Stephen J. Bonebrake is an experienced environmental lawyer, a seasoned counselor on regulatory and permitting issues, and a zealous advocate for his clients. He employs a thorough understanding of environmental laws to help clients efficiently and, where needed, creatively find real-world solutions to challenging matters. Most of all, he understands that an effective outcome satisfies client business goals, not just the legal problem at hand.

Steve has extensive experience representing energy and manufacturing companies and other property owners in matters related to Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act compliance and permitting, Superfund actions, brownfield redevelopment, plant closure and expansion matters, waste disposal and transport and the environmental components of asset and stock sales.

As an accomplished advocate, Steve represents clients in a variety of environmental administrative and litigation matters. His experience includes enforcement and cost-recovery actions, toxic tort cases, rule variance,  permit issuance and appeal proceedings, federal and state rulemakings, government investigations and litigation concerning the environmental elements of stock and asset purchase agreements. He knows how to win a disputed case, but he also recognizes when client needs would be better served by an agreed resolution. 

  • Experience

    • Steve protected a power company from regulatory exposure based on the actions of a former owner of the power company’s plants. The company was facing New Source Review and other Clean Air Act claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a state and environmental groups. The plaintiffs claimed that a prior owner of several plants now owned by his client had “modified” those plants, triggering New Source Review requirements, and that those requirements applied to and were violated by our client. The plaintiffs sought penalties and pollution controls that could have cost billions of dollars. Steve and his colleagues used novel defense arguments, making the case that New Source Review violations are one-time violations that occur only at the time of construction, and that a later owner does not, therefore, violate New Source Review requirements based upon earlier alleged modifications by a prior owner. The trial court agreed, finding that no relief may be obtained from the current owner. The appellate court affirmed, ruling that the statute of limitations had run, which terminated  any New Source Review claim. The result set a precedent that current owners cannot be held liable based on alleged modifications of a prior owner and that the passage of time may bar New Source Review claims even absent a change of ownership.
    • Similar issues – and hundreds of millions of dollars – were at stake in another case where Steve was called upon to represent a power company. In this case, the company faced New Source Review and other Clean Air Act claims by EPA and several states. The plaintiffs claimed that the prior owners had modified the plant at issue and that the current operator, our client, violated the Clean Air Act by operating the plant without controls and permits allegedly required as a result of those alleged modifications. The trial court granted our motion to dismiss on all claims, agreeing that New Source Review violations occur only at the time of construction and that a current operator cannot be held liable for alleged New Source Review violations of a prior owner. An appeals court agreed, and also found that a claim for alleged failure to include New Source Review requirements in a Title V operating permit must be pressed through the administrative process, not through an enforcement action.
    • Steve brings his broad experience to bear in defense negotiations for consent decrees and other agreements resolving New Source Review, Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards, hazardous waste storage and release and other claims. This experience has included the successful negotiation of a federal consent decree resolving New Source Review claims, as well as the successful negotiation of Compliance Commitment Agreements to resolve various claims under the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.
    • Clients trust Steve to ensure the best achievable result when facing government investigations. He has assisted clients with responding to and defending against investigations and notices of violation under various environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Clean Air Act and the Illinois Environmental Protection Act. These efforts have varied from complex responses for power companies to extensive New Source Review Section 114 investigation requests, to successful presentations to state regulators that resulted in the termination of enforcement activities.
    • Steve crafted an innovative argument when his client, the owner of a contaminated property, sought to recover costs from the property’s prior owner, who had caused the contamination. The case involved the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Through motions, Steve asserted that his client had a valid defense to any CERCLA counterclaim by the prior owner because the title to the property had been obtained through a tax deed, and under Illinois law a tax deed does not establish a contractual relationship with the prior owner. Steve’s novel approach won the day, leading to a settlement on very favorable grounds for his client.   
    • Steve has been the lead lawyer on numerous Title V permit appeals in Illinois and Indiana. This includes representing power company permittees in connection with more than 15 Title V permit appeals in Illinois, involving extensive negotiations with the Illinois EPA concerning permit changes required to resolve those appeals.
    • Steve has helped clients obtain water, air and other permits and regulatory relief, including a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit for a manufacturing client, Title 5 permits for various major emission sources and rule variances for power companies.
    • Steve advocates for individual clients or client groups in various federal and state rulemaking processes. In one such matter, Steve obtained a court order for a group of clients that prohibited the Illinois Pollution Control Board and the Illinois EPA from proceeding with a rulemaking on a “fast track” basis. As a result, his clients had more time and an equitable opportunity to present their views and arguments in the rulemaking process.
  • Credentials


    • Loyola University Chicago School of Law, J.D., 1992, cum laude
      Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, Member
    • DePauw University, B.A., 1985

    Bar Admissions

    • Illinois
    • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
    • U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
    • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Trial Bar)
    • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana
    • U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin

        Professional Memberships

        • American Bar Association
        • Illinois State Bar Association
      • Insights

        News Release

        2019 Leading Lawyers Lists Recognize 95 Schiff Attorneys

        Schiff Hardin LLP is pleased to have 95 attorneys named to the 2019 Leading Lawyers list.

        News Release

        61 Schiff Attorneys Named to 2019 Best Lawyers in America List and Six Recognized as “Lawyer of the Year”

        Schiff Hardin is pleased to announce that 61 attorneys have been included in the 2019 edition of The Best Lawyers in America, as well as six who were named a “Lawyer of the Year” in their respective areas of practice.

        News Release

        Chambers USA 2018 Recognizes Four Practice Areas and 22 Attorneys

        Schiff Hardin is pleased to announce that four practice areas and 22 attorneys have been recognized in the 2018 edition of Chambers USA, a leading legal industry ranking.

        News Release

        95 Schiff Hardin Lawyers Named to 2018 Leading Lawyers Lists

        Ninety-six Schiff Hardin lawyers have been named to the 2018 Leading Lawyers lists for Illinois and Michigan.

        News Release

        Schiff Hardin Lawyers Named to 2018 The Best Lawyers in America

        Schiff Hardin is pleased to announce that five attorneys have been named a “Lawyer of the Year” in the 2018 edition of The Best Lawyers in America©.

        News Release

        Chambers USA 2017 Recognizes 20 Schiff Hardin Attorneys and 4 Practice Areas

        Schiff Hardin is pleased to announce that 20 attorneys and four practice areas were recognized in the 2017 edition of Chambers USA, a leading legal industry ranking.

        News Release

        99 Schiff Hardin Attorneys Named to 2017 Leading Lawyers List

        Ninety-nine Schiff Hardin lawyers have been named to the 2017 Leading Lawyers list for Illinois and Michigan.

        News Release

        53 Schiff Hardin Attorneys Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America© 2017

        Three Schiff Hardin attorneys also received the prestigious Best Lawyers’ 2017 “Lawyer of the Year” award.

        News Release

        25 Schiff Hardin Attorneys, 7 Practice Areas Ranked by Chambers USA 2016

        Twenty-five Schiff Hardin attorneys and seven practice areas received leading rankings in the 2016 edition of Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business.

        News Release

        91 Schiff Hardin Lawyers Named to 2016 Illinois, Michigan Leading Lawyers Network

        The list is comprised of those attorneys who are most recommended as top lawyers among their peers.

        Speeches & Presentations

        • Panel presentation regarding major NSR court decisions, ISBA conference (2015)
        • “Coal on the Run?” (co-presenter) 19th Annual FERC Briefing, Chicago, Ill. (Jun. 13, 2013)
        • Panel presentation regarding the Mercury Emission Cap and Trade Program, ELI Congressional Briefing Series (Apr. 2007)

      Energy and Environmental Law Adviser

      EPA Issues Final SSM SIP Call and Finalizes Revised SSM Policy

      On May 22, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule requiring 36 states to revise their regulations governing emissions from sources during startup, shutdown and malfunction (SSM) periods, thus issuing a “SIP call” for each of those 36 states.  EPA’s 554-page notice was issued in a final action triggered by litigation brought... Continue Reading


      "Mastering the Complexities of Air Law"

      image description

      "Stephen J. Bonebrake first became interested in environmental conservation as a 5–year-old who hiked and backpacked in the mountains with his family. But it would be much, much later in life before he decided to use that passion to pursue a legal career." Read Article