Environmental activists could use treaty provisions to sue U.S. for action under treaty
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Those who are concerned that the marine environment is being damaged by pollution could put their case before the Tribunal, but the obligations of Part XII would have a special effect on the United States, where citizens may sue to ensure the government follows its laws. Under the U.S. Constitution, international treaties have the force of law. Ratifying LOST would therefore enable environmental groups to sue to ensure the release of toxic substances is minimized “to the fullest possible extent” if there is a chance the material will enter the marine environment.
Consider: The nation’s coal-fired power plants release mercury into the atmosphere. Some of this mercury consolidates in rivers, and eventually reaches the ocean. As a result, fish that swim in the ocean have slightly higher levels of mercury in their systems. Sharks that eat these fish have even higher mercury concentrations. The concern that pregnant mothers who eat shark meat are damaging the cognitive development of their unborn children has led environmentalists to demand that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issue regulations to reduce the risk to unborn children.
However, consider what the Treaty text implies. There is no requirement to prove that the emissions actually cause significant harm. If the substance emitted is “harmful” to any degree, states are simply required to minimize emissions “to the fullest possible extent.” To all practical purposes, taking the Treaty at its word would require the closure of most if not all coal-fired electricity generation in the United States.
This kind of activism has not taken place in any of the other signatory states, likely because they offer fewer opportunities for concerned citizens to require their governments to follow the spirit and word of the Treaty. In the United States, however, environmental groups would probably sue the day after formal ratification, and the courts would be unlikely to throw out their challenges.