In an intriguing post on Law & The Environment, Seth Jaffe notes that, in part because of the ongoing sequester and budgetary concerns, EPA’s future enforcement efforts may rely more heavily on citizen groups. Quoting Cynthia Giles, the Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, as saying that “we have far too much noncompliance, widespread noncompliance in some of the largest sectors,” and that “EPA is looking for new ways to catch violations as they occur,” Jaffe notes that the Agency’s first overture to more citizen group involvement may be seen in its recent update to ECHO, its online enforcement database. ECHO is frequently used by citizen groups to obtain information about local businesses who may have compliance problems, and by business counsel themselves in instances where a direct notice of violation from EPA is, for whatever reason, delayed. As Jaffe affirms, periodic ECHO checks by citizen groups, businesses, or any entity that interacts with EPA, are invaluable.
All major environmental statutes have citizen suit provisions under which organizations can notify the government of a violation and, in the absence of government action, act as citizen-attorney generals to bring suit themselves. While standing and injury thresholds to such a suit still exist, citizen suits have successfully addressed violations that, due to the Agency’s budgetary restrictions, may have otherwise gone unaddressed.
The point is, federal enforcement actions are not going to go away. So the question then becomes who is a more preferable plaintiff – the United States of America or a more sympathetic citizens group organization?
Stay tuned for more. . .