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Standing in Environmental Citizen Suits: Laidlaw's Clarification of the Injury-in-Fact and Redressability Requirements

June 2000

Citation: 30 ELR 10455

Issue: 6

Author: Michael P. Healy

In its first week of business during the new millennium, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., and provided important clarifications about the law of standing in environmental citizen suits. Specifically, the Court rejected the narrow view of environmental injury-in-fact advocated by Justice Scalia and instead adhered to the broader view of injury-in-fact established in a nonenvironmental context by the Court's decision in Federal Elections Commission v. Akins. As importantly, the Court also addressed the redressability requirement of Article III standing in Laidlaw. Here too, the Court did not apply the narrow view of redressability that Justice Scalia had defined for the Court in Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, and instead found that the deterrence afforded by civil penalties was sufficient redress for environmental injury-in-fact.

This Article will analyze the Court's quite generous view of citizen suit standing in Laidlaw. After presenting the legal background to the Laidlaw decision in the first part of this Article, I will turn to an analysis of the Court's holdings in Laidlaw. To be sure, the Court's decision was adumbrated in important ways by the Court's broader conception of standing articulated in Akins. Nevertheless, the decision will be welcomed by environmentalists who had been concerned, viewing the apparent "slash and burn" assault on environmental standing in Steel Co. and Defenders of Wildlife v. Lujan, that the Court was ready to foreclose citizen suits when the defendant was unable to demonstrate that the statutory violations giving rise to the suit would recur causing measurable harm.

Professor of Law, University of Kentucky College of Law, I wish to thank my colleague, John Rogers, for discussing the subject of this Article with me and for providing very helpful comments on a previous draft. Any errors are my own.

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