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Sierra Club v. Electronic Controls Design, Inc.

Citation: 19 ELR 20713
No. No. 87-905-MA, 703 F. Supp. 875/(D. Or., 01/06/1989)

The court holds that the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) prohibits a consent decree between an environmental group and a corporate defendant in which the corporation agrees to pay $ 45,000 to environmental groups. The consent decree, entered to settle an FWPCA § 505 citizen suit, would have required the corporation to pay $ 45,000 to the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund as trustee to distribute the money to projects dedicated to local water quality. The federal government objected, asserting that the money must be deposited to the federal treasury. The court first rules that FWPCA § 505 authorizes only injunctive relief and civil penalties, not private damages, and the civil penalties must be paid to the federal treasury. The court holds that the money to be paid in this case is a civil penalty, even though there has been no trial or adjudication of liability. The court rules that the FWPCA also encourages settlements that put money directly to use in protecting the environment. The conference report for the 1987 amendments to the FWPCA encourages settlements that are punitive and that at the same time put the funds collected to use on behalf of environmental protection. The court concludes that it will approve a consent decree designating the Oregon Water Quality Program, a part of the Oregon state government, as the recipient of civil penalties.

[This issue is analyzed in Stever, Environmental Penalties and Environmental Trusts — Constraints on New Sources of Funding for Environmental Preservation, 17 ELR 10356 (1987).]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Victor M. Sher, Todd D. True, Corrie J. Yackulic
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
216 First Ave. S., Ste. 330, Seattle WA 98104
(206) 343-7340

Counsel for Defendant
Richard S. Gleason, Steven L. Pfeiffer
Stoel, Rives, Boley, Jones & Grey
900 SW Fifth Ave., Ste. 2300, Portland OR 97204-1268
(503) 224-3380

Charles J. Sheehan
Land and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2714