966 F.2d 1292: Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Petitioner, v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Respondent,battery Council International, et al., Respondents-intervenors
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. - 966 F.2d 1292
Argued and Submitted Oct. 9, 1991.Decided June 4, 1992
Robert W. Adler, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.
Daniel S. Goodman, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for respondent.
Petition for Review of a Rule Promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Before PREGERSON, FERGUSON, and O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judges.
FERGUSON, Senior Circuit Judge:
The Natural Resources Defense Council ("NRDC") challenges aspects of the Environmental Protection Agency's ("EPA") recent Clean Water Act storm water discharge rule.1 NRDC argues that the deadlines contained in the rule and the scope of its coverage are unlawful under section 402(l), (p) of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1342(l), (p). We grant partial relief.
In 1972 Congress enacted significant amendments to the Clean Water Act ("CWA"),2 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1387 (1988), "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." 33 U.S.C. § 1251(a). One major focus of the CWA is the control of "point source" pollution. A "point source" is "any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel ... from which pollutants are or may be discharged." 33 U.S.C. § 1362(14). The CWA also established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ("NPDES"), requiring permits for any discharge of pollutants from a point source pursuant to section 402 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1342. The CWA empowers EPA or an authorized state to conduct an NPDES permitting program. 33 U.S.C. § 1342(a)-(b). Under the program, as long as the permit issued contains conditions that implement the requirements of the CWA, the EPA may issue a permit for discharge of any pollutant. 33 U.S.C. § 1342(a)(1).
This case involves runoff from diffuse sources that eventually passes through storm sewer systems and is thus subject to the NPDES permit program. See National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Application Regulations for Storm Water Discharges; Application Deadlines, 56 Fed.Reg. 56,548 (1991). One recent study concluded that pollution from such sources, including runoff from urban areas, construction sites, and agricultural land, is now a leading cause of water quality impairment. 55 Fed.Reg. at 47,991.3
A. Efforts to Regulate Storm Water Discharge.
Following the enactment of the CWA amendments in 1972, EPA promulgated NPDES permit regulations exempting a number of classes of point sources, including uncontaminated storm water discharge, on the basis of "administrative infeasibility," i.e., the extraordinary administrative burden imposed on EPA should it have to issue permits for possibly millions of point sources of runoff. Natural Resources Defense Council v. Costle, 568 F.2d 1369, 1372 & n. 5, 1377 (D.C.Cir.1977). NRDC challenged the exemptions. Relying on the language of the statute, its legislative history and precedent, the D.C. Circuit held that the EPA Administrator did not have the authority to create categorical exemptions from regulation. Id. at 1379. However, the court acknowledged the agency's discretion to shape permits in ways "not inconsistent with the clear terms of the Act." Id. at 1382.
Following this litigation, EPA promulgated regulations covering storm water discharges in 1979, 1980 and 1984. 56 Fed.Reg. 56,548. NRDC challenged various aspects of these rules both at the administrative level as well as in the courts.
Recognizing both the environmental threat posed by storm water runoff4 and EPA's problems in implementing regulations,5 Congress passed the Water Quality Act of 19876 containing amendments to the CWA ("the 1987 amendments"), portions of which set up a new scheme for regulation of storm water runoff. Section 402(p), as amended, established deadlines by which certain storm water dischargers must apply for permits, the EPA or states must act on permits and dischargers must implement their permits. See Appendix A. The Act also set up a moratorium on permitting requirements for most storm water discharges, which ends on October 1, 1992. There are five exceptions that are required to obtain permits before that date:
(A) A discharge with respect to which a permit has been issued under this section before February 4, 1987.
(B) A discharge associated with industrial activity.
(C) A discharge from a municipal separate storm sewer system serving a population of 250,000 or more.
(D) A discharge from a municipal separate storm sewer system serving a population of 100,000 or more but less than 250,000.
(E) A discharge for which the Administrator or the State, ... determines that the storm water discharge contributes to a violation of a water quality standard or is a significant contributor of pollutants to the waters of the United States.
CWA § 402(p)(2); 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p)(2).
Section 402(p) also outlines an incremental or "phase-in" approach to issuance of storm water discharge permits. The purpose of this approach was to allow EPA and the states to focus their attention on the most serious problems first. 133 Cong.Rec. 991 (1987). Section 402(p) requires EPA to promulgate rules regulating permit application procedures in a staggered fashion.
Responding to the 1987 amendments requiring the EPA to issue permit application requirements for storm water discharges associated with industrial activities and large municipalities, the EPA issued final rules on November 16, 1990, almost two years after its deadline ("the November 1990 rule"). 55 Fed.Reg. at 47,990. EPA issued amended rules on March 21, 1991 ("the March 1991 rule"). 56 Fed.Reg. at 12,098. It is to portions of these rules that NRDC objects.
We have jurisdiction pursuant to CWA § 509(b)(1), 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b)(1). Section 509(b)(1) describes six types of actions by the EPA administrator that are subject to review in the court of appeals. Although the parties do not specify the section upon which they rely, § 509(b)(1)(F), 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b)(1)(F) allows the court to review the issuance or denial of a permit under CWA § 402, 33 U.S.C. § 1342. The court also has the power to review rules that regulate the underlying permit procedures. NRDC v. EPA, 656 F.2d 768, 775 (D.C.Cir.1981); cf. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. v. Train, 430 U.S. 112, 136, 97 S.Ct. 965, 979, 51 L.Ed.2d 204 (1977). NRDC filed timely petitions for review of the final rules at issue here pursuant to CWA § 509(b)(1), 33 U.S.C. 1369(b)(1).
Any "interested person" may seek review of designated actions of the EPA Administrator. 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b)(1). This court has held that the injury-in-fact rule for standing of Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 733, 92 S.Ct. 1361, 1365, 31 L.Ed.2d 636 (1972) covers the "interested person" language. Trustees for Alaska v. EPA, 749 F.2d 549, 554 (9th Cir.1984) (adopting the analysis in Montgomery Environmental Coalition v. Costle, 646 F.2d 568, 578 (D.C.Cir.1980)). A petitioner under Sierra Club must suffer adverse affects to her economic interests or "[a]esthetic and environmental well-being." Sierra Club, 405 U.S. at 734, 92 S.Ct. at 1366. Intervenors are various industry and trade groups subject to regulation under the rules at issue. NRDC claims, inter alia, that EPA has delayed unlawfully promulgation of storm water regulations and that its regulations, as published, inadequately control storm water contaminants. NRDC's allegations and the potential economic impact of the rules on the intervenors satisfy the broad standing requirement applicable here.
A. Standard of Review.
5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) (1988) authorizes the court to "set aside agency action ... found to be ... arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." Under this standard a court must find a "rational connection between the facts found and the choice made." Sierra Pacific Indus., 866 F.2d 1099, 1105 (9th Cir.1989) (citing Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43, 103 S.Ct. 2856, 2866, 77 L.Ed.2d 443 (1983)). The court must decide whether the agency considered the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment. Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 416, 91 S.Ct. 814, 823, 28 L.Ed.2d 136 (1971).
On questions of statutory construction, courts must carry out the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress. If a statute is "silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency's answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute." Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 843, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 2782, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984). Congress may leave an explicit gap, thus delegating legislative authority to an agency subject to the arbitrary and capricious standard. Id. at 843-44, 104 S.Ct. at 2781-82. If legislative delegation is implicit, courts must defer to an agency's statutory interpretation as long as it is reasonable. Id. at 844, 104 S.Ct. at 2782. This is because an agency has technical expertise as well as the authority to reconcile conflicting policies. See id. Nevertheless, questions of congressional intent that can be answered with "traditional tools of statutory construction" are still firmly within the province of the courts. INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 447-48, 107 S.Ct. 1207, 1221, 94 L.Ed.2d 434 (1987).
B. EPA's Extension of Statutory Deadlines.
NRDC challenges EPA's extension of certain statutory deadlines in the November 1990 and March 1991 rules. The statutory scheme calls for EPA to consider permit applications from the most serious sources of pollutants first: industrial dischargers and large municipal separate storm sewer systems ("large systems").7 The statute required EPA to establish regulations for permit application requirements for these two groups by February 4, 1989; to receive applications for permits one year later, February 4, 1990; and to approve or deny the permits by February 4, 1991. Permittees may be given up to three years to comply with their permits. CWA § 402(p)(4)(A), 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p)(4)(A). Medium sized municipal separate storm sewer systems ("medium systems") (those serving a population of 100,000 or more but less than 250,000) are on a similar schedule, except that the deadlines are two years later. CWA § 402(p)(4)(B), 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p)(4)(B). The temporary statutory exemption for all storm water sources expires on October 1, 1992. CWA § 402(p)(1), 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p)(1). EPA states that discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems serving a population of under 100,000 are to be regulated after that date.
The EPA rules at issue changed the statutory deadlines as follows:
Since NRDC filed this action, Congress has passed certain legislation affecting some of the deadlines at issue. Congress ratified the date of September 30, 1991 for part 1 of group applications for industrial dischargers. See Dire Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1991, Pub.L. No. 102"27, § 307, 105 Stat. 130, 152 (1991)
Section 1068 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of
1991("ISTEA") clarifies the deadlines for storm water discharges associated
withindustrial activity from facilities owned or operated by a municipality.
Pub.L. No. 102"240, § 1068, 105 Stat.1914, 2007 (1991). ISTEA deadlines are
being reviewed in a separate case. Nothing in this opinion should be viewed
as requiring EPA to comply with deadlines that have been altered or
superseded by the ISTEA.
See 55 Fed.Reg. at 48,071
(to be codified at 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(e)); 56 Fed.Reg. at 12,100 (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(e)(2)(iii)). EPA changed certain of these deadlines after this case was submitted. These changes are the subject of a separate case.
TheEPA rules at issue set no date for final approval or denial of applications from municipal or industrial dischargers, nor for compliance by these regulated entities. See 55 Fed.Reg. at 48,072 ----------
As the chart illustrates, EPA made other elaborations on the statutory scheme in addition to extending the deadlines. Medium and large municipal systems and industrial dischargers are now subject to a two-part application process. 55 Fed.Reg. at 48,072. The November 1990 rules allow industrial dischargers to apply for either individual or group permits. Id. at 48,06667. The March 1991 rules further extended the deadline for part 1 of the group industrial discharger permits to September 30, 1991.10 56 Fed.Reg. at 12,098. A final rule published on April 2, 1992 extended the deadline for the part 2 group application for industrial dischargers from May 18, 1992 to October 1, 1992. 57 Fed.Reg. at 11,394. The EPA rules at issue contain neither deadlines for final EPA or state approval of permits nor deadlines for compliance with the permit terms.
Seeking to compel the EPA to conform to the statutory scheme, NRDC asks this court:
a) to declare unlawful EPA's failure to issue certain of the storm water permitting regulations by February 4, 1989 and EPA's extension of certain statutory deadlines;
b) to enjoin EPA from granting future extensions of the deadlines;
c) to compel EPA to include deadlines for permit approval or denial and permit compliance consistent with the statute; and
d) to compel EPA to require that medium and small municipal systems meet the same deadlines as large systems.
Senator Stafford, speaking in favor of the conference report for the Water Quality Act, noted that "EPA should have developed this program long ago. Unfortunately, it did not. The conference substitute provides a short grace period during which EPA and the States generally may not require permits for municipal separate storm sewers." 132 Cong. Rec. 32,381 (1986). Senator Chafee stated "[t]he Agency has been unable to move forward with a [storm water discharge control] program, because the current law did not give enough guidance to the Agency. This provision provides such guidance, and I expect EPA to move rapidly to implement this control program." 133 Cong. Rec. 1,264 (1987)
Pub.L. No. 100-4, 101 Stat. 7 (1987) (codified as amended in scattered sections of 33 U.S.C.)
Large municipal systems are those serving a population of 250,000 or more. § 402(p)(2)(C)
NRDC initially claimed that this extension was unlawful because it was granted without proper notice and comment. However, Congress approved this extended deadline in a supplemental appropriations bill. Dire Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1991, Pub.L. No. 102-27 § 307, 105 Stat. 130, 152 (1991). This Act moots the procedural and substantive challenge to this extended deadline
In addition, pursuant to the statute, compliance deadlines applicable to each facility shall be contained in its permit
The rule also permits the Administrator to include certain other systems as part of a medium or large system due to the physical interconnections between the systems, their locations, or certain other factors. See 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(b)(4)(iii), (iv) and (b)(7)(iii), (iv)
Storm sewers located within the boundaries of a city might be part of a state highway system, a flood control district, or a system operated by the state or county. See 55 Fed.Reg. at 48,041
See, e.g., 133 Cong. Rec. 991 (1987) (statement of Rep. Stangeland)
"Reportable Quantities" (RQs) are not effluent guidelines setting up permissible limits for pollutants. Rather, they are quantities the discharge of which "may be harmful to the public health or welfare of the United States." CWA § 311(b)(4), 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(4). EPA has established RQs for a large number of substances, pursuant to both CWA section 311, 33 U.S.C. § 1321, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("CERCLA") section 102, 42 U.S.C. § 9602. See 40 C.F.R. Parts 110, 117, 302. The operator of any vessel or facility which releases the RQ of any substance must immediately notify the National Response Center. See, e.g., 40 C.F.R. § 110.10
Operators of mines must submit permit applications whenever storm water discharges come into contact with overburden, waste products, etc. 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(c)(1)(iv)
The requirements for permit applications are set forth at 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(d). Individual NPDES permit writers (EPA or state officials) will decide whether application proposals are adequate. Applicants must submit information on source control methods and estimate the annual pollutant load reduction to be achieved from their proposed management programs, but they are not required to achieve any specified level of reduction of any pollutants. See 55 Fed.Reg. at 48,070-71
We base our holding on NRDC's challenge to the regulations at issue. Whether a specific permit complies with the requirements of section 402(p)(3)(B) would, of course, be another matter not controlled by this decision
Part I must include the identity of the group's participants, a description of the participants' industrial activities, a list of significant materials exposed to precipitation and the identity of the subset of the group's members who will submit quantitative data in part 2 of the application. 55 Fed.Reg. at 48,067
A rule means "the whole or part of an agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy or describing the organization, procedure, or practice requirements of an agency...." 5 U.S.C. § 551(4)