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Farm Bureau Appeals District Court's Clean Water Act Ruling

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on January 29, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the continuing tug-of-war between states and the EPA, the Clean Water Act is again up for review in the Third Circuit. Not just an environmental issue, cases such as this illustrate the difficulty in finding a balance of power between the state and federal government.


The American Farm Bureau Federation filed claims in federal court alleging that under the Clean Water Act ("CWA"), the EPA (1) lacked authority to issue the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Sediment ("TMDL"); (2) the TMDL is ultra vires; (3) the TMDL is arbitrary and capricious; and (4) the EPA's actions violated the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA").

District Court Opinion

In a 99-page opinion, the district court noted the "ecological and economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay," and gave "due deference in light of EPA's scientific and technical expertise." Finding that "significant efforts to preserve the framework of cooperative federalism, as envisioned by the CWA," were utilized, the court noted that "EPA did not unlawfully infringe on the Bay states' rights because the CWA is an 'all-compassing' and 'comprehensive' statute that envisions a strong federal role for ensuring pollution reduction."

Farm Bureau's Appeal

On Monday, the American Farm Bureau Federation ("AFBF") filed its appellate brief to the Third Circuit, asking the court to reverse the District Court's opinion in favor of the EPA. The main issue is whether the EPA exceeded its authority under the CWA in establishing the TMDL for the Chesapeake Bay. According to AFBF President Bob Stallman, "These are uniquely local decisions that should be made by local governments ... That is why this power is specifically withheld from the EPA in the Clean Water Act."

The case is very early in the appeals process so we'll have to wait for briefing and arguments to be completed before we know what stance the Third Circuit will take.

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