Chief Justice Roberts to EPA: “Why’d You Have to Go and Make Things So Complicated?”

Photo by Richard Webb. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Richard Webb. Some rights reserved.

Last Friday afternoon, the EPA issued a new final rule which clarifies that a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is not required for stormwater runoff on logging roads. This rule revises a previous EPA rule on Phase I stormwater discharge regulations, and states that the EPA will not be regulating stormwater discharges. Reasoning for the change of position is as follows:

“Discharges from forest roads can seriously degrade forest streams and rivers, but these discharges can be successfully controlled through [best management practices], such as grading and seeding road surfaces and designing road drainage structures to discharge runoff in small quantities to off-road areas that are not hydrologically connected to surface waters.”

This final rule has been eminent for some time, as the related notice of proposed rulemaking was published in the Federal Register on September 4. However, its issuance on Friday held some ramifications for a Supreme Court argument being argued the following Monday. The case in question is Doug Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, an argument against logging companies and Oregon forestry officials by an environmental group claiming that the defendants are required to obtain permits for stormwater runoff on the logging roads they manage. The newly revised EPA regulations stating that a permit is not required perplexed Chief Justice Roberts, who reportedly turned to a government lawyer and asked, regarding the existence of new rules, “were you as surprised as we were?”

Despite the fact that the government did recommend last May that the court not pursue the case right away, as they anticipated new rules from the EPA on the subject, the chief justice was understandably irritated by the EPA’s covert movements, stating “if we knew that the final rule was imminent, we could have rescheduled the case for April.”

More from the EPA on the stormwater regulations: Fact Sheet | FAQs

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