Thursday, July 24, 2008

Northwest Environmental Advocates v. U.S. EPA

Jul 23: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case Nos. 03-74795, 06-17187, 06-17188. Plaintiffs in this case are Northwest Environmental Advocates, San Francisco Baykeeper, and The Ocean Conservancy. Plaintiffs-intervenors are the States of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Plaintiffs and plaintiffs-intervenors challenge a regulation originally promulgated by U.S. EPA in 1973 exempting certain marine discharges from the permitting scheme of sections 301(a) and 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Shipping Industry Ballast Water Coalition was an intervenor on behalf of EPA.

That regulation, 40 C.F.R. § 122.3(a), provides that the following vessel discharges into the navigable waters of the United States do not require permits: discharge of effluent from properly functioning marine engines; discharge of laundry, shower, and galley sink wastes from vessels; and any other discharge incidental to the normal operation of a vessel, including the discharge of ballast water. The district court concluded that EPA had exceeded its authority under the CWA in exempting these discharges from permitting requirements and vacated § 122.3(a), effective September 30, 2008 [See WIMS 9/19/06]. The Appeals Court affirm the decision of the district court.

The Ninth Circuit notes in its decision, "The district court’s order requires the EPA to perform a substantial task -- to bring the discharges previously exempted by § 122.3(a) within the permitting process of the CWA. Neither the district court nor this court underestimates the magnitude of the task. . .

"The EPA informed this court at oral argument that it has been proceeding in accordance with the district court’s order. We anticipate that in formulating a new regulation to replace § 122.3(a) the EPA will take advantage of the flexibility of the NPDES permitting process. For example, we take judicial notice of the fact that, in its request for comments, the EPA has indicated that “use of general permit(s) would appear to be an attractive possibility.” Development of [NPDES] Permits for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of Vessels, 72 Fed. Reg. 34,241, 34,247 (June 21, 2007).

"On July 11, 2008, the Department of Justice informed us by letter that on June 17, 2008, the EPA published in the Federal Register draft “General Permits for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of a Vessel,” and that the public comment period on the draft is scheduled to close on August 1. See 73 Fed. Reg. 34,296 (June 17, 2008). The letter warns that a final version may not be ready by the September 30, 2008, deadline established by the district court, but the letter stops short of a request to extend the deadline. If the government chooses to request an extension of the deadline, that request should be addressed to the district court.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes (HOW) Coalition issued a statement on the decision saying, “We applaud the court for upholding Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction over the release of ballast water discharges into the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters. Unfortunately, the EPA has put forward a weak permit that will not fully protect the Great Lakes or other U.S. waters from the threat of aquatic invasive species. Congress has now, at its disposal, a strong bill that contains the national protections that people, businesses and cities have been seeking for years. It’s time that Congress act now to provide the millions of people who rely on the Great Lakes and our nation’s other great waters with the security of knowing that we have finally slammed the door on invasive species introduced by ballast water. We urge federal leaders to act now to protect our lakes, our public health, our economy and our way of life. Delay will only make the problem worse and the solution more costly.”

The decision comes during a flurry of action on ballast water and vessel discharge regulatory activity. The House has approved and the Senate is about to vote on the Coast Guard Authorization Act (H.R. 2830) which would require ocean vessels coming to any U.S. port to install treatment technology to clean their ballast water by as early as next year [See WIMS 7/16/08]. Further, EPA has proposed its Vessel General Permit (VGP) for All Commercial Vessels and Large Recreational Vessels (79 feet or longer) incorporates the Coast Guard’s mandatory ballast water management and exchange standards and supplemental ballast water requirements for vessels that carry ballast water.

Access the complete 39-page opinion (click here). Access the statement from HOW (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 2830 (click here). Access the U.S. EPA’s draft general permits and pertinent information about the permits (click here).

CleanCOALition v. TXU Power

Jul 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 07-50685. According to the Fifth Circuit, the case is one of first impression and involves the scope of citizen-suit jurisdiction under the Clean Air Act (CAA). Plaintiffs-Appellants filed suit to enjoin Defendants-Appellees from constructing a pulverized coalfired power plant in their community, alleging various violations of the CAA preconstruction permit process. The district court dismissed the case on the ground that, "inter alia, neither of the asserted bases for subject matter jurisdiction, §§ 7604(a)(1) and 7604(a)(3), provides for jurisdiction in this case." The Appeals Court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

The Appeals Court concluded, "The district court held that § 7604(a)(3) does not authorize preconstruction citizen suits against facilities that have either obtained a permit or are in the process of doing so. Instead, the district court interpreted that section as authorizing citizen suits when an entity proposes to construct or constructs a facility without a permit whatsoever. We agree with the district court’s interpretation. Appellants interpret the phrase 'without a permit' to mean 'without a permit that complies with the CAA.' However, we decline to rewrite the plain language of the statute. Here, not only has TXU applied for a permit, it has since successfully obtained one, though still subject to state judicial review. Thus, it can hardly be said -- as Appellants must in order for §7604(a)(3) to apply -- that TXU is proposing to construct or constructing a facility 'without a permit.' . . . In short, we agree with the district court that § 7604(a)(3) does not authorize preconstruction citizen suits against facilities that have either obtained a permit or are in the process of doing so."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).