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Natural Resource Defense Council, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
859 F.2d 156 (1988)
An important element of the Clean Water Act (CWA) was the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. Congress empowered states to become authorized as the primary implementers of the NPDES permit program as a means to protect the primary responsibilities of states to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution and encourage state autonomy. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (defendant) approved of states’ applications for authorizations. Contrasting with Congress’s desire to preserve state autonomy, the CWA encouraged uniformity of the permit program out of concern that a lack of homogeneity in standards would cause dischargers to move their operations to areas that have lower pollution standards and less effluent limitations. The CWA required public participation in the development, revision, and enforcement of NPDES permits. Although the CWA governed citizen suits in federal court, it did not address state-level citizen suits. The CWA also encouraged the imposition of substantial penalties for permit violations. The act specified that at the federal level, civil penalties for permit violations can reach a maximum of $25,000 per day of the violation. The CWA did not require states to impose the same maximum federal penalties. The EPA promulgated regulations that established minimum requirements for states to meet to obtain authorization, including requirements for public participation in the permit-issuing process and minimum enforcement requirements. The EPA administrator required states to provide for public participation by allowing intervention as of right in any civil or administrative actions or by providing assurances that complaints will be investigated, and intervention would not be opposed. The EPA administrator also required states to have authority to impose penalties for violations and impose a minimum fine of $5,000 per day for a violation. Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (plaintiffs) argued that the EPA administrator’s regulations on state requirements of public participation and enforcement were insufficient and should mirror the federal requirements.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)
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