A Conversation with Robin L. Main: How She Built Her Career From the Ocean Floor Up

Robin L. Main, Partner and Co-Chair, Environmental and Energy Law Groups, has dedicated much of her career to environmental law. Using her 30 plus years of experience, Main continues to deliver consistent results for her clients.

Because I’ve been practicing environmental law for so long, I’ve developed contacts and connections across the industry with regulators and agencies. My clients hire me because they know that I can bring together a top notch team that can solve problems and troubleshoot future issues.

Here Robin shares some of the most interesting parts of her job with us from navigating shipwrecks to negotiating with regulators.

What areas of environmental law does your practice focus on?

I am primarily involved in the renewable energy area, especially offshore wind. I did the environmental permitting for the first offshore windfarm in the United States and we just secured several of the approvals for a second wind farm. Right now, I’m working on permits and approvals for additional, major offshore wind projects, both for ocean-based development and for on shore. I also have a lot of experience in solar energy and other on land renewables.

Given that I am a litigator, as well as a trained mediator, I can look around the corners and try to anticipate what the issues will be to help minimize clients’ risks, whether it is in an administrative permitting process or negotiating a deal and documenting it.

The rest of my practice is a mix of doing complex land use permitting and environmental cleanup matters for our construction clients and utilities. I also handle enforcement actions brought by state and federal environmental agencies.

What are some of the challenges that clients face in permitting offshore renewable energy projects?

The challenges vary for each project, and they are different, depending on the stakeholder groups involved, as well as the different permitting processes. While offshore wind farms now tend to be in federal waters, you are still subject to potentially multiple state reviews under the Coastal Zone Management process, so you wind up dealing with various – and sometimes overlapping – jurisdictions for any one project.

You’re also trying to coexist with other ocean users, such as the fishing community, and there are complicated issues dealing with where a turbine foundation can be sited in the ocean. There are even extraordinary challenges such as historic shipwrecks.

Where will we see the next boom from offshore wind projects?

We’ve been making good progress in the offshore wind area recently. Just recently the U.S. Department for the Interior approved the construction of the South Fork Wind Farm. A year ago, there were no large-scale offshore wind projects approved, and today there are two with many others in the works. Projects are getting bigger because the feasibility and value of offshore wind has been proven by the wind farms that have already been built, like the Block Island Wind Farm. Where the Block Island Wind Farm was a 30 megawatt demonstration project, the South Fork Wind Farm will generate 132 megawatts, enough to supply power to approximately 70,000 homes. Every success that comes from these projects will further stimulate the clean-energy industry and we’ll continue to see that space grow tremendously in the next ten years.

What professional achievement has meant the most to you?

I was inducted into the American College of Environmental Lawyers (ACOEL) in 2020.   Members of ACOEL are invited to join because they have demonstrated a commitment to improving the ethical practice of environmental law, justice in environmental law, and the development of environmental law.