Chapter 12: Law versus regulation: a political economy model of instrument choice in environmental policy
11. Citizen suits Chad Settle, Terrance M. Hurley and Jason F. Shogren Ultimately, the question we must ask ourselves is whether we are prepared to leave the public interest to hired hands. Joseph L. Sax (1970) INTRODUCTION In January 2000, the United States Supreme Court upheld one of the most interesting legal tools for environmental protection: the ability of private citizens to use the courts to help enforce federal environmental policy. The Justices voted 7–2 in Friends of Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc. (98–822), 149 F.3d 303, to preserve the rights of citizens to act as ‘private attorney generals’ for nature. Common folk can use the federal district courts to initiate suits if they can show they have an interest that is or might be adversely affected by violators who damage the natural environment. The end result of these citizen suits can be injunctive relief or civil penalties imposed on violators to give them incentive to comply with environmental regulations. The idea is to empower ordinary citizens to take control over their own environmental destiny. After all, many people believe as strongly as Justice Warren Burger did in 1966 that ‘[c]onsumers are generally among the best vindicators of the public interest’ (quoted in Sax 1970: 244; also see Epstein 1998). Now to be sure, private citizen involvement in the enforcement of federal laws is an old idea. Private citizens helping to enforce laws dates back over 600 years to a 1388 statute in England...
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