MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — About 40 years ago, Martin Harrell met an environmental law professor who mentored and inspired him.
Now, the successful attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is honoring that professor with a new endowed scholarship at the West Virginia University College of Law.
Harrell graduated from WVU Law in 1982 and has been a lawyer at the EPA regional office in Philadelphia since 1983. He now manages all legal aspects of the agency’s criminal enforcement program in five Mid-Atlantic states.
As one of the government’s top environmental enforcement lawyers, Harrell is helping protect the land, communities and people from environmental and public health threats.
If not for law professor Patrick McGinley, Harrell's storied career might not have happened. That’s why he has established the W. Martin Harrell Scholarship in Honor of Professor Patrick McGinley.
“Pat set me on this path,” Harrell said. “Pat mentored and inspired me and developed my interest in environmental law. He gave me a job one summer when funding at the West Virginia Attorney General’s office disappeared at the last minute, and he gave me career advice along the way.”
Starting in fall 2022, the Harrell-McGinley scholarship will be awarded to a rising 3L who is interested in public interest environmental or energy law and is an active participant in extracurricular activities. The recipient must be making satisfactory academic progress and demonstrate financial need as determined by the WVU Office of Financial Aid. The scholarship can be awarded to more than one student annually.
“When I first met Marty Harrell, I was a new teacher, fresh from my work enforcing environmental laws with the Pennsylvania Environmental Strike Force,” McGinley said. “Marty had a great sense of humor, a keen analytical mind, personal integrity, and a passion for justice. I’m truly blessed to have made a small contribution to Marty’s exceptional career of public service and to call him my friend.”
A U.S. Army veteran, Harrell earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Marshall University in 1978 after his discharge. A native of northeastern North Carolina, he worked at the Huntington Herald-Dispatch before law school. His time at the newspaper covering local and state law enforcement in three states led to him being asked in 1988 to work with EPA’s fledging criminal enforcement program.
“Essentially, I could speak the lingo that our new special agents spoke,” Harrell said lightheartedly. “People at the EPA were not used to dealing with cops who carried firearms. I was comfortable given my time in the Army and as a police reporter.”
Harrell says he could have gone into media, energy or environmental law after graduating from college.
“But I ended up taking all of the environmental law classes there were at WVU and working for Pat,” he said. “It was still the early days of environmental law, and some thought not much new would happen in the field in the years to come. They were wrong.”
Even though he left West Virginia for Philadelphia, Harrell has watched McGinley excel as a law professor and as an advocate for environmental protection and justice.
“Pat has been a guiding light in environmental legal circles for many years,” Harrell said. “Especially his representation of nonprofits and his work for citizen groups, both at the local and national levels. And he has taught environmental law to generations of students.”
After graduating from WVU Law, Harrell clerked for Justice Darrell McGraw on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia for a year. Following that job, he went to Philadelphia to begin his long career at the EPA.
“I enthusiastically recommended Marty for his first job with EPA, having no doubt
he would be an exemplary lawyer. He didn’t disappoint,” McGinley said.
In his first role at the agency, Harrell handled civil air, toxics and hazardous waste enforcement and Superfund cleanups as an assistant regional counsel. For the past three decades, he has been an associate regional counsel for criminal enforcement, supervising a team of attorneys and working closely with the EPA’s criminal investigators.
Additionally, since 1986, Harrell has served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in six different U.S. Attorney Offices in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and Virginia. He recently concluded a month-long Clean Water Act and fraud trial in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Harrell says his EPA work is a mix of counseling, investigation and litigation.
“Being a trial attorney, much less a criminal prosecutor, was not on the radar screen during law school,” he said.
Over the course of his career, Harrell has earned several professional accolades. These include the Service to America Medal (aka the “Oscar” of government service) from the Partnership for Public Service — he was the first EPA nominee and winner.
He earned that award for holding a surplus chemical broker in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, criminally liable for exporting 300 tons of waste chemicals overseas and refusing to take responsibility for disposing of them when they began leaking in Holland.
The Partnership for Public Service produced a video about Martin Harrell and a chemical waste case in Pottstown, Pa.
Harrell has also won two EPA Gold Medals, including one for helping prosecute the Freedom chemical spill in West Virginia, two EPA Silver Medals for Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act cases, four EPA Bronze Medals, and various commendations from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
“Marty’s three decades of groundbreaking and award-winning criminal environmental law enforcement made all of us at the College of Law proud,” McGinley said. “Nothing brings a teacher greater satisfaction than the extraordinary success of our students.”
Some cases stand out for Harrell.
He was involved with the EPA’s first criminal prosecutions of Massey Coal for Clean Water Act environmental violations at two of the company’s subsidiaries in southern West Virginia.
“Sometimes civil enforcement is enough,” said Harrell, reflecting on his 40-year career. “Other times, criminal prosecution is the only option.”
He spent three years going to Roanoke, Virginia, for a week each month in the 1990s to prosecute several different cases in the southwest part of the state. One case was a hazardous waste matter against the City of Roanoke itself that led to widespread training of municipal officials in Virginia on environmental compliance that helped lead municipalities to develop ways to reduce waste generation.
Harrell has also been involved with every wetlands prosecution brought in the Mid-Atlantic region since the early 1990s, including one in West Virginia involving a professional engineer who was also a former state senator and others in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.
“Such cases are always controversial,” said Harrell, “no matter how egregious the conduct.”
His first environmental criminal case — in the late 1980s — is memorable because it involved the death of an elderly couple. Employees of an Orkin Exterminating Company dealer applied a fungicide for pest treatment and failed to follow post-application procedures. When the couple returned to their home, they became ill and passed away within a couple of days.
Harrell has not limited his expertise to the EPA and he is no stranger to the classroom.
For almost a decade, he served as an adjunct professor at Villanova University School of Law, teaching a course on environmental enforcement that he designed, and he has been an instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, since 1989.
Harrell has even taken his teaching overseas. Shortly after the fall of communism, he gave environmental crimes training in various Eastern European countries, such as Moldova, Romania, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. He has also trained police and prosecutors from the Caribbean, Central America, South Africa, Ukraine and Russia.
He says those experiences are with him often, especially given the circumstances now in Eastern Europe.
Several times, Harrell has returned to Law School Hill to speak to McGinley’s students.
“WVU gave me the education and tools to have a great career,” said Harrell, who plans to retire from the EPA this year. “I want to encourage my classmates and all alumni to give back to the College of Law in some way, even consider establishing a scholarship themselves or give generously to class scholarships to help students in the future.”
Harrell notes that while he has provided the initial funding to get his scholarship up and running, it is open for donations from others to honor McGinley, especially his classmates who are marking the 40th anniversary of their law school graduation this year.
“The more we donate, the more scholarships WVU can provide,” Harrell said, “and that will benefit the citizens of West Virginia and beyond.”
Harrell’s gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.
For information on giving to the WVU College of Law, contact Jennie James, assistant dean for development, at (304) 293-7367 or firstname.lastname@example.org.