FOR IMMEDIATE PRESS RELEASE
January 15, 2002
From: Jack Silver, Legal Counsel
California River Watch
PO Box 1360
Occidental, CA 95465
In an unusual action the Department of Justice has filed a motion seeking to undue months and months of careful negotiations between the citizen watch dog group River Watch and the City of Fortuna. River Watch sued the City of Fortuna over its pollution of the Eel River and continuing violations of the Clean Water Act. After several months of litigation the parties agreed to settle the lawsuit and filed a consent decree with the Federal Court in San Francisco. Admitting it did not actually know the facts of the case nonetheless the Department of Justice is seeking to vacate the consent decree. The Department of Justice has contacted all of the cities where River Watch has sought compliance with the Clean Water Act and invited those cities to contact the Justice Department for help allegedly to fight off citizen attempts to correct chronic water pollution problems. The Department of Justice has taken other actions as well seeking to undermine River Watch’s efforts to enforce environmental law and protect citizens from pollution.
River Watch Executive Director Lynn Hamilton stated, “this is a very well thought out program. Small environmental groups Like River Watch file the majority of citizen suits. The Bush administration can be much more effective in their attempt to eliminate citizen lawsuits by attacking these small groups who do not have the resources to fight big government. River Watch will not yield to this type of harassment. We are also deeply concerned by the Bush administration’s attempt to break the backs of environmental groups and undo environmental protection legislation.”
When the Reagan administration took office in the 1980’s it sought to protect entities that pollute by eliminating enforcement by EPA and other agencies. These efforts resulted in increasing the number of citizen suits filed seeking to fill the enforcement gap. The Bush administration, not wishing to make the same mistake, is targeting the citizen groups themselves and the attorneys who work for those groups.
The Bush administration wishes to succeed where the Reagan administration failed and significantly hamper if not altogether eliminate citizen suits. Department of Justice attorney Justin Smith did not deny this as a motivating factor in the department’s recent decision to challenge River Watch’s settlement of a Clean Water Act lawsuit with the City of Fortuna.