Environmental Defense Center, Inc. v. U.S. E.P.A.

Decision Date15 September 2003
Docket NumberNo. 00-70734.,No. 00-70014.,No. 00-70822.,00-70014.,00-70734.,00-70822.
Citation344 F.3d 832
PartiesEnvironmental Defense Center, Inc., Petitioner, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Petitioner-Intervenor, v. UNITED STATES Environmental Protection Agency, Respondent. American Forest & Paper Association; National Association of Home Builders, Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES Environmental Protection Agency, Respondent, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Applicant-Intervenor. Texas Cities Coalition On Stormwater; Texas Counties Storm Water Coalition, Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES Environmental Protection Agency, Respondent, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Respondent-Intervenor.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Victoria Clark, Environmental Defense Center, Santa Barbara, California, for petitioner Environmental Defense Center, Inc.

Andrew G. Frank and Arlene Yang, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, New York, New York, and Nancy K. Stoner, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, D.C., for intervenor National Resources Defense Council, Inc.

R. Timothy McCrum, Ellen B. Steen, and Donald J. Kochan, Crowell & Moring, Washington, D.C., for petitioners American Forest & Paper Association and National Association of Home Builders.

Steven P. Quarles and J. Michael Klise, Crowell & Moring, Washington, D.C., and William R. Murray, American Forest & Paper Association, Washington, D.C., for petitioner American Forest & Paper Association.

Jim Mathews and Clarence Joe Freeland, Mathews & Freeland, Austin, Texas, for petitioner Texas Cities Coalition on Stormwater.

Sydney W. Falk, Jr. and William D. Dugat III, Bickerstaff, Heath, Smiley, Pollan, Kever & McDaniel, Austin, Texas, for petitioner Texas Counties Storm Water Coalition.

John C. Cruden, Daniel M. Flores and Kent E. Hanson, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., and Stephen J. Sweeny, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., for respondent United States Environmental Protection Agency.

On Petition for Review of an Order of the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA No. Clean Water 40 CFR.

Before: James R. Browning, Stephen Reinhardt, and Richard C. Tallman, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge Browning; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Judge Tallman.


The opinion and dissent filed in this case on January 14, 2003, and published at 319 F.3d 398 are vacated. They are replaced by the Opinion and Dissent filed today.

With the filing of the new Opinion and Dissent, the panel has voted to deny the petitions for rehearing and the petition for rehearing en banc. (Judge Tallman would grant the petition for rehearing filed by the Environmental Protection Agency.) The full court has been advised of the new Opinion, new Dissent, and petition for rehearing en banc. No judge has requested a vote on the petition for rehearing en banc. Fed. R.App.P. 35.

The petitions for rehearing and the petition for rehearing en banc are DENIED. The clerk is instructed not to accept for filing any new petitions for rehearing or petitions for rehearing en banc in this case.

Each party shall bear its own costs in this appeal.


JAMES R. BROWNING, Circuit Judge.

Petitioners challenge a rule issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1387, to control pollutants introduced into the nation's waters by storm sewers.

Storm sewers drain rainwater and melted snow from developed areas into water bodies that can handle the excess flow. Draining stormwater picks up a variety of contaminants as it filters through soil and over pavement on its way to sewers. Sewers are also used on occasion as an easy (if illicit) means for the direct discharge of unwanted contaminants. Since storm sewer systems generally channel collected runoff into federally protected water bodies, they are subject to the controls of the Clean Water Act.

In October of 1999, after thirteen years in process, the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") promulgated a final administrative rule (the "Phase II Rule"1 or "the Rule") under § 402(p) of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p), mandating that discharges from small municipal separate storm sewer systems and from construction sites between one and five acres in size be subject to the permitting requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ("NPDES"), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1342. EPA preserved authority to regulate other harmful stormwater discharges in the future.

In the three cases consolidated here, petitioners and intervenors challenge the Phase II Rule on twenty-two constitutional, statutory, and procedural grounds. We remand three aspects of the Rule concerning the issuance of notices of intent under the Rule's general permitting scheme, and a fourth aspect concerning the regulation of forest roads. We affirm the Rule against all other challenges.

A. The Problem of Stormwater Runoff

Stormwater runoff is one of the most significant sources of water pollution in the nation, at times "comparable to, if not greater than, contamination from industrial and sewage sources."2 Storm sewer waters carry suspended metals, sediments, algae-promoting nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), floatable trash, used motor oil, raw sewage, pesticides, and other toxic contaminants into streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries across the United States.3 In 1985, three-quarters of the States cited urban stormwater runoff as a major cause of waterbody impairment, and forty percent reported construction site runoff as a major cause of impairment.4 Urban runoff has been named as the foremost cause of impairment of surveyed ocean waters.5 Among the sources of stormwater contamination are urban development, industrial facilities, construction sites, and illicit discharges and connections to storm sewer systems.6

B. Stormwater and the Clean Water Act

Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1948 to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." 33 U.S.C. § 1251(a) (originally codified as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 62 Stat. 1155). The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a "point source"7 into the waters of the United States without a permit issued under the terms of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1342, which requires dischargers to comply with technology-based pollution limitations (generally according to the "best available technology economically achievable," or "BAT" standard). 33 U.S.C. § 1311(b)(2)(A). NPDES permits are issued by EPA or by States that have been authorized by EPA to act as NPDES permitting authorities. 33 U.S.C. § 1342(a)-(b). The permitting authority must make copies of all NPDES permits and permit applications available to the public, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1342(j), 1342(b)(3); state permitting authorities must provide EPA notice of each permit application, 33 U.S.C. § 1342(b)(4); and a permitting authority must provide an opportunity for a public hearing before issuing any permit, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1342(a)(1), 1342(b)(3); cf. 33 U.S.C. § 1251(e) (requiring public participation).

Storm sewers are established point sources subject to NPDES permitting requirements. Natural Res. Def. Council v. Costle, 568 F.2d 1369, 1379 (D.C.Cir.1977) (holding unlawful EPA's exemption of stormwater discharges from NPDES permitting requirements); Natural Res. Def. Council v. EPA, 966 F.2d 1292, 1295 (9th Cir.1992).8 In 1987, to better regulate pollution conveyed by stormwater runoff, Congress enacted Clean Water Act § 402(p), 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p), "Municipal and Industrial Stormwater Discharges." Sections 402(p)(2) and 402(p)(3) mandate NPDES permits for stormwater discharges "associated with industrial activity," discharges from large and medium-sized municipal storm sewer systems, and certain other discharges. Section 402(p)(4) sets out a timetable for promulgation of the first of a two-phase overall program of stormwater regulation. Id. at § 1342(p)(2)-(4); Natural Res. Def. Council, 966 F.2d at 1296. In 1990, pursuant to § 402(p)(4), EPA issued the Phase I Rule regulating large discharge sources.9

C. The Phase II Stormwater Rule

In Clean Water Act § 402(p), Congress also directed a second stage of stormwater regulation by ordering EPA to identify and address sources of pollution not covered by the Phase I Rule. Section 402(p)(1) placed a temporary moratorium (expiring in 1994) on the permitting of other stormwater discharges pending the results of studies mandated in § 402(p)(5) to identify the sources and pollutant content of such discharges and to establish procedures and methods to control them as "necessary to mitigate impacts on water quality." 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p)(5). Section 402(p)(6) required that EPA establish "a comprehensive program to regulate" these stormwater discharges "to protect water quality," following the studies mandated in § 402(p)(5) and consultation with state and local officials. Id. at § 1342(p)(6).

EPA proposed the Phase II Rule in January of 1998.10 In October, 1999, Congress passed legislation precluding EPA from promulgating the new Rule until EPA submitted an additional report to Congress supporting certain anticipated aspects of the Rule.11 EPA was also required to publish its report in the Federal Register for public comment. Pub. L. No. 106-74, § 431(c), 113 Stat. at 1097. Later that month, EPA submitted the required ("Appropriations Act") study and promulgated the Rule.12

Under the Phase II Rule, NPDES permits are required for discharges from small municipal separate storm sewer systems ("small MS4s") and stormwater discharges from...

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