Legislative action in Washington, DC also merits a close eye by Ogeechee Riverkeeper. As of April 2017, these are some of the issues of particular interest to us.
HR 1179 – Frivolous Lawsuits Act
HR 1179, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), will deter the public from filing citizen suits against polluters, a right provided to them under the Clean Water Act. In particular, the bill states that citizens taking legal action against water polluters for Clean Water Act violations would be forced to pay the defendant’s legal fees if they lose the case for any reason. Because of this, citizens and nonprofit groups like Ogeechee Riverkeeper would risk financial ruin and be disincentivized to take legal action against polluters. Judges already have the power to punish parties that bring frivolous lawsuits by making them pay defendant’s legal costs. Losing a citizen suit does not necessarily mean there was no legitimate basis for taking legal action. Sometimes citizen suits are thrown out of court based on technicalities alone, so this bill would punish people trying to take good faith action to stop pollution in their communities. Instead of discouraging frivolous lawsuits, the bill really deters individuals and nonprofit groups from taking legal action against oftentimes wealthy and powerful polluters. Had this bill been in effect during 2011, it would have discouraged Ogeechee Riverkeeper and landowners from taking legal action against King America Finishing for discharge violations. At this time, HR 1179 has been referred to committee.
Proposed Federal Budget Cuts
Any budget cuts for the Federal Environmental Protection Agency will negatively impact protections for our natural resources and put even more burden on our state government. Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division is already underfunded and understaffed. Federal resources to help pollution investigations, beach water quality monitoring, and a host of other protection programs will go away, leaving the citizens of Georgia without important environmental protections for their property and families.