Monday, July 25, 2011

Lake Carriers' Association v. U.S. EPA

Jul 22: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, Case No. 09-1001, consolidated with 09-1010, 09-1076, 09-1115. On Petitions for Review of a Final Action of U.S. EPA. Trade associations representing commercial ship owners and operators petition for review of a nationwide permit issued by U.S. EPA for the discharge of pollutants incidental to the normal operation of vessels. The petitioners raise a number of procedural challenges, all related to EPA's decision to incorporate into the permit, conditions that states submitted to protect their own water quality. The Appeals Court rules, "Because we find that the petitioners have not shown that the additional procedures they request would have had any effect on the final permit, we deny the petition for review."
    The Appeals Court explains the background saying Shortly after the CWA was enacted, EPA promulgated a regulation exempting incidental vessel discharges from the permitting (and therefore the certification) requirements of the Act. Exempted discharges included "sewage from vessels, effluent from properly functioning marine engines, laundry, shower, and galley sink wastes, or any other discharge incidental to the normal operation of a vessel." 40 C.F.R. § 122.3(a). The regulation was in force for more than thirty years. Then, in 2008, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court decision vacating the regulation, finding that EPA lacked authority to exempt incidental vessel discharges. Northwest Envtl. Advocates v. EPA, 537 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 2008) [See WIMS 7/24/08]. After a stay to allow EPA time to implement a means of issuing permits for vessel discharges, the regulation was finally vacated on
February 6, 2009.
    In response to the Ninth Circuit's decision, EPA developed a general permit, pursuant to section 402 of the CWA, to cover the incidental vessel discharges previously exempted by the regulation. See Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of a Vessel, 73 Fed. Reg. 79,473 (Dec. 29, 2008) [See WIMS 12/22/08]. The agency estimated that the Vessel General Permit (VGP) would cover discharges from approximately 61,000 domestic-flagged commercial vessels and 8,000 foreign-flagged vessels. Id. at 79,481. And unlike the majority of permits issued under section 402, which cover discharges originating in only a single state, the VGP would cover discharges in waterways throughout the United States.
    On December [29], 2008, EPA's final VGP became effective. Final NPDES General Permit, 73 Fed. Reg. at 79,47[3]. Part VI of the permit, which was not included in the draft VGP, is composed of approximately 100 state certification conditions. U.S. EPA, VESSEL GENERAL PERMIT (VGP) (2008), at 62-104 (J.A. 825-67). Vessels covered by the permit are required to adhere to the general provisions of the VGP with respect to all discharges, and are further required to adhere to any Part VI certification condition imposed by a state into the waters of which the vessel is discharging pollutants.
    In 2009, Lake Carriers' Association, Canadian Shipowners Association, and American Waterways Operators filed petitions for review of the final VGP. The petitions were consolidated into the single suit now before us. The trade associations raise three challenges. First, they contend that EPA erred in failing to provide notice and an opportunity for comment on the final VGP, which contained the state certification conditions. Second, they charge that it was arbitrary and capricious for EPA to issue the permit without considering the possible ill-effects of the state certification conditions. Finally, they allege that EPA failed to consider the costs of compliance with state conditions in assessing the impact of the permit on small businesses, as required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. § 601 et seq.
    The Appeals Court notes in part, ". . .we note that EPA's resolution of this matter does not leave the petitioners without recourse. If they believe that the certification conditions imposed by any particular state pose an inordinate burden on their operations, they may challenge those conditions in that state's courts. . . If they believe that a particular state's law imposes an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce, they may challenge that law in federal (or state) court. See Am. Trucking Ass'n, 600 F.3d at 628 n.1. And if neither of these avenues proves adequate, they are free to ask Congress to amend the CWA, perhaps by reimposing the exemption for incidental vessel discharges."
    The Appeals Court concludes in part, "In sum, given the case law and the arguments that EPA had before it, the agency correctly concluded that it did 'not have the ability to amend or reject conditions in a [state's] CWA 401 certification.' EPA Response to Comments, at 14-11 to 14-12 (J.A. 1062-63) (citing Am. Rivers, Inc. v. FERC, 129 F.3d 99, 107, 110-11 (2d Cir. 1997)). Under those circumstances, providing notice and an opportunity for comment on the state certifications would have served no purpose, and we decline to remand to require EPA to do a futile thing. . . The petitioners' remaining arguments fail for the same reason that their notice-and-comment argument fails. . ."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). Access extensive information on the Final Vessel General Permit from U.S. EPA (click here).  [#Water, #GLakes, #CADC]

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