the time I got into this career, environmental law was pretty mature. But, in certain areas, the Army didn't have the background experience that they needed, and that's where I hope I've made a difference."
As a member of the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps, German taught environmental law at the Army JAG School for two years, sandwiched between two tours at the then Army Environmental Center (now the Army Environmental Command). His 21 years of Army service led him into retirement as an environmental law attorney at Army Materiel Command headquarters, where he has practiced environmental law for the past 16 years.
"When I was a JAG officer, teaching environmental law really gave me a solid grasp of the law because teaching it makes you really learn it. You gain a breadth of knowledge when you are focused on making sure other JAG officers - your peers - have a good understanding of the law and on ensuring senior leaders are taught to be prepared to address environmental issues," German said.
Those teaching years, combined with his work with environmental issues as an Army officer, gave German the experience he needed to be AMC's subject-matter expert on its Environmental Law and Real Estate Team, providing leadership in addressing environmental compliance and restoration issues. He is widely recognized as an environmental law expert by the Office of the Judge Advocate General and the Department of the Army.
"Most clients I work with are in the field, not here at AMC headquarters," German said. "A lot of support goes to our major subordinate commands and their installations because they either don't have an attorney on site or their attorney has limited experience in environmental law.
"I enjoy helping to keep MSCs and their installations compliant whenever possible. Our commanders want to be good stewards of the environment and the natural resources located on their installations, so it is very rewarding when I can help them fulfill that part of their mission."
In 2017, German was among five principal Army attorneys tasked with rewriting the Army's regulation implementing the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition, he provided input into revisions of the Department of Defense's Environmental Restoration Program Manual, and the Army's pending Integrated Solid Waste Management Policy.
"Mr. German is not just a leader, but an innovator. He is a role model employee who is regularly sought out by others for his leadership, experience, sage advice and creative ideas," said Brian Toland, Army Materiel Command Counsel who nominated German for the Dellamonica Award.
"He inspires others to achieve excellence through his demonstrated work ethic, diligence, attention to detail and unwavering commitment to the Army Materiel Command mission."
During 2017, German provided primary legal oversight for the Army regarding two enforcement actions brought by the Environmental Protection Agency's Region III to resolve environmental compliance issues at Radford Army Ammunition Plant.
German also provided support in 2017 for two Environmental Assessments - one for the proposed construction of an Explosives Waste Incinerator at the Radford plant and the other for a proposed Research Department Explosive Expansion Project at Holston Army Ammunition Plant - as well as assisting Holston secure the renewal of its Clean Air Act permit. He also worked on two real estate actions in 2017 involving an attempt by the Red River Army Depot to re-acquire a water treatment plant and other property that had been transferred to the local reuse authority and published seven articles focused on environmental law updates.
Even with the work demands of the Army Materiel Command's top environmental attorney, German was also able to teach an environmental law course at the Command Counsel's Continuing Legal Education Course, continuing a legacy of having taught at least one environmental law course at every Command Counsel CLE since 2002.
"It means a lot to me to be able to assist installations or attorneys or commanders in the field with environmental issues," German said. "They usually involve compliance issues as they relate to a mission they have to meet. For that reason, those compliance issues have to be solved quickly so that the focus can return to the mission."
While Army Materiel Command attorneys have full control of environmental issues related to government owned/government operated facilities, that control is somewhat limited with government owned/contractor operated facilities, although the government is held equally accountable as the contractor when environmental issues arise, he said.
"Having to negotiate a resolution with an operating contractor can be a challenge," German said. "That's when you have to really dig into regulations and policies, and work to protect the government in the negotiations for a settlement."
Working as a government lawyer is rewarding for German, as it provides him a proactive way to provide assistance to the Army Materiel Command and its major subordinate commands.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to serve in a mentor and teacher role. It's rewarding to be able to help installations and attorneys with determining environment requirements, regulations and policies," German said.
"In all situations, we start with the basics and then focus in on the details as we move forward in finding solutions. If we are proactive, we can protect the health and safety of our personnel and the environment, and keep environmental issues from becoming violations or from turning into a lawsuit."