February 18, 2015 Articles

Environmental Whistleblowers' Rights

An introduction to the federal laws protecting the rights of whistleblowers, prohibiting retaliation, and giving the right to monetary and other relief.

By Allan Kanner – February 18, 2015

The law protects those who blow the whistle on potential or actual threats to the environment. Whistleblowers have a right to report environmental violations and to be free from retaliation for doing so. They may also be able to obtain money damages and other relief from those who violate environmental laws or retaliate against whistleblowers.

What Laws Protect Environmental Whistleblowers?

Seven major federal environmental laws have special provisions protecting corporate whistleblowers:

  • the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. § 7622
  • the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. § 2622
  • the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) (a.k.a. Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. § 1367
  • the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA) (also encompassing the Atomic Energy Act), 42 U.S.C. § 5851
  • the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (also encompassing the Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA)), id. § 6901
  • the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), id. § 300j-9(i)
  • the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) (a.k.a. Superfund), id. § 9610

In addition, the False Claims Act offers environmental whistleblowers both a financial incentive to report wrongdoing in connection with federal contracts or other benefits and protection from retaliation for investigating and filing suit under the False Claims Act. 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729–3730.

A variety of federal laws protect the rights of whistleblowers in other fields that come into contact with the environmental sector. See, e.g., 46 U.S.C. § 2114 (maritime whistleblower protection); 49 U.S.C. § 31105 (transportation safety); id. § 60129 (Pipeline Safety Improvement Act). Many states have also enacted laws to protect whistleblowers. In addition, environmental whistleblowers may be protected under other provisions of law, such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, from retaliation for environmental whistleblowing if the conduct is protected by the First Amendment. See, e.g.Charvat v. E. Ohio Reg’l Wastewater Auth., 246 F.3d 607 (6th Cir. 2001). However, liability under section 1983 may be more difficult to establish than under whistleblower laws.

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