- Title: Using Environmental Citizen Suits to Maximize Business Opportunities
- Released: 2012-04-26
- Pages: 8
- ASIN: B007Y9IJNU
In enacting federal environmental laws, Congress authorized impacted citizens to supplement the government in filing enforcement actions to insure compliance. For instance, under the Clean Air Act, citizens can sue to require companies not only to comply with emission limitations in their air permits, but also to pay penalties to the U.S. Treasury. Citizens also are eligible to recover their attorney fees in pursuing the claim. In authorizing citizen enforcement, Congress recognizes the importance of complying with environmental laws to protect health and the environment. The legislature also understands that government agencies have limited resources and often do not have the means to consistently enforce all environmental laws. In addition to citizen enforcement of federal statutes, judges have created common law actions to prevent pollution, such as nuisance and trespass. Common law actions also allow corporations and other private parties to sue in order to abate harmful pollution. Environmental citizen suits include suits authorized both under statutes and common law.
While non-profit environmental citizen groups file most environmental citizen suits, corporations, landowners and other businesses have the authority to use the legal system to insure compliance. This chapter addresses how private for-profit entities, including corporations, can employ environmental citizen suit actions to improve their bottom line.
For instance, the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 6901 et seq. (RCRA) includes a provision authorizing citizens to sue entities that have contributed to conditions which may present an imminent and substantial threat to human health and the environment. If a property owner is attempting to develop residential housing next to a former industrial plant that is leaking chemicals onto the developer’s property, the value of the development is severely depressed. RCRA allows the property owner to file suit in federal court to require the owner of the former plant to remediate the pollution. The result of a successful RCRA action by the property owner not only protects the environment, but it also raises the value, and development opportunities, of surrounding properties.
Another example relates to energy. Assume that a large coal-fired power plant is violating the Clean Air Act’s mercury regulations. The utility saves money by delaying investment in pollution control technology. This places the non-complying utility at a competitive advantage over a similarly utility that has spent the necessary resources to comply with the mercury regulations. The law-abiding company could file a Clean Air Act citizen suit against its competitor to force compliance with mercury regulations and request the court to assess civil penalties for past violations. The complying utility, as plaintiff, would not only be improving the environment, but it also would be leveling the playing field. As the non-complying competitor would, as a result of the citizen suit, be required to pay the costs to comply with the law, the corporate citizen suit plaintiff’s product would be more competitive.
Plaintiffs also can sue the government for failure to issue regulations governing their competitors. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has been dilatory in issuing regulations impacting greenhouse gases (GHG), alleged to cause global warming. Without having to comply with such regulations, companies emitting GHGs gain a competitive edge over other companies employing alternative technologies created to avoid GHGs. A solar company with no GHGs emissions could file an environmental citizen suit against the U.S. pdf