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John Lormon remembers the date he became an environmental lawyer; the year, however, is a little fuzzy.

It was July 3 (either 1978 or 1979) when vandals sabotaged a part of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline System -- the 800-mile oil conduit running from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. Tensions flared when union labor, which was used for its construction, wasn't employed for the day-to-day operation.

Lormon was working for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. at the time, a conglomerate of the eight oil companies that jointly owned the pipeline. An urgent call came in at 5 p.m., notifying the company that an oil leak had been discovered. Someone needed to determine the company's reporting and cleanup obligations and how it would deal with the impact of raw crude being released into the environment.

"The boss called us in, and he looked around the room," Lormon recalled. "Everyone else was senior to me, so they assigned me to be the environmental guy.

"So early on the Fourth of July I took off on a two-seater (plane) and went to Fairbanks. That started me down the road of environmental representation."

Today, the San Diego attorney boasts a thriving environmental and land use practice for Procopio Cory Hargreaves & Savitch LLP. He represents developers, landowners and people who want projects dealing with environmental issues to get approved.

Lormon has been the chair of the firm's Real Estate and Environmental team for the past 10 years.

"He's absolutely outstanding," said Tom Turner, Procopio's managing partner. "He is academically top drawer. He has expertise on a very wide range of environmental areas."

Lormon's been appointed to the water board and the state coastal conservancy.

"I've been both on the regulator side and the regulated side," he said. "That perspective has been helpful to me and helpful with connections."

Last summer, he helped the Scripps Institute of Oceanography secure an exception from the California Ocean Plan's prohibition against waste discharges into areas of Special Biological Significance. It marked the first exception granted by the state water resources board in 15 years and the first in what Lormon refers to as the "modern era."

"Things are a lot differences today in regulatory enforcement," he said. "Scripps, to its credit, realized that the coastal waters are a precious resource, and Scripps was among the early voices calling for protection of coastal waters. They want to look at science and make sure things are done right."

Lormon also handled the environmental issues involving the transfer of the South Bay power plant from San Diego Gas & Electric to the Port Authority, which immediately handed operation over to Duke Power Co. (NYSE: DUK).

He worked with the state's Coastal Commission staff to get the proper permit for anchoring the Midway in San Diego Bay.

His pet project, however, is an environmental breakfast club he started in 1989 in the Long Beach area. It has attracted prominent guess speakers over the years, including erstwhile Mayor Dick Murphy.

"Part of it was to facilitate practice with clients," said Lormon, who describes it as part public service and part business.

The next forum is scheduled for early to mid-October. The first issue on tap stems from a California Supreme Court decision in April that regional water boards are required to consider the cost of compliance when it issues affluent limits on its storm water and industrial discharges. He'll also pose the question of when does a regional board have to split its staff in order to form an impartial advisory team?

"He's so well-tuned 'informationally,' but also he's connected and has personal relationships with environmental officials throughout the area, region and state," Turner said. "If we need to have information or have to make connections with any environmentally oriented group throughout the state, John is likely to have a very good in.

"He's been immersed in this stuff for decades now (while) a lot of people are fairly superficially exposed to difference environmental laws."

One of the best lessons Lormon has ever learned occurred while he was in law school. His professor brought in a woman to be interviewed about a potential case. She had purchased an appliance that didn't work, and she didn't know what her rights were. The class poured over the appliance's contract and quizzed her thoroughly about the purchase.

"We dove into the legal arguments and told her what her rights are," he said. "The following week we found out she couldn't read English, and no one asked her that."

That little bit of basic information would have made the case a lot easier to win.

"Asking the fundamental questions is very important," Lormon said. "I learned to start at the base. In certain circumstances, you have to be careful of assumptions.

"I learned in life you need to know what you don't know," he added. "When you can recognize what you don't know or what you're not necessarily good at, you need to step outside of your own experience. Then set about finding out what you don't know or bring in new people. Listening is an important part. You can't hear if you're talking all the time."

For more information about Lormon's upcoming breakfast club, contact him at jjl@procopio.com.

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