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Environmental Civil Suits a Growing Problem for Facilities

Posted on 11/20/2017 by Roger Marks

This year, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a directive to end the practice of “sue and settle”—whereby environmental groups filed lawsuits against EPA for failure to meet its responsibilities under the law, like creating new regulations.

gavel_money.jpgThe resulting settlements from these cases often forced EPA’s hand, Pruitt argues, requiring them to take stronger regulatory actions than would survive a formal rulemaking process, wherein comments from industry stakeholders and economic impacts must be considered. 

This inside-baseball decision made at the top levels of EPA will likely have very little, if any, impact on the day-to-day job of environmental compliance. But for facilities that work with or discharge hazardous substances, the threat of civil suits from environmental groups has become a more pressing concern. 

If these groups find they cannot achieve their aims by bringing EPA to court, they may double their efforts to sue individual facilities for perceived violations of environmental law and regulations. Donations to environmental groups skyrocketed following the Presidential election in November, giving these groups more resources with which to push their agenda.

Many of the major environmental laws—the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), EPCRA, CERCLA, and others—include “citizen suit” provisions that enable private citizens to sue regulated companies for alleged noncompliance, whether or not that noncompliance resulted in any damages.

Citizens Plan to Sue Chlorine Producer for TSCA Noncompliance

For example, in a joint press release issued this spring by the Environmental Health Strategy Center; Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families; and the Asbestos Diseases Awareness Organization (ADAO), the three groups announced their intention to sue a chlorine producer for failing to meet its responsibilities for Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA.

The advocacy groups claim that the company imported a reportable quantity of asbestos in three of the past four years, but failed to report to EPA as required under TSCA. A 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue has been issued to the manufacturer.

One Way to Respond to an Environmental Citizen Suit

If you find yourself on the business end of an environmental civil suit—keep in mind that citizen suit provisions allow for environmental groups to sue only for “ongoing” or “future” violations. This means that—once the group files a 60-day notice to sue—the business has an opportunity to correct the alleged violation(s) or deficiencies within 60 days and possibly render the suit void.

As is the case with most environmental violations, an ounce of prevention if worth a pound of cure. Knowing your responsibilities for environmental compliance can help you identify red flags and correct mistakes long before expensive litigation begins.

20+ Hours of EHS Manager TrainingAvailable Anytime, Anywhere

computer-(1).jpgManaging site compliance with the many complex EPA programs that affect your business—from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to TSCA, EPCRA, CERLCA, and more—is a major challenge. If you’re new to the field, or need an update on changing EPA rules, the Complete Environmental Regulations Online Course will help you quickly build in-depth expertise.

Or, check out the latest individual EPA compliance training options here:
Clean Air Act Regulations Online
TSCA Regulations Online
Clean Water Act & SDWA Regulations Online
Superfund and Right-to-Know Act Regulations Online 
The 2018 nationwide schedule for the Complete Environmental Regulations Workshop is now available. Collaborate with other managers to identify the requirements that apply to your facility, ask the right questions, and make the right decisions about EPA compliance.


Tags: chemicals, Clean Air Act, EPA, fines and penalties, TSCA

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