South Carolina Legislature Acts to Protect Businesses from Citizens Lawsuits

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On June 6, 2012 South Carolina’s General Assembly ratified and Governor Nikki Halley signed into law a bill that repeals a 2011 ruling from the State Supreme Court.  In Georgetown County League of Women Voters v. Smith Land Co., 393 S.C. 350 (2011), the court ruled that private citizens are allowed to file lawsuits to enforce the Pollution Control Act.  That ruling was a big concern for businesses that anticipated a spate of new, perhaps frivolous, lawsuits.

The new legislation eliminates that possibility and provides clear guidance for how private parties can petition the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) when they suspect that a business is failing to follow environmental rules and regulations.

In the hours after the legislation was ratified, but before it was signed into law by the Governor, environmental groups sued Santee Cooper on coal ash pollution allegations at a power plant in Horry County.  Business leaders were angered with the last minute filing, believing there was an agreement with environmental groups to preserve existing lawsuits and that there would be no additional lawsuits. With the filing of this latest matter, there are now five private lawsuits seemingly authorized by the Smith Land decision.  Each is unaffected by this legislation.