Private action against polluters is often regarded as one of the possible deterrents to the degradation of the environment. This belief is based on the assumption that these lawsuits will prompt companies to improve their environmental performance. In turn, it is possible to argue that private action cannot be regarded as an effective safeguard against possible threats to the environment because private citizens will have to struggle with such difficulties as the cost of legal action and the burden of proof. Secondly, the protection of the environment cannot be reduced only to the private interests of citizens. For instance, the quality of air is related to the welfare of the entire public. These are the main problems that should be considered by policy-makers who attempt to limit the destruction of the natural environment and protect people’s health.
To explain the limitations of private action, one should first mention that individuals who file a lawsuit against polluters should bear the burden of proof. This means that they should provide evidence indicating that the defendant did cause harm to the plaintiff. The main difficulty is that in many cases, it is difficult to demonstrate that the activities of an enterprise resulted in the damages to the plaintiff. It is necessary to conduct that the collection and analysis of data that can prove that the accusations of the plaintiff are justified. This activity can be both expensive and time-consuming. This is why private citizens cannot always afford the cost of private legal action against polluters. This issue is particularly relevant if one speaks about possible conflicts between companies and individuals plaintiffs. Moreover, one should keep in mind that legal actions can last for several years, but during this period the party, which is responsible for pollution, can continue their practices for a long time. This is one of the details that should be taken into consideration by public administrators.
Moreover, very often, a person will have to spend a significant amount of costs in order to track down the party or parties that are responsible for the. Therefore, the amount of reimbursement may not justify these efforts. For instance, the owner of a lake, who discovers a fertilizer runoff, may have to deal with thousands of farmers. So, this person may not even identify a possible defendant. Additionally, policy-makers should take into account that private action can be settled out of the court. In turn, the polluters may not necessarily change their practices, and in the long term, they can pose even greater harm to many people. In other words, various threats to the environment will not necessarily be eliminated as quickly as possible. This is the main limitation of this strategy.
Admittedly, one cannot dismiss the importance of private action because polluters are more likely to be more careful if they know about the risk of a lawsuit. For example, even large organizations are face lawsuits from a great number of citizens. However, it cannot be the only deterrent to the degradation of the environment. Therefore, it is necessary to promote environmental sustainability through legislation. This is the main argument that can be put forward.