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Citizen Standing to Sue for Past EPCRA Violations

November 1997

Citation: 27 ELR 10561

Issue: 11

Author: 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.

Jim Hecker is an environmental enforcement attorney at Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) in Washington, D.C. He prepared and filed an amici curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of TLPJ and 12 other organizations supporting the respondent in Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, No. 96-643.

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