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This article attempts to examine the special problems that community-based groups in low income and minority communities might encounter in prosecuting citizen suits under highly technical environmental statutes. To set the context for this inquiry, part II of this article describes the environmental justice movement and investigates the charge that communities of color are disproportionately and unjustly burdened with environmental hazards. Part II also explores the differences in perspective that underlie much of the conflict among environmental justice activists, mainstream environmental organizations, and EPA. Part II concludes with a look at social forces that have contributed to environmental inequities and that might influence environmental enforcement efforts. Part III examines the current scheme of private enforcement of selected, major federal environmental laws through citizen lawsuitprovisions. Existing citizen suit provisions contain limitations that create incentives for private citizens to prosecute certain types of actions and disincentives to prosecute other actions. Part III addresses the possibility that these incentives and disincentives result in an unequal playing field for enforcement by low income communities and communities of color, which in turn exacerbates the disparity in environmental protection of these communities. Common types of environmental citizen suits are examined to determine whether they have the potential to address environmental problems prevalent in low income and minority communities, and, if so, whether community-based groups might be at a disadvantage in prosecuting such lawsuits because of underfunding. In conclusion, part IV suggests amendments to environmental laws that might more directly address disparity in environmental protection. It also suggests alternative interpretations of federal citizen suit provisions that might facilitate the use of private enforcement to promote environmental justice.

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Ecology Law Quarterly



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Included in 1996 Land Use & Environment Law Review's list of 30 best articles of the year in the environmental and land use area.



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