Environmentalists Abuse Lawsuits For Funding

An editorial on the Opinion Journal website demonstrates bounty hunting by environmental groups.  From 1995-2002 there were 4,438 notices of intent to sue under four environmental statutes.  Here is the heart of it.

Many of the violations are trivial and technical. Defendants who have not even minimally harmed the environment are roped in. One commentator points out that the Atlantic States Legal Foundation has frequently sued over paperwork violations under the Clean Water Act, but “not over violations of substantive environmental standards.” Companies settle simply to avoid expensive litigation.

Between 1995 and 2002, 1,371 citizen suits were filed under the under the Clean Water Act but only 143 under the Clean Air Act. Do environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund think that water violations are more serious than air pollution? Probably not. They do know, however, that the Clean Water Act mandates record-keeping that makes suing under it easy and allows large fines that make settlements lucrative; the Clean Air Act does not.

Another sign that the goals are financial, not environmental, is that the Clean Water Act suits are disproportionately targeted at private firms, not municipal governments. Yet municipal governments generate much more water pollution.

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