Productive Public Nuisance

How Private Individuals Can Use Public Nuisance to Achieve Environmental Objectives

From removing foul smelling pigsties from urban areas to preventing the dumping of toxic waste into local water supplies, the law has long been used to address environmental issues of all kinds. Threats to public health and the environment remain some of the most urgent challenges facing society today and far outweigh the resources of the governmental institutions charged with protecting our environment. Therefore, it is increasingly incumbent upon concerned private citizens to address the environmental issues that matter most to their local communities. This Note explores how public nuisance lawsuits may be a powerful mechanism for private individuals to achieve such environmental objectives. It reviews the historical development of public nuisance law, analyzes each element of the cause of action to identify major questions that arise in the environmental context, and offers solutions to those questions. The Note concludes by applying the cause of action to an environmental issue of particular concern to residents of Central Illinois: the ongoing polluting of Illinois’s only National Scenic River by coal ash depositories located along its banks. Illinois residents may be especially well-placed to utilize public nuisance suits to achieve environmental objectives due to a provision in the Illinois Constitution that grants its citizens a right to a healthful environment.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.