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Standing and Mootness After Laidlaw

May 2000

Citation: ELR 10317

Author: Craig N. Johnston

Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc.1 may prove to be the most important environmental decision since Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council.2 Laidlaw's primary significance lies in its discussion of the injury component of the U.S. Supreme Court's now familiar three-part standing test.3 The Laidlaw opinion, written by Justice Ginsburg and joined by five other Justices,4 reflects the Court's newly heightened sensitivity to the nature of the injuries that citizen plaintiffs suffer in the face of environmental violations. As such, this portion of the opinion represents a major victory for environmental plaintiffs. Indeed, the Court's new approach to injury questions may bear out Justice Scalia's prediction in his dissenting opinion that, henceforth, environmental groups likely will be able to establish injury-in-fact whenever they have members that live near any offending plants.5

Second, the Court's determination that citizens who face ongoing violations may seek to have penalties imposed for all past violations constitutes another significant victory for environmental plaintiffs. Remarkably, the Court's treatment of the question whether penalties payable to the U.S. Treasury provide sufficient redress to support standing marks an almost complete about-face from the position it carved out less than two years earlier in Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment.6

Professor of Law, Northwestern School of Law, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon.