Vague Environmental Lawsuit Evokes Jokes From Supreme Court

A finer-tuned legal argument might have been wise


On Tuesday, Nov. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court came close to almost laughing out of court a lawsuit brought by environmentalists against the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.  The National Resources Defense Council wanted the Flood Control District to crack down on each of the 1,400 rainwater pollution dischargers into the San Gabriel and Los Angeles Rivers.

The problem is that it is impossible today to accurately monitor who is polluting and how much.  The environmentalists contended that every industry that discharged water into the river should be responsible.  They wanted so-called polluters to be responsible, even if it could not be determined who was polluting.  Clean water advocates wanted blame fixed on someone, even if the pollution came from a natural source such as bird droppings or from the concrete that lines the flood channels.  But each industry already has to get its own separate storm water discharge permit under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).