For Immediate Release
Contacts: Samuel Sage, Atlantic States Legal Foundation, (315) 475-1170 Charles Tebbutt, Counsel for Atlantic States, (716) 884-4800 Paul Orum, Working Group on Community Right-to-Know (202) 546-9707
Two dozen environmental groups have notified EPA Administrator William Reilly of their opposition to a White House effort to undermine citizen enforcement rights under environmental laws. The groups have urged Reilly to speak up for EPA's institutional interests and for a citizen's right to sue environmental violators.
The groups' concerns stem from a report that the Department of Justice is preparing to file a "friend of the court" brief challenging a citizen's constitutional standing to sue violators of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986.
In a letter to Reilly the groups urged the administration "...to reconsider the impact of undermining important rights of public participation in the protection of our environment." The letter further cautions that "For an administration which hopes to both protect the environment and stem the growth of government, moving in this direction is entirely indefensible from a policy standpoint."
The case involves two Buffalo, New York, area manufacturers that a Syracuse-based environmental group, Atlantic States Legal Foundation, accused in May 1990 of failing to report releases of toxic chemicals as required by the Right to Know law.
Both companies, Whiting Roll-Up Door Manufacturing Corp. and Buffalo Envelope Company, filed the required reports after receiving notice from Atlantic States of intent to sue, or up to two years after the reports were first due.
The Department of Justice is expected to prepare a brief in support of the manufacturers that will argue on constitutional grounds against citizens' standing to seek penalties in such cases, potentially affecting other federal environmental statutes.
"The Department of Justice's position, if adopted by the court, would severely hamper a citizen's ability to enforce environmental laws," said Atlantic States' President Samuel H. Sage. "The deterrent effect of those financial penalties would be lost."
"It defies common sense to let companies wait until they get caught breaking the law, and then to let them off scot-free," said Paul Orum, Coordinator of the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know.
Non-compliance with Right to Know reporting requirements may be as high as one-third of the companies obligated to report, according to EPA.
Citizen enforcement provisions are a key part of the Right to Know law, the Clean Air Act, and other federal environmental statutes, intended by Congress to supplement state and federal enforcement efforts.
"Citizen enforcement complements the efforts of EPA," Orum said. "Without vigorous enforcement, thousands of companies will remain outside the law on reporting toxic chemical pollution."
Organizations Co-Signing the Letter to Administrator Reilly:
Center for Policy Alternatives
Citizens for a Better Environment - California
Citizens for a Better Environment - Wisconsin
Citizens Interested in Bull Run
Clean Water Action
Ecology Center of Ann Arbor
Environmental Action Foundation
Friends of the Earth
Georgia Environmental Organization
Great Lakes United
Izaak Walton League of America
National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
National Toxics Campaign Fund
New Jersey Public Interest Research Group
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice
U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Washington Environmental Council
Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
The Natural Resource Defense Council wrote separately to EPA.
The Working Group on Community Right-to-Know is an affiliation of local, state and national environmental organizations concerned with the Right-to-Know.
Source: RTK Net, Washington, DC
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