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Now More Than Ever: Environmental Citizen Suit Trends

Date

September 2003
33

Issue

9

Page

10704

Type

Articles

Summary

Introduction

Environmental citizen suits matter. In 1970, borne in a fulcrum of necessity due to inadequate resources and resolve, and borrowing a bit from common-law qui tam without the bounty, the U.S. Congress experimented by providing citizens the remarkable authority to file federal lawsuits as "private attorneys general" to enforce the Clean Air Act (CAA).1 Unless precluded, forestalled, unconstitutional, or otherwise unwise, the archetypal citizen suit provision allows "any person" to "commence a civil action on his own behalf" against either (1) "any person" who violates a legal prohibition or requirement, or (2) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure "to perform any act or duty . . . which is not discretionary."2

The experiment worked. Nowadays, most of the dozen and one-half bulwarks of federal environmental law, and numerous state and foreign laws, invite citizen enforcement.3