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Businesses Liable For Environmental Damage

Supreme Court upholds citizens' right to sue.

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of citizens to sue companies for violations of the Clean Water Act and more than 20 other environmental laws. The decision is an important one for businesses and environmental groups across the country.

Environmentalists use various tactics to protect the environment, from boosting recycling programs to protesting at the WTO Round in Seattle. One of the most effective tactics is suing a company that is violating environmental protection laws.

In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that civil lawsuits act as a deterrent to future violations and serve a different purpose than government fines for past violations.

The case involved a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth against Laidlaw Environmental Services. The company argued that the government alone had the power to punish it for violations.

Although the claimants suffered no personal injury from the pollution, the suit contended that they were injured because their belief that the affected river was polluted prohibited them from using it for recreational purposes.

On the day of the Supreme Court ruling, the Environmental Protection Agency levied a record fine for environmental law violations.

The EPA announced Koch Industries had agreed to pay a $30 million fine. The company's pipeline leaked oil in six states in more than 100 instances. It is the largest fine of its kind on record.

In September of last year, Koch Petroleum reached an agreement with the EPA to pay a $6 million fine for violating the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act. Authorities say the company did nothing to prevent aviation fuel from leaking into a wetland area in Minnesota near the Mississippi River.

Koch will also contribute $2 million to Minnesota's park system as part of the agreement. Prosecutors say the company destroyed wetlands when it attempted to clean the areas that had been polluted by the fuel.



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