FacultyFaculty/Author Profile
Nicholas Yost

Nicholas Yost

Dentons US LLP
San Francisco, CA, USA

Nicholas Yost has a nationwide and international practice of environmental and natural resources law.  He chairs Dentons’ US Environmental practice and co-chairs the firm’s international environment practice. Nick is the recipient of the American Bar Association's 2010 Award for Distinguished Achievement in Environmental Law and Policy.

Nick has served for the past 29 years as a private practitioner, having previously served as a lawyer and official with federal and state (California) governments and as a public interest lawyer.

Nick practices under all environmental laws with the focus of his practice involving counseling, document review, administrative proceedings and litigation under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) laws, particularly the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its state analogues, including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

As general counsel of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, Nick was lead draftsperson of the federal government's NEPA regulations and has played a comparably significant role in the development of CEQA.

His practice also includes counseling clients on compliance with such laws, obtaining permits and authorizations under federal and state environmental laws, representation of clients before federal and state agencies on environmental matters, Washington and Sacramento advocacy, handling environmental due diligence and litigation.

In connection with his principal work involving assistance to proponents of projects going through the NEPA and analogous state law processes, he reviews NEPA documents to ensure their legal adequacy in a full range of contexts, from public lands to specific projects, and participates in litigation to defend those approvals and otherwise to assert clients' interests under NEPA. He also regularly assists environmental consulting firms in ensuring NEPA compliance in documents they are preparing. He has also acted as an expert witness on NEPA and related laws.

Examples of his practice include successful representation of clients in taking major projects through NEPA and related environmental permit processes, such as renewable energy projects; airport expansions (Philadelphia, San Jose); land developments; international and interstate natural gas pipelines; electrical power plants; mining; highway, bridge and light rail projects; and Indian gaming and other facilities. He currently acts as outside NEPA counsel to a congressionally created federal agency, the Presidio Trust, reviewing the agency's documents for compliance with NEPA.

Nick has also represented the pharmaceutical industry and the veterinary pharmaceutical industry in environmental regulatory reform issues in Washington, DC; led negotiations among responsible parties at hazardous waste sites; and worked with federal and state trustees under the Oil Pollution Act concerning Natural Resources Damages (NRD) arising from an oil spill from an OCS drilling platform.

Nick also has represented plaintiffs in litigation to enforce NEPA and other environmental laws, including successful litigation on behalf of the state of Louisiana against the Corps of Engineers concerning offshore dredging. He has received an award for his pro bono activity.

He has also aided clients in asserting environmental leadership, such as by assisting in developing and drafting corporate environmental policies and assistance in strategic planning.


  • US-wide private practice of environmental and natural resources law in Washington, DC, (1985–1994) and in San Francisco with Dentons (1994–present)
  • Varied litigation practice directing the Washington office of the Center for Law in the Public Interest (1982–1985)
  • Visiting scholar, Environmental Law Institute (1981–1982), Washington, DC
  • General counsel, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the Executive Office of the President of the United States (1977–1981). Responsibilities in that office include lead responsibility for the development and drafting of the regulations that implement the National Environmental Policy Act and its environmental impact statement requirement throughout the federal government (40 C.F.R. Parts 1500-1508). Also assisted in negotiating and drafting a Presidential Executive Order dealing with international environmental impacts of US actions
  • United States director of the Law and Administration Project under the United States-Soviet environmental agreement, heading a US delegation to the USSR and hosting the Soviet delegation
  • Member of the US delegation hosting Chinese environmental specialists
  • Director, President's Task Force on Global Resources and Environment (1980–1981), taking a leave of absence from duties as CEQ general counsel to act as director of a cabinet-level task force co-chaired by the secretary of state and chair of CEQ
  • Deputy attorney general in charge, Environmental Unit, State of California Department of Justice (1971–1977), responsible for environmental litigation and administrative proceedings initiated by the attorney general and for drafting and advocating legislation in the California Legislature
  • Counsel to the California State Environmental Quality Study Council (1969–1971), created to study all California's environmental laws, problems, and institutions and report to the governor and the Legislature
  • This followed a period (1965–1969) when he was an administrative lawyer and litigator in the California Justice Department, representing various state agencies
  • Military Service (1963–1965): United States Army, Captain, Artillery, 1st Infantry Division


Honors and Awards

  • Selected for inclusion in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Law
  • Named Best Lawyer for Environmental Law in Northern California's Best Lawyers
  • Ranked by Chambers USA as one of the leading American lawyers for business in the fields of Environmental Law and Native American Law


  • NEPA Deskbook, Environmental Law Institute, 4th Edition, 2014
  • "The Environmental Impact Statement Process," Bureau of National Affairs, Corporate Practice Series, 2014
  • "The Background and History of NEPA," in The NEPA Litigation Guide, American Bar Association, 1998, 2012
  • Co-author, "The 'Action-Forcing' Requirements of NEPA and Ongoing Action of the Federal Government," Environmental Law Reporter, Environmental Law Institute, 2004
  • "Administrative Implementation of and Judicial Review Under the National Environmental Policy Act," Law of Environmental Protection, Environmental Law Institute, Clark-Boardman-Callaghan, 1987
  • "Environmental Law and Practice," Environmental Law Institute, Clark-Boardman-Callaghan, 1992
  • "Rio and the Road Beyond," SCEL, American Bar Association, 1992
  • "The Governance of Environmental Affairs, Toward Consensus," Aspen Institute, 1982
  • Articles published in numerous publications including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.  Speaker at numerous venues.

Activities and Affiliations

Nick is a member of the bars of California and the District of Columbia and of the Supreme Court of the United States and of other federal courts. He has litigated at the Supreme Court, intermediate appellate and trial court levels in both the federal and state systems and has testified at numerous legislative hearings at both federal and state levels.

His professional service has included:

  • Chair, Standing Committee on Environmental Law, American Bar Association
  • Member, US Delegation to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the "Earth Summit"), Rio de Janeiro (1992)
  • Delegate to or speaker at numerous international environmental law conferences, including those in Brussels, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Czech Republic, Poland and Uganda
  • ABA Member, National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists
  • Member and subcommittee chair, California EPA Blue Ribbon Commission on a Unified Environmental Statute
  • Chairperson, Committee on the Environment, State Bar of California
  • Co-chair, Section on Environment, Energy and Natural Resources, District of Columbia Bar
  • Member, board of directors, Environmental Law Institute
  • Awarded the Environmental Quality Award by the Natural Resources Council of America (1996)

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