Citizen Suits and Civil Penalties Under the Clean Water Act

Part I briefly describes the division that currently exists between the Fourth, Fifth, and First Circuits. Part II analyzes the arguments relating to statutory construction, focusing on statutory language and structure as illuminated by legislative history. Part III examines the broader policy considerations arising when courts decide questions of citizen suit jurisdiction under section 505. Resolution of this issue has usually entailed an extreme interpretation of section 505, either very rarely allowing suits for past violations or allowing them in all cases. Parts II and III argue that the most appropriate response to this problem is actually the less frequently adopted “reasonableness” standard approved by the First Circuit. This intermediate standard would best achieve the two principal goals of the CWA- compelling polluters to comply with appropriate effluent standards and deterring potential future violators – and would significantly improve enforcement under the statute.