Peter Tomasi decided to become an environmental lawyer while on a canoe trip when he was 18 years old.
“I had an interest in the environment and an uncle who was a lawyer and thought it would be a good combination. I’ll admit at the time I was not sure what the job all entailed,” said Tomasi, a lawyer at Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee.
At Foley, Tomasi specializes in regulatory compliance and renewable energy. “I help clients as they navigate regulations – and there are a lot – and deal with a lot of real world applications,” said Tomasi, who earned a master’s degree in environmental science in addition to getting his law degree at Duke University.
His clients run the gamut from manufacturers who have to comply with environmental regulations to financial institutions looking at financing a project involving possibly polluted land and wondering how that could affect the deal. Tomasi also helps clients with sustainability reporting. At various times, he might find himself developing a client’s first carbon-management and climate-change strategy, revising annual Climate Disclosure Project submissions and providing advice to clients who might have concerns related to the construction and operation of renewable energy projects.
“What I like to do most is getting out and seeing the properties and what is going on,” Tomasi said. “That is a lot of fun and reminds me I am not just dealing with some words on a piece of paper.”
The most challenging part of Tomasi’s practice is keeping up with regulations. He admitted staying up to date on rule changes is “mind numbing.”
“It can be daunting. It is not just about the rules here in Wisconsin, but what about other states or countries?” he said. “For manufacturers that do business in Europe, they want to know – ‘Can I sell this there?’ You need to be aware of all the different rules in place.”
Tomasi also helps his clients during comment-making periods, when rule and regulation changes and obstacles come up before committees.
“It is always busy and every day means something different,” he said.
Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Peter Tomasi: Knowing that I have genuinely helped my clients navigate numerous complex problems and allowing them to resolve regulatory headaches, keep their facilities operating and sleep better at night.
WLJ: Who is your hero in the legal field?
Tomasi: My uncle, Paul Tomasi. He was a county prosecutor for more than two decades and served as outside general counsel to a university. He is incredibly generous and one of the all-around best people that I have ever met.
WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
Tomasi: Three kids and a puppy provide ample opportunities for distraction from work. My wife and I also try to cook together at least once a week and I try to have an annual project.
WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
Tomasi: The complexity and the unseen results. Few people, other than a limited number of executives and engineers, understand the enormous amount of resources required to keep a modern manufacturing company in compliance with applicable requirements. Even fewer see those two, working together, head off issues with regulators by identifying and committing to do “the right thing.”
WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Tomasi: My civil procedure professor’s aphorisms. He would sprinkle in phrases like “belly up, stinking in the sun” or “that dog won’t hunt” into otherwise dry discussions of Rules 4 through 68 of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure. Also, the 2001 NCAA Final Four.
WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
Tomasi: When I was a federal law clerk, the 2002 redistricting case was before a three judge panel in the Eastern District. It was a once a decade type of case. It was great fun to be involved on the judiciary’s side and it gave me great respect for how the judges set aside politics and developed the 2002 legislative maps for Wisconsin.