American Farm Bureau Federation v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

792 F.3d 281 (2015)

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American Farm Bureau Federation v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
792 F.3d 281 (2015)

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Facts

The Clean Water Act (CWA) created a cooperative federal-state system for controlling water pollution. Under the CWA, states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (defendant) worked together to create water-quality standards for the waters within a state’s borders. This process included setting a total maximum daily load (TMDL) of pollutants that could be released into each water body. The CWA did not define the term TMDL or identify how this standard should be set. The EPA identified multiple TMDLs for discharge points into the waters of Chesapeake Bay. Each TMDL listed separate maximum discharge levels of certain pollutants for (1) point sources, meaning discrete pollutions sources, like an industrial drainpipe; and (2) nonpoint sources, meaning diffuse or generalized pollution sources, like runoff from area farming. The TMDLs also listed deadlines for the 11 impacted states to comply with the identified levels. The EPA worked with all 11 states to get reasonable assurances that the states could comply by those deadlines. After the notice-and-rulemaking process, the EPA issued the TMDLs in a regulation. The American Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural entities (collectively, Farm Bureau) (plaintiffs) sued. Farm Bureau argued that the regulation was invalid, claiming that the regulation was causing harm in the form of increased compliance costs. Farm Bureau contended that the CWA’s use of the word “total” in TMDL meant only a single, total number and, therefore, that the EPA had no authority to set source-allocation details and compliance deadlines in TMDLs. Farm Bureau also argued that the EPA had not been authorized to get the states’ reasonable assurances of compliance before issuing the TMDL. Farm Bureau conceded that the TMDLs were helpful for controlling water pollution and argued only that the regulation exceeded the EPA’s authority. The district court upheld the regulation. Farm Bureau appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Ambro, J.)

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