From private companies polluting a nearby lake to unregulated greenhouse gas emissions contributing to increased temperatures, environmental degradation has reached staggering dimensions—and many are bringing lawsuits against those at fault to hold them accountable for the harm they have inflicted upon the environment.
The federal and state laws protecting the environment range from local to global interests. If there has been a breach of these laws, a Mississippi environmental lawsuit can be brought by a range of plaintiffs, from individuals to institutions. But one of the key hurdles is whether the plaintiff satisfies the legal prerequisites to bring a lawsuit. One of these initial hurdles is known as “standing,” which refers to the legal requirement that only parties with interest in the dispute can sue in that matter.
Who Has Standing In Environmental Lawsuits?
The legal basis of standing stems from Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which states that judicial power extends over “cases” and “controversies.” In other words, only parties that have suffered an injury due to the actions or inactions of another can bring a lawsuit.
If standing has been demonstrated, anyone, including individuals, companies, and institutions, can bring an environmental lawsuit against a defendant for breaking legal terms or for contaminating the population.
At Rushing & Guice, our experienced environmental lawyers are dedicated to fighting on behalf of our clients to protect the environment in Mississippi.
How Can Standing Be Demonstrated In Environmental Lawsuit?
The Supreme Court has interpreted how the constitutional standing requirements apply in environmental litigation in a few key cases.
In the case Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife (1992), the Court articulated the criteria for standing in environmental matters. The plaintiffs argued that the government’s interpretation of a section of the Endangered Species Act as inapplicable to actions in a foreign country would negatively impact their ability to view species in their natural habitat. The Court stated that plaintiffs must show evidence of three elements to demonstrate standing to sue.
- The plaintiff must show an “injury-in-fact,” which means that the injury must affect them in a personal, actual rather than hypothetical way.
- The plaintiff must show a “causal connection” between the harm and the negligent or careless conduct of the defendant.
- The plaintiff’s injury must be one of the nature that a favorable decision in the case could be capable of redressing.
The standard for the injury-in-fact requirement was expanded by the Court in Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services Inc. (2000). In the case, the plaintiffs sued a corporation for violating the Clean Water Act by dumping pollutants in a river. Referring to the injury-in-fact element, the Court stated that proving injury to the environment was not necessary to reach the standing requirements. It was enough that the river “smelled and looked” polluted for the plaintiffs to have standing in the case.
These two cases show the Court’s wavering stance on how rigorously the requirements of standing should be applied in environmental litigation. Lawsuits alleging global environmental degradation due to global warming have further challenged these determinations since greenhouse gas emissions affect the climate high up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
In Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Court stated that the plaintiffs demonstrated injury-in-fact by presenting evidence that sea level rise had eroded the state’s coastline and would continue to do so unless actions were taken. This injury was considered “actual” and “imminent.”
The Court also stated that plaintiffs had shown causation since limiting greenhouse gases from motor vehicles would reduce greenhouse gases in the environment. Finally, the Court found that the injury was redressable since the laws regulating greenhouse gas emissions would impact global warming, thereby reducing the harm to the state of Massachusetts.
The recognition of the injury caused by greenhouse gas emissions has given way to a new standard in determining standing in other environmental cases concerning global warming.
Environmental Litigation In Mississippi
Environmental litigation encompasses cases heard in courts at the federal, state, and local levels. These cases involve a range of environmental issues, including protecting natural resources, settling water rights disputes, safeguarding endangered species and flora, climate change impacts, coastline erosion, and groundwater contamination. Both individuals and institutions can bring lawsuits against defendants for violating environmental laws and regulations if they fulfill the legal requirements of standing.
Cases frequently involve claims under major environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Water Quality Improvement Act. In these lawsuits, individuals and organizations in Mississippi can claim damages and relief for alleged violations where the federal or state government has failed to enforce the statutes adequately.
Other lawsuits involve plaintiffs claiming that a private company has violated the legal terms of an environmental regulation, contaminated rivers and soil, or affected the population in another way.
In the case Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court confirmed that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which allows individuals and institutions to bring lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from sources covered under the act. As of this year, Mississippi has more than 500 facilities regulated under the Clean Air Act and legally required to implement plans to reduce air pollution.
Environmental regulations at the state level also regulate businesses and governmental entities. In Mississippi, the Department of Environmental Quality ensures that businesses handling toxic waste or pollutants safely depose the waste, among other things.
Contact Our Skilled And Knowledgeable Environmental Attorneys At Rushing & Guice
At Rushing & Guice, our experienced environmental lawyers have decades of experience representing private and public clients in all matters that implicate the laws and regulations governing the environment, from land use and water contamination to pollution. If you are aware of any illegal activity threatening or contaminating the environment, we can help. Call us at (228) 374-2313 or fill out our online form to arrange an initial consultation.