The Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") has interpreted the Clean Water Act ("CWA") in such a way so that certain logging activities that cause polluted water to run off of forest roads and into ditches, culverts, or pipes are exempt from the permit process. Relying on §1365 of the CWA, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center ("NEDC") brought a citizen’s lawsuit in federal district court in an attempt to eliminate the exemption from the permit process. The Petitioners argue that a citizen's lawsuit was impermissible in this case because of §1369 of the CWA. The parties also do not agree on the level of deference that the EPA should have been given in interpreting its regulations. Furthermore, the NEDC takes issue with the way EPA interprets several key phrases in the CWA, which affects the substance of the EPA’s decision. The ability of federal courts to review agency action as well as the scope of an agency’s authority are at stake in this case. Also, the Supreme Court’s decision can clarify the ability of citizens to bring an action to change the EPA’s course of action under the CWA. Finally, these procedural and administrative questions could ultimately have an effect on the environment and water quality as well as the procedures loggers must follow to ensure they comply with the CWA.
(1) Congress has authorized citizens dissatisfied with the Environmental Protection Agency’s ("EPA") rules implementing the Clean Water Act’s ("CWA") National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ("NPDES") permitting program to seek judicial review of those rules in the Courts of Appeals. See 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b). Congress further specified that those rules cannot be challenged in any civil or criminal enforcement proceeding. Consistent with the terms of the statute, multiple circuit courts have held that if a rule is reviewable under 33 U.S.C. § 1369, it is exclusively reviewable under that statute and cannot be challenged in another proceeding.
Did the Ninth Circuit err when, in conflict with those circuits, it held that a citizen may bypass judicial review of an NPDES permitting rule under 33 U.S.C. § 1369, and may instead challenge the validity of the rule in a citizen suit to enforce the CWA?
(2) In 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p), Congress required NPDES permits for stormwater discharges “associated with industrial activity,” and delegated to the EPA the responsibility to determine what activities qualified as “industrial” for purposes of the permitting program. The EPA determined that stormwater from logging roads and other specified silvicultural activities is non-industrial stormwater that does not require an NPDES permit. See 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(b)(14).
Did the Ninth Circuit err when it held that stormwater from logging roads is industrial stormwater under the CWA and EPS’s rules, even though EPA has determined that it is not industrial stormwater?
GEORGIA-PACIFIC WEST, ET AL. V. NORTHWEST ENVTL. DEFENSE CENTER
Since passage of the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") has considered runoff of rain from forest roads--whether channeled or not--to fall outside the scope of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) and thus not to require a permit as a point source discharge of pollutants. Under a rule first promulgated in 1976, the EPA consistently has defined as non-point source activities forest road construction and maintenance from which natural runoff results. And in regulating stormwater discharges under 1987 amendments to the Act, the EPA again expressly excluded runoff from forest roads. In consequence, forest road runoff long has been regulated as a nonpoint source using best management practices, like those imposed by the State of Oregon on the roads at issue here.
The EPA’s consistent interpretation of more than 35 years has survived proposed regulatory revision and legal challenge, and repeatedly has been endorsed by the United States in briefs and agency publications.
The Ninth Circuit--in conflict with other circuits, contrary to the position of the United States as amicus, and with no deference to the EPA--rejected the EPA’s longstanding interpretation. Instead, it directed the EPA to regulate channeled forest road runoff under a statutory category of stormwater discharges “associated with industrial activity,” for which a permit is required. The question presented is:
Whether the Ninth Circuit should have deferred to the EPA’s longstanding position that channeled runoff from forest roads does not require a permit, and erred when it mandated that the EPA regulate such runoff as industrial stormwater subject to NPDES.