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Volume [field_article_intvolume_value], Issue [field_article_intissue_value] — November 1997


Citizen Standing to Sue for Past EPCRA Violations

by Jim Hecker

Editors' Summary: This Article addresses whether citizens have standing to bring citizen suits under EPCRA for wholly past violations—an issue presented before the U.S. Supreme Court last month in Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment. The author argues that citizen plaintiffs can satisfy Article III standing requirements even if a defendant comes into compliance before the citizen suit is filed. The author first addresses the injury-in-fact requirement of standing, and concludes that citizens living near a facility subject to EPCRA may suffer informational and environmental injuries if the facility violates the statute. Next, the author asserts that citizen plaintiffs can satisfy the redressability requirement of standing as well. Civil penalties will redress citizen plaintiffs' injuries because penalties deter future violations. And the voluntary cessation principle prevents defendants from using standing as a defense by taking corrective action as a means to avoid litigation. Last, the author notes that defendants may be required to pay for environmental projects in lieu of civil penalties, which may benefit the citizens directly.


Environmental Justice and Underlying Societal Problems

by Nelson Smith and David Graham

Over the past several years, legal scholars have been theorizing about the disproportionate number of environmental problems in urban and minority areas.1 Many view the entire issue of environmental justice2 or, depending on the writer, "environmental racism"3 as a matter of air, water, or soil contamination, or other industrial conditions amounting to environmental blight in and around communities made up of less advantaged, if not abjectly poor, people. They have attacked corporations for polluting these communities and assailed government enforcement agencies for failing to protect these communities.4 But this is too narrow an understanding of the issue.

Environmental justice should be viewed as a panoply of problems ranging from the growth of the welfare class to the exit of the middle class because of poor city schools, lack of employment opportunities, and increased street crime to more traditional environmental conditions.5 All of these problems are interlinked. Communities where the welfare system flourishes and the middle class has fled usually lack political influence and, thus, are much less likely to protest effectively when they are taken advantage of by environmentally insensitive commercial and industrial concerns.

A Job Half Finished: The Clean Water Act After 25 Years

by Drew Caputo

Congress passed the Clean Water Act on October 4, 1972, by overwhelming margins—unanimously in the Senate and with a bare 11 dissenters in the House of Representatives. Rising on the Senate floor that day a full quarter-century ago, Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Me.), chairman of the Senate's Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution and leader of the Senate's clean water forces, explained with simple gravity why Congress was about to pass by such large margins such a powerful and unprecedented law:

Our planet is beset with a cancer which threatens our very existence and which will not respond to the kind of treatment that has been prescribed in the past. The cancer of water pollution was engendered by our abuse of our lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans; it has thrived on our half-hearted attempts to control it; and like any other disease, it can kill us.

We have ignored this cancer for so long that the romance of environmental concern is already fading in the shadow of the grim realities of lakes, rivers, and bays where all forms of life have been smothered by untreated wastes, and oceans which no longer provide us with food.