SierraClub.org – February 15, 2017


…What can environmental groups and all people who care about the environment and public health do in response? 

States, governments, and the EPA aren’t the only ones who have the power to protect the environment. Citizens can take action, too. The nation’s environmental statutes have citizen suit provisions such that aggrieved citizens can bring enforcement actions—essentially stepping into the shoes of the federal government. 

“The citizen suit provisions have two prongs,” says Richard L. Revesz, the Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at New York University School of Law, where he directs the Institute for Policy Integrity. “Citizens can sue polluters for violating the environmental standards that apply to them. If the EPA or a state doesn’t bring enforcement actions against a polluter [that is] emitting more air pollution than is permitted under the regulation, some affected individual can bring a suit to compel a source to comply with its regulatory obligations. The second is that EPA under the statute has various non-discretionary duties. That is, it’s required by statute to take certain actions, and if it doesn’t do them, that’s another possible reason for citizen litigation. Citizens can then sue to compel EPA to carry out a non-discretionary duty under the statute.” 

Should Pruitt, if confirmed, try to reverse years of advances in environmental protections, the nation’s environmental advocacy groups stand ready to act, says Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program.

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