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Chesapeake Bay TMDL

Chesapeake Bay TMDL Court Decisions

On January 10, 2011, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) challenged EPA’s establishment of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment (American Farm Bureau Federation et al. v. EPA (M.D. Pa)). AFBF was soon joined by the National Association of Homebuilders and a variety of agricultural trade associations. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, other environmental groups, and trade associations representing municipal wastewater dischargers, among others, intervened on EPA’s side in defense of the TMDL. After submission of motions for summary judgment, the District Court heard five hours of oral argument on October 4, 2012.

On September 13, 2013, Judge Sylvia Rambo (U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania) dismissed in whole the challenge to EPA’s landmark Chesapeake Bay TMDL. In a wide-ranging decision, the court rejected all legal challenges, finding that the Chesapeake Bay TMDL and the framework established by the Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership in developing the cleanup plan was “consistent with” the CWA and other applicable federal laws. The judge cited the “well documented” ecological and economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay, and held that the record in the case demonstrated the “extensive efforts on behalf of the Bay Partnership [between EPA and the Bay jurisdictions] to protect this important resource.” The court concluded that, in light of “the numerous complexities of regulating an interstate waterbody, EPA’s role is critical to coordinating the Bay Jurisdiction’s efforts to ensure pollution reduction.” As a result of the court’s decision, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL remains in place to help guide continuing efforts to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to the Bay and its tidal tributaries.  View the September 13, 2013 decision below.

By unanimous decision issued on July 6, 2015, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that EPA had acted within the scope of its authority under the Clean Water Act in establishing the TMDL for the Chesapeake Bay in 2010. In doing so, the court rejected the arguments by AFBF and others that the Bay TMDL could not legally include source allocations, target dates, and reasonable assurance. The court determined that "[e]stablishing a comprehensive, watershed-wide TMDL - complete with allocations among different kinds of sources, a timetable, and reasonable assurance that it will actually be implemented - is reasonable and reflects a legitimate policy choice by the agency." The court's judgement affirmed the District Court decision dated September 13, 2013. View the July 6, 2015 decision below.

On February 29, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  The AFBF (and other parties) had sought review and reversal of the Third Circuit decision of July 6, 2015 upholding EPA's establishment of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.  By that denial, the Supreme Court ended five years of litigation regarding the Chesapeake Bay TMDL and allowed the Third Circuit ruling to stand as the final decision in the case.  View the docket for the case on the U.S. Supreme Court website.

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