Saturday, November 05, 2005


From "Court Nominee Has Paper Trail Businesses Like," by Stephen Labaton, NYT 11/5/05:

" "We're concerned, based on his record, about what his appointment would mean for access to the courts by the people we represent," said Glenn Sugameli, senior litigation counsel at Earthjustice, a law firm that represents environmental groups and individuals seeking enforcement of environmental laws. "We're also concerned, based on his record, that his interpretation of the Commerce Clause threatens the enforcement of such laws as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act." ...

In environmental law, Judge Alito has generally also followed a narrow reading of the law. He cast a deciding vote in a 1997 case, Public Interest Research Group v. Magnesium Elektron, which dismissed a $2.6 million fine against the company for violating the Clean Water Act and found that the public interest group did not have the authority to bring a lawsuit. In other environmental cases, like W.R. Grace v. E.P.A., and United States v. Allegheny Ludlam, he has sided with large corporations seeking to overturn fines and remedial actions ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency. "

I think the case against Magnesium Elektron is an example of what I remember hearing about on NPR's Living on Earth program... the reading by some conservative judges that public interest groups don't have the authority to bring such cases up. This worries me... because I think we need these groups to act for the interest of public safety and health. If there are no "watch dogs" against big business pollutors, then who will bring cases like this to court? Many people wouldn't be aware of pollution's real dangers, even if they live in an area directly affected. And I'm just frankly confused: in cases like this where it's admitted from the outset that the company violated law, violated the Clean Water Act, then WHY isn't more being done to stop them?

Although this isn't the most extreme case of pollution (the company manufactures zirconium carbonate, and tried to argue that the waste actually helped the nutrient poor creek), it's quite the slippery slope... If you look at the file (, it's rather worrisome the leaps in logic that the court took in deciding that the waste wasn't harmful. I don't think that a court should be deciding how dangerous pollution is -- it seems that a more objective standard is necessary (ideally set up by non partisan SCIENTISTS, not judges or politicians). Also, some of the examples are mind boggling. Do citizens really need to wait until pollution causes a "visible" problem (examples of bad odors, brown water, oily layers, etc., as cited in the above article)? Wouldn't it make more sense to respond BEFORE the pollution damaged the ecosystem of the creek? Isn't there imminent danger of serious pollution from a company that addmitedly violated its discharge allowances over a dozen times? And how does the PIRG not have standing? Shouldn't local groups be able to respond to local issues? At what point is our legal system going to realize that pollution affects everyone? When pregnant women can't eat fish from our lakes for risks of mercury exposure to the fetus? Apparently not, because that's already a fact in at least New Hampshire. (Would NH women not have standing in trying to bring a case against the big midwest corporations that create the pollution that drifts to the NE?) When cancer rates skyrocket, which seems to be linked not only to genetic predisposition, diet, and exercise, but also to the chemicals we are exposed to in the environment? No, we already know that many of the synthetic chemicals we use in cosmetics, food production, and manufacturing are carcinogenic.

So to conclude this rant, I'm rather worried about Alito's nearly non-existent track record on the environment... Siding with big business may be good for the economy (and particularly the top 1% in this country), but what about the environment?

No comments: