The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance has been suing companies under the 1972 Clean Water Act when they do not meet these minimal federal regulations. The law empowers citizens to bring lawsuits against individual polluters, and the Soundkeeper Alliance has been aggressively focusing on the biggest culprits with big results.
While defendants argue that companies are negligible polluters and that the suits slow the efforts of businesses to comply with regulations, Washington’s Department of Ecology supports the Alliance.
“Congress recognized that given limited resources, states would have to set priorities … and there may be enforcement cases [the government] could not pursue,” said Ron Lavigne, a senior member of the Department of Ecology. “That’s the role citizens should be fulfilling, and generally that is the role these Soundkeeper suits are playing.”
The suits frequently result in significant pollution reductions and large donations to ecologically-minded causes by the offending businesses rather than going to trial. Offending company lawyers claim their clients would have complied anyway or that the lawsuits actually getting in the way of compliance.
The Soundkeeper Alliance model of lawful, aggressive citizen activism gets results. “It’s Ecology’s job, but when they’re not enforcing the Clean Water Act, that’s the absolute brilliance of the law — it allows citizens to step in,” said Joerger.
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