New legislative efforts to ban plastics are important, but a recent court ruling in Texas reminds us that enforcing existing laws is a crucial part of the plastics fight.
On October 15 a federal court approved the largest citizen-suit settlement ever awarded under the Clean Water Act: $50 million.
A fourth-generation Texas shrimper, Diane Wilson, used the citizen suit provision of the Clean Water Act to sue the petrochemical manufacturer Formosa Plastic for violating the Clean Water Act. Formosa was discharging plastic pellets into Lavaca Bay, a water body located off the Gulf of Mexico halfway between Houston and Corpus Christi.
In the recent fight against plastic pollution, advocates and lawmakers have focused their attention on enacting new laws like plastic bans. But Wilson’s victory is a reminder that enforcement of existing laws is still a valuable tool in battling plastic pollution — and citizen suits can be leveraged to hold industry accountable.
To understand how this works, let’s go back almost 50 years.
The Clean Water Act was a part of the “burst” of federal environmental legislation enacted in the 1970s in response to perceived inadequacies in common law. Like its contemporary environmental statutes of the 1970s, the Clean Water Act contains a citizen suit provision allowing private citizens to sue facilities suspected of violating the law. But unlike its contemporaries, a violation of this particular law […]