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How does the EPA enforce the Clean Water Act, and how can I help?

Having already looked briefly at the topic of enforcement of the Clean Water Act in our last post, we would like to briefly discuss the issue of how private citizens and organizations may become involved in enforcement of the law.

Private citizens and organizations are able to take legal action for violations of the Clean Water Act standards governing the discharge of liquid waste or sewage or to hold the EPA Administrator accountable for failing to enforce such standards or a specific order. We have previously spoken briefly about the issue of standing in connection with citizen suits, but here we want to mention the issue of notice. 

Notice refers to the requirement that those initiating a citizen suit provide a 60-day warning to the individual (or entity) against whom they are initiating the suit. Theoretically, proper provision of notice triggers an offending party to come into compliance, but this doesn't always happen. Getting notice right entails meeting certain requirements, including proper service of notice, strict adherence to the 60-day requirement, and ensuring the notice is sufficiently detailed.

The latter requirement is especially important, because it gives the EPA the opportunity to take enforcement action, and it also gives the party under scrutiny the information necessary to correct the problem if they choose to do so. Failure to abide by the 60-day notice requirement is grounds for dismissal of the suit, as is failure to give sufficiently detailed notice.

Those who are considering pursuing a citizen suit, of course, should always work with an experienced attorney to ensure they meet all requirements pertaining to notice and other requirements of federal law and to ensure that they receive strong advocacy of their rights and interests. 

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