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Water Act's Oil Spill Notification Rule Survives Constitutional Challenges

January 1976

Citation: ELR 10011

It is an environmental truism that neither the ecosystem nor pollutants respect state lines. One state's factory emissions may become another's acid precipitation; one's polluted waste waters may cause bacteria blooms and fish kills in another's lakes. This phenomenon goes far to explain the federal government's growing involvement in air and water pollution control, traditionally a matter of state and local responsibility. The federal role now seems to some so pervasive as to strain the fabric of the federal system. Under the Clean Air Act, for example, several courts of appeals have recently found the Environmental Protection Agency lacking in commerce power authority to force the states to assist it in implementing politically unpopular transportation controls for urban areas.1

Implementation of the far-reaching Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (FWPCA-1972) has thus far not been seriously challenged as being beyond the substantive reach of federal constitutional power. Many litigants have, however, launched Bill or Rights attacks on the statute's stringent oil spill enforcement scheme, particularly one of its self-reporting requirements. A flurry of recent cases illustrates the problems, the major issues raised by these challenges, and the resilience of the Act in the face of this sort of attack.

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