When Should You Sue to Protect the Environment?



Should you take polluters, companies, governments or even citizens to court? When should you sue to protect the environment?

air_pollution_2.jpg The simple answer is, “When they break the law.”

In most nations of the world, important laws now exist to protect clean air and clean water, minimize the environmental impacts of destructive practices like logging and mining, prevent toxic dumping and require companies to clean up hazardous waste, safeguard wetlands and wilderness areas, and keep watch over wildlife.

 In the U.S., the bedrock of environmental law is the National Environmental Policy Act, which was passed in 1970 to protect the environment against both public and private actions that might harm eco-systems. In Australia, it is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Other countries have other legislation in place.  The power of these laws lies in the ability they provide to hold polluters accountable for the havoc they wreak on natural resources as well as human well-being.

 Though individuals may find it difficult to file a lawsuit on their own, many law firms and non-profit organizations comprised of environmental attorneys have developed exactly the kind of expertise and experience needed to file suits and win cases. Those groups include Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Australian Centre for Environmental Law, and similar organizations in Canada, the UK and many European nations, and India, among others. In some cases, criminal lawyers like those that can be found at Prime Lawyers, the sponsors of this post, will also become engaged in legal proceedings to protect the environment.

 Some of the most famous lawsuits have been initiated when concerned citizens and elected officials realized that legal recourse was the most effective way to protect the natural resources they valued. For example, in Tasmania in the late 1970s, a successful law suit foiled plans to construct a hydro-electric dam on the Franklin River in Tasmania’s rugged south-west region. The dam would have flooded the river valley, which was ultimately declared a World Heritage Site.

 In the U.S. recently, lawsuits have helped hold companies like BP responsible for the toxic oil spill created by their rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. They have also forced polluting coal-fired utility companies to clean up their smoke stacks to reduce emitting pollutants that cause smog and contribute to climate change.  And they have upheld the efforts of citizens’ organizations to ban plastic bags in their cities and counties as a way to reduce unsightly and damaging trash that does not biodegrade.

How to Sue to Protect the Environment

 If you find yourself contemplating the need for a lawsuit, contact an environmental legal defense team in your community to discuss your options. Non-profit groups generally have their fees supported by foundations and memberships; law firms will negotiate a fee unless their “pro bono” (for free) attorneys can participate.

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