|Photo: Wikimedia Commons|
A three-judge Third Circuit panel found that the TMDL process appropriately created a flexible framework designed to meet pollution targets on a large watershed scale. The Court struck down each of the appellants' claims, importantly ruling that the TMDL did not usurp states’ rights or dictate local zoning and land use. The panel also disagreed with the appellants argument that the Clean Water Act and Congress have not authorized the EPA to set numeric loading reduction goals and deadlines when issuing a TMDL.
In the near-term the appellants may decide to seek an en banc review of the Third Circuit decision or to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case. Beyond those actions, the ruling could have implications related to nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River, its tributaries and the Gulf of Mexico. The ruling would appear to strengthen the Des Moines Water Works' position in the water utility's lawsuit against upstream tile drainage districts over nitrogen pollution from non-point agricultural sources in the Raccoon River (Iowa's Raccoon River is already considered an impaired waterway). Monday's ruling could also provide an impetus for additional lawsuits against producers, landowners and other parties over non-point agricultural runoff into surface waters throughout the watershed.