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Environmental Citizen Suits at Thirtysomething: A Celebration and Summit


September 2003









In 1970, the U.S. Congress gave citizens the remarkable authority to file federal lawsuits as "private attorneys general" to enforce the Clean Air Act (CAA).1 Congress intended citizen suits to fill the vast void left by inadequate enforcement by federal and state regulators, and to ensure compliance and deter illegal activity. The approach stuck. Now more than one dozen federal environmental statutes, numerous state laws, and myriad foreign laws allow for such "environmental citizen suits." In 2002 alone, environmental and conservation groups, states, landowners, developers, and companies collectively provided advance notice of intent to bring federal environmental citizen suits nearly 200 times.

To commemorate the inception of the first environmental citizen suits, on April 4, 2003, the Widener Law Symposium Journal and the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Law Center, joined by cosponsors the Environmental Law Reporter(R), Sierra Club, and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, hosted a conference at the university's campus in Wilmington, Delaware, Environmental Citizen Suits at Thirtysomething: A Celebration and Summit. The conference featured a virtual who's who of leading environmental law lawyer advocates and law professors.