Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. v. EPA (Catskill III), No. 14-1823 (2d Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Several environmentalist organizations and state, provincial, and tribal governments filed suit challenging the EPA's Water Transfers Rule. The Rule formalized the EPA's stance to take a hands‐off approach to water transfers, choosing not to subject them to the requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program. The district court ultimately concluded that the Rule represented an unreasonable interpretation of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251, and was therefore invalid under the deferential two‐step framework for judicial review established in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. The federal government and intervenors appealed. At step one of the Chevron analysis, the court agreed with the district court that the Clean Water Act does not speak directly to the precise question of whether NPDES permits are required for water transfers, and that it is therefore necessary to proceed to Chevronʹs second step. At step two, the court concluded that the Rule's interpretation of the Clean Water Act is reasonable. The court explained that the EPAʹs promulgation of the Rule is precisely the sort of policy-making decision that the Supreme Court designed the Chevron framework to insulate from judicial second‐ (or third‐) guessing. The court stated that the Rule's interpretation of the Act is supported by valid considerations where the Act does not require that water quality be improved whatever the cost or means, and the Rule preserves state authority over many aspects of water regulation, gives regulator flexibility to balance the need to improve water quality with the potentially high costs of compliance with an NPDES permitting program, and allows for several alternative means for regulating water transfers. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment.