Friday, September 11, 2009

Thomas v. Jackson (U.S. EPA)

Sep 10: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, Case No: 08-2152. Plaintiffs filed a complaint in district court under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), arguing that approval by the U.S. EPA of the State of Iowa’s 2004 “§ 303(d) lists” violated several aspects of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The district court dismissed the complaint and the Appeals Court affirmed the district court decision.

In part the Appeals Court ruled, "We disagree with Plaintiffs’ contention that when a state uses a non-compliant variation of approved water quality standards in drafting its § 303(d) list, the ultimate, EPA-approved list must be invalidated in its entirety even if the EPA applied the correct water quality standards rather than the non-compliant variation. See Sierra Club, Inc. v. Leavitt, 488 F.3d 904, 912 n.14 (11th Cir 2007) (rejecting a similar argument where the court concluded that the record showed the EPA applied the approved standards rather than the challenged variation); see also 40 C.F.R. § 130.7(d)(2) (establishing a time frame for the EPA to develop § 303(d) list if it disapproves the state’s draft list). However, if the EPA were to itself apply the unapproved state modification, the resulting § 303(d) list would be undermined. Florida Public Interest Research Group Citizen Lobby v. EPA, 386 F.3d 1070, 1090–91 (11th Cir. 2004) (FPIRGCL) (remanding for additional review where the court concluded that the record showed that the EPA applied the challenged variation rather than the standards as approved)."

Second, Plaintiffs contended that the EPA impermissibly accepted Iowa’s distinction between “evaluated” and “monitored” waters and its position that waters evaluated, but not monitored, need not be placed on the § 303(d) list. The Appeals Court said, "The EPA maintains that it reviewed all 'evaluated' waters consistent with federal regulations, ignoring Iowa’s distinction. As with the Credible Data Law, Plaintiffs’ only evidence that the EPA adopted Iowa’s distinction is the fact that the EPA only added four of the 'evaluated' waters back to the § 303(d) list. Plaintiffs argue that '[w]e must assume' that the EPA approved of Iowa’s distinction. The burden of proof lies with Plaintiffs, however, and Plaintiffs cannot meet that burden through unsupported assumptions."

Finally, Plaintiffs contend that even relying on the approved water quality standards was in error because Iowa was in the process of revising its water quality standards. The EPA counters that applicable water quality standards remain in effect until the new standards are approved. The Appeals Court said, "As Plaintiffs have pointed to no authority to the contrary, and any
improper delay in the promulgation of the revised standards is not directly at issue in the case before us, we defer to the EPA’s reasonable application of its own regulations. . ."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).