TTMI those of you who follow water issues. LA Times feed as printed
in the SF Chronicle.
>Environmental Groups Win Big
> Court Victory
> Justices uphold use of citizen suits
> to enforce federal pollution laws
> Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times
>January 13, 2000
> The Supreme Court handed environmentalists a
> major victory yesterday, upholding the right of
> citizens' groups to sue alleged polluters under the
> federal Clean Water Act.
> The decision is expected to have a major impact
> because activists have frequently used citizen suits
> as a means to enforce environmental laws -- often
> winning court victories that go beyond the positions
> that government agencies have been willing to
> The 7-to-2 ruling ``is one of the biggest legal
> victories environmentalists have won in the past 20
> years,'' said David Beckman, staff attorney for the
> Natural Resources Defense Council in Los Angeles,
> which filed a friend-of-the court brief in the case.
> MANY CASES AFFECTED
> Because the ruling would apply not only to the
> Clean Water Act but to more than 20 other
> environmental laws that have citizen suit provisions,
> it is expected to affect hundreds of cases nationwide
> -- including many in the western United States,
> Beckman said.
> Business groups and conservative legal
> organizations had asked the court to throw out
> citizen suits on the grounds that only government
> agencies, not private groups or individuals, should
> be allowed to enforce the law.
> As a fallback, they also argued that courts should
> be required to dismiss lawsuits if a company
> stopped whatever action was alleged to have
> harmed the environment.
> Those arguments had prevailed in the U.S. Court of
> Appeals in Richmond, Va., which hears cases from
> Virginia and the Carolinas and is widely regarded as
> the most conservative of the federal appeals courts.
> But the high court disagreed on both points.
> ``Congress has found that civil penalties in the Clean
> Water Act cases do more than promote immediate
> compliance . . . they also deter future violations,''
> Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court.
> ``A would-be polluter may or may not be dissuaded
> by the existence of a remedy on the books, but a
> defendant once hit in its pocketbook will surely
> think twice before polluting again,'' she wrote.
> Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who
> dissented, objected that the ruling improperly
> permits ``law enforcement to be placed in the hands
> of private individuals.''
> ``A Clean Water Act plaintiff pursuing civil penalties
> acts as a self-appointed mini-EPA,'' Scalia wrote.
> POLLUTER PAYS LEGAL FEES
> The Clean Water Act, along with several other
> environmental laws, includes a provision that a party
> that prevails or ``substantially prevails'' in a suit is
> entitled to have the polluter pay its legal bills. Those
> provisions on legal fees have been a chief way that
> advocacy groups finance environmental lawsuits.
> The case began in 1992 when Friends of the Earth
> and other environmental groups notified Laidlaw
> Environmental Services, a South Carolina company
> that operated a hazardous waste incinerator, that
> they intended to file suit under the Clean Water Act.
> The case will now return to the District Court.
> The company's lawyer, Donald A. Cockrill, said he
> is confident that the firm will now be able to have
> the case dismissed on the grounds that there is no
> reason to expect further violations.
> The plant in question was closed while the case was
> on appeal.
> The case is Friends of the Earth vs. Laidlaw
> Environmental Services, No. 98-822.
> ©2000 San Francisco Chronicle Page A3
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