Twenty-two California cities sue EPA over water regulations

Twenty-two Southern California cities have filed a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief in US District Court, charging that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the federal Clean Water Act in its adoption of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for rubbish in the Los Angeles River, reports WaterTechOnline.

Filed on 28 June, the complaint said the TMDLs violate state and federal processes – and the EPA’s own guidelines – by establishing unreasonable and impractical water quality standards and by failing to conduct necessary scientific and economic studies before adoption.

The cities are concerned about the EPA’s apparent establishment of a ‘Zero Trash Standard for the Los Angeles River’, noting “under USEPA’s Trash TMDLs, one piece of litter discharged into the Los Angeles River through any part of [the cities’] storm drain system, after year 10, would violate the Trash TMDLs and subject [the cities] to unwarranted enforcement action, penalties and third party citizen suits.”

“In their rush to produce a TMDL, EPA has set up the cities for instant and certain failure,” said Signal Hill Council member Larry Forester. “Under the Clean Water Act, only practicable standards may be imposed on cities. A zero trash standard is neither practicable nor obtainable,” he said.

The underlying issue concerns actions taken by the EPA in the adoption of TMDLs for the Los Angeles River, which seemingly establish a water quality standard for purposes of the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) storm water permit. The permit was issued to Los Angeles County and incorporated cities in the county, including those filing the legal action.

The cities maintain that the EPA acted outside the law by independently establishing TMDLs, when its legal function was to merely review and then approve or disapprove TMDLs submitted by the state.

The EPA pre-empted actions the state was in the process of taking toward such TMDL approvals, said the Coalition for Practical Regulation.

The cities are asking the Court to:

  • declare the EPA has failed, or will fail, to comply with the Clean Water Act;
  • declare that the EPA’s adoption of TMDLs violated various laws;
  • issue injunctions preventing the EPA from enforcing the TMDLs and from continuing to adopt additional TMDLs; and
  • order that the EPA’s Trash TMDLs be set aside and the process be re-started, allowing the state to submit Trash TMDLs according to the provisions of the Clean Water Act.

The Coalition for Practical Regulation is an organisation dedicated to restoring common sense and sound science to stormwater and runoff control regulations.

Members include 44 Southland cities, the California Contract Cities Association, San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, Gateway Cities Council of Governments, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Taxpayer Protection Committee.

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