Citizens need to know how to engage with their state and federal environmental enforcement agencies to effectively demand responses to pollution. Anti-pollution laws – Clean Water Act (CWA); Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA); Clean Air Act (CAA); Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) – mean little unless the responsible agencies fairly implement and diligently enforce them.
The enforcement system is complex, with states handling much and the federal government often “backstopping” the states. This patchwork resulted from how the national laws evolved. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when highly-varying state laws proved inadequate to protect the environment, then new federal regulations and minimum standards were put in place. States were allowed to have more protective standards than those minimum standards if they chose to. To this day, enforcement of many, but not all, parts of the CWA, SDWA, CAA, RCRA and FIFRA, as well as their connected state laws and regulations, is a state function.
The enforcement agencies at both of those levels of government often need prodding and “watchdogging.” Thankfully Congress anticipated that, as shown by the fact that most of the Acts have special “citizen suit” provisions that provide affected people with a direct path to Court to obtain enforcement when the agencies falter.