It has been a terrible month for the Obama administration’s overly zealous EPA in the federal courts. In ruling after ruling, the Administration’s unlawful, radical environmental rulings and regulations have been overturned.
1) The dominoes started to fall on February 18 when Judge Robert Hinkle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida issued an order invalidating the EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria for the state’s streams. This was critical for the state because the bulk of the compliance costs associated with EPAs new clean water rules would have stemmed from the numeric nutrient stream rule.
2) On March 21, worse news for the EPA came, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that property owners facing potential enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act can seek judicial review before being forced to comply. The EPA argued that property owners could be subject to a total fine per day of $75,000, based on the belief that an extra penalty of $37,500 a day is applied for each day the property owners become in violation after receiving the compliance order.
In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia concluded that the property owners in question, the Sacketts, did not have any compelling alternative to filing suit, yet under the EPA’s interpretation only the agency could bring an enforcement action to court. Since, as Justice Scalia noted “the Sacketts cannot initiate that process, and each day they wait for the agency to drop the hammer, they accrue, the government’s telling, an additional $75,000 in potential liability.” Ultimately, the court held that neither the Clean Water Act does not nor other laws or regulations, preclude judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act, Scalia said.
3) And the hits just kept on coming two days later U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson for the District of Columbia ruled that EPA overstepped its authority when it retroactively vetoed a Clean Water Act permit issued by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for a sprawling mountaintop-removal coal mining project in West Virginia.
4) And now, in a case out of Texas, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said that the EPA was once again overreaching when it denied several longstanding Texas air regulations concerning permitting and industrial plants. The Court of Appeals ruled that the agency has the authority to interpret the meaning of the Clean Air Act, but a state has the authority to interpret the meaning of a state law that EPA has approved, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.
Continuing Judge Elrod ruled “EPA applied these unauthorized standards to disapprove of a state program for projects that reduce air pollution and that, under the act’s plain terms, is subject to only the most minimal regulation,” the ruling says. “Because the EPA waited until more than three years after the statutory deadline to act on Texas’s submission, we order the EPA to reconsider it expeditiously.”
Let’s hope these rulings are a sign of more good things to come from the courts in reigning in an unconstitutionally expansive federal government. Let it also serve as a warning to present and future congress’s and administrations that there are limits to their powers.