James W. Sanderson


Legal Assistant: Pattie Quinn


Jim is a shareholder of Ryley Carlock & Applewhite in Denver and practices in the areas of environmental law, water resources development, public lands, mined land reclamation, and public policy government affairs. He is a former chair of the firm’s Compensation Committee and its practice group on Water, Energy Water and Environment.

His background includes ten years of federal government service in the United States Senate staff and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. He gained first-hand insight into the origins and underlying philosophies of today’s environmental programs as a result of his tenure as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Gordon Allott (R-Colo), the co-author of the National Environmental Policy Act. He served as Regional EPA Counsel in Denver in the 1970’s, and later worked as a policy consultant in Washington, D.C. to the Administrator of the EPA in the Reagan Administration.

As one of the first practitioners of environmental law in the Rocky Mountain region, Jim continues to be ranked as a leading environmental lawyer by the Chambers USA 2008 – 2019 Client’s Guides. Law Week Colorado’s “Barrister’s Best” named Jim “Best Environmental Lawyer” in 2013 and again in 2017. He has been listed in Colorado Super Lawyers and is rated AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell. In January 2008, Jim was named “Lawyer of the Year” by Law Week Colorado for negotiating the electric utility industry’s 2007 landmark consensus with environmental groups, local governments and the Colorado state agency reducing mercury emissions from Colorado’s 22 coal-fired power plants.

His work focuses on achieving client goals in the arenas of air and water quality, wildlife and endangered species, land use, BLM and Forest Service public lands issues, floating and river use and access issues, wetlands, waste disposal and underground contamination. Jim possesses extensive experience in lobbying, EIS/NEPA compliance, permitting, negotiating with both government agencies and adversary groups, litigation involving environmental issues, and expert witness selection and coordination.

In governmental policy development, Jim has represented clients in federal and state rulemaking and policy development concerning air and water quality, Wild & Scenic River designation, waste disposal, ground water cleanup standards, and electric transmission line siting. In the permitting arena, Jim’s experience extends to air permits, water discharge permits, MS4 stormwater permits, Section 404 permits and federal rights-of-way. In the judicial arena, Jim has defended clients in federal and state enforcement proceedings (air, NPDES, and stormwater) and has prosecuted cases against agencies to force as well as overturn administrative regulations and decisions.

Most recently, Jim’s work has included:  U.S. Court of Appeals litigation challenging EPA’s regulatory actions under the Clean Air Act; NEPA and environmental counsel for the proponent of a 500-mile renewable energy transmission line; protecting mining claims under the Federal Mining Laws; BLM and U.S. Forest Service land use approvals; environmental counsel for permitting a cutting-edge waste tire recycling facility; MS4 stormwater permitting for municipalities; securing BLM land exchanges with associated NEPA compliance and environmental contractor oversight; and new source air permitting for manufacturing facilities and mines.

Jim’s in-depth understanding of government programs and how agencies work gives him a “leg up” in achieving client objectives. He views himself as a consensus and coalition builder: examples include regional energy development (oil shale and power plants), area-wide water supply solutions, securing adoption of air quality solutions to control mercury emissions and reduce air pollution impacts to National Parks and wilderness areas, and Wild & Scenic River protection. His membership on the Colorado Visibility and Air Quality Related Values Task Force (Colorado Senate Leadership appointment) led to the 1996 enactment of the first state law to protect wilderness areas and national parks from the effects of air pollution and acid rain. Acting as lead negotiator for a coalition of business interests, in 1992, Jim co-authored a major revision of Colorado’s air quality law which received unanimous endorsement from both business and environmental groups. In 2007, he negotiated a comprehensive consensus approach among utilities, environmental groups and local governments to regulating mercury emissions from power plants; these consensus rules were unanimously adopted by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission. He has also assisted legislative sponsors in drafting and testifying on several amendments to the Colorado’s air and water quality laws, and reclamation law.

Jim’s other efforts to achieve solutions to resource conflicts include: participant in Colorado Governor Lamm’s Metropolitan Denver Water Roundtable (sought a consensus solution to the area’s water supply needs); member of the Management Committee of the Colorado Water Congress Special Project on Endangered Species (developed solutions to the conflict between water use and development and recovery of endangered species); and member of the Colorado Association of Commerce Industry Committees on Air Quality and Water Quality (developed legislative and regulatory proposals).

Jim often works with a client’s public policy team to develop a multifaceted program for achieving client goals. Successful outcomes often require more than a traditional “legal approach.” He has worked with client teams to create strategies with legislative, political, administrative, judicial and public education components.

He also works with members of the firm’s Business and Real Estate practice groups to address the diverse nature of environmental issues that come into play in lending transactions and during mergers and acquisitions. His broad range of experience helps him develop practical and workable solutions to challenges which can arise in the context of corporate transactions.

Jim is frequently asked to speak on environmental, ethical, and administrative policy issues and has published numerous articles on environmental law. In addition, Jim has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver; in 2005, he was a Natural Resources Law Practitioner in Residence at the university’s Sturm College of Law; in 1992 and 1993, he was a professor with the Master’s Program in Environmental Policy.


  • "Environmental Attorneys Jim Sanderson and Sam Lofland Quoted in Law Week Colorado Article: SunZia Project Takes Time, Energy," Feature Quote Source, February 2015
  • "EPA Reinforces Standards to Use 'Representative Data' in Sierra Club," Natural Gas and Electricity Journal, Co-Author, September 2014
  • "Recent Happenings Regarding EPA's Exception Event Rule," Energy & Utility Environmental Conference, Co-Author, January 2013
  • "A Review of Regulatory Takings after Lucas," Denver University Law Review Symposium Issue, 1993
  • "Overview of Regulation Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act," Wetland Issues in Resource Development in the Western U.S., Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, V, 1993
  • "Section 404: Federal Interference with Local Land Use?," 57 Natural Resources and Environmental Journal, P.X., Summer 1992


  • Colorado Mining Association, Member (1994-present), Board of Directors (2002-present), Vice Chairman for Governmental Affairs (2004-present), Chair-elect (2019)
  • American Bar Association, Section of Environment, Energy and Resources, Member (1977-present)
  • Colorado Bar Association, Member: Sections on Environmental Law and Water Law (1977-present), Ethics Committee (1984-1992)


As one of the first practitioners of environmental law in the Rocky Mountain region, Jim has been ranked as a leading environmental lawyer by Chambers USA since 2008. Law Week Colorado's "Barrister's Best" named Jim "Best Environmental Lawyer" in 2013 and 2017. He has been listed in Colorado Super Lawyers and has earned an AV-Preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell.

In January 2008, Jim was named "Lawyer of the Year" by Law Week Colorado for negotiating the electric utility industry's 2007 landmark consensus with environmental groups, local governments and the Colorado state agency in reducing mercury emissions from Colorado's 22 coal-fired power plants.

Profile Information




  • University of Denver, J.D., 1969
  • University of Nebraska, B.A., 1966
  • Georgetown University, Graduate Studies in Tax Law, 1970-71


  • Colorado, 1969
  • U.S. District Court, District of Colorado, 1969
  • U.S. Tax Court, 1972
  • U.S. Supreme Court, 1973
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, 1978
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia, 1999

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