Thursday, August 4, 2011

Florida Wildlife Federation v. U.S. EPA

Aug 3: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, Case No. 10-11121 & 10-10886. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Intervenors-Appellants Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council and South Florida Water Management District (Appellants) appeal the district court's order approving a consent decree between the United States EPA and a group of environmentalist organizations (Plaintiffs). The consent decree settled a suit filed by the Plaintiffs against the EPA that alleged that the agency failed to promulgate timely new water-quality standards for the State of Florida. The Appellants claim that the consent decree is substantively and procedurally unreasonable and that the district court abused its discretion by approving the decree. A split Appeals Court said, "Because the Appellants have not demonstrated a live case or controversy that would give this court jurisdiction over their case, we dismiss their appeal."
    The majority ruled, "Standing is a rigid doctrine, and it can lead to an abrupt end to a case that has consumed large amounts of judicial and social resources. Nonetheless, this court is bound by the Constitution, not the dictates of convenience. For the aforementioned reasons, we conclude that the Appellants lack standing to appeal. They seek to challenge a consent decree that establishes a schedule under which the EPA has begun promulgating numeric water-quality criteria for nutrients in Florida's waters. However, the only alleged injuries about which they complain occur -- if ever at all -- after the promulgation of the EPA's final rules and possibly not until those criteria are actually applied to the Appellants through incorporation into their individual discharge permits. Once the rules have been promulgated and implemented, the Appellants may bring suit raising the arguments they try to raise here. But in this case, their challenges to anticipated effects of the scheduling of the rulemaking process are entirely speculative."
    The dissenting justice indicated, "I dissent from the majority's dismissal of Appellants' claims related to the EPA's forthcoming Phase II rule [i.e. publish numeric nutrient standards for Florida's coastal and estuarine waters]. Although Appellants have demonstrated that they have been injured by the consent decree, the majority's opinion effectively eliminates all means by which Appellants could challenge any errors made by the district court when approving it. Because: (1) nothing in standing doctrine requires Appellants to rely solely on one particular avenue for suit where multiple, justiciable avenues exist, see Ala. Power Co. v. U.S. Dept. of Energy, 307 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir. 2002) (rejecting the Department of Energy's argument that non-parties to a settlement agreement should await a final decision by the Department before suing, rather than challenging the terms of the settlement agreement); (2) 'fairly traceable' does not mean absolutely and exclusively traceable, see Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 168–69 (1997) (holding, based on analogous facts, that 'fairly traceable' does not mean that the defendant's actions must be the very last step in the chain of causation); and (3) our law is clear that a court must not enter a consent decree without the consent of all parties whose rights would be affected, see United States v. City of Hialeah, 140 F.3d 968, 978–81 (11th Cir. 1998), this Court should have reached the merits of Appellants' claims alleging substantive and procedural injuries from the entry of the consent decree."
    Access the complete opinion and dissent (click here). [#Water, #CA11]