Suit Case Closed
In an important victory for enviros, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday upheld the right of citizens groups to sue alleged polluters under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and other environmental laws even though any financial damages would be paid to the federal government. Business groups and conservative legal organizations had asked the court to throw out citizen suits altogether on the grounds that only government agencies should be allowed to enforce the law. But by a 7-to-2 margin, the court rejected the argument that enviros lacked a stake in how pollution cases turned out. The court also ruled that polluters sued by private citizens cannot necessarily avoid paying damages by stopping their misconduct while the case is ongoing. The ruling came in a case involving the Clean Water Act that began in 1992, when Friends of the Earth and other enviro groups sued a South Carolina hazardous-waste-incineration company for dumping excessive amounts of mercury and other pollutants in a nearby river.