Court Rules EPA Guidelines Are Advisory, But Fails To Halt Agency
PARK RIDGE, Ill., April 6, 2000 -- A U.S. District Court Judge last week reaffirmed something the Environmental Protection Agency has finally admitted. The agency has no Clean Water Act regulatory authority over certain agricultural and other nonpoint-source activities. But, in the case Pronsolino vs. EPA, the court stopped short of halting EPA's TMDL (total maximum daily load) initiative.
Judge William Alsup ruled that EPA has authority to include nonpoint sources under the so-called TMDL process, but those TMDLs should only be considered advisory to states.
The ruling reaffirms the American Farm Bureau Federation's position that EPA cannot directly implement non-point regulations or force state governments to do so. While results of the case are less than what the organization had sought, AFBF said the ruling takes important steps to limit EPA power.
"We welcome EPA's admission in this case that it has no direct Clean Water Act authority over agricultural and other non-point activities," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "This is a surprising admission considering the agency's previous posture on the issue and the hard line it proposes in revised rules.
"The results of this case lend considerable support to our position that the EPA does not have direct authority to regulate non-point sources under the Clean Water Act."
In particular, Stallman said farmers and ranchers will benefit from the court's ruling that TMDLs for non-point sources are voluntary, and EPA cannot force states to implement them.
"This ruling will keep regulatory authority over non-point sources at the state level, where it belongs and where Congress intended it to be," Stallman said. "The court's recognition of EPA's admitted regulatory limits inserts some common sense into this long-running debate."
The Pronsolino case, heard in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, involved a direct challenge of EPA's authority to regulate agricultural and other nonpoint source activities under the Clean Water Act.
The lawsuit was brought by Guido and Betty Pronsolino. Also named as petitioners were the AFBF, the Mendocino County (Calif.) Farm Bureau and the California Farm Bureau Federation.
In 1960, the Pronsolinos purchased the Copper Queen Ranch - 800 acres of heavily logged timberland along the Garcia River in Mendocino County, Calif. Over the last four decades the family spent significant resources to carefully manage, restore and replant the land. Although the Pronsolinos obtained a state permit to harvest timber from the ranch, EPA's TMDL guidelines were interpreted as mandates and severely restricted the family's ability to do so, resulting in significant financial losses.
During oral arguments, attorneys for Farm Bureau and the Pronsolinos stated that EPA's guidelines, if considered mandates to the states, were clearly unlawful since the federal Clean Water Act unequivocally reserves for state governments the sole authority to regulate agricultural activities, such as timber harvesting, and other nonpoint activities.
The Pronsolino family was not granted direct relief by the district court. However, the court's affirmation of the advisory-only status of EPA's TMDL guidelines - previously interpreted as mandates - should support any subsequent effort by the family to work cooperatively with the state to harvest timber from their land.