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COURT RULING IS GOOD NEWS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Environmental protection is everybody's business. The U.S. Supreme Court said as much when it upheld the right of citizens to go to court to seek redress when contamination has occurred.

The case involved litigation that had been brought against a South Carolina hazardous waste incinerator by environmental groups. The suit contended that the incinerator's owner, Laidlaw Environmental Services, had illegally polluted the North Tyger River.

But although provisions of the Clean Water Act, as well as several other federal environmental laws, seems to allow citizen-initiated suits, in practice such suits are often thrown out of court on the argument that the citizens who filed them lack "standing."

The court's 7-2 decision . . . written by Justice Ruth Ginsburg, reversed a lower court order dismissing the suit. The groups had standing, Ginsburg wrote, because the pollution had deprived citizens of their right to enjoy use of a publicly owned river, even though they might not be able to demonstrate direct economic loss or physical harm. . . .

The court essentially upheld the right of citizens to intervene legally against polluters when public agencies fail to do so. That's an important right, because environmental protection really is everybody's business.

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