Willamette Law Online

United States Supreme Court


ListPreviousNext


Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center & Georgia-Pacific West, Inc. v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: March 20, 2013
Case #: 11-338
Kennedy, J., delivered the Court's opinion, which Roberts, C.J., and Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined in full and which Scalia, J., joined as to Parts I and II. Roberts, C.J., filed a concurring opinion which Alito, J., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. Breyer J., took no part in the consideration of the cases.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-338_kifl.pdf

Environmental Law: The EPA should be afforded deference in its interpretation of the Industrial Stormwater Rule (40 CFR §122.26(b)(14)), that stormwater discharges channeled through man-made ditches are “natural runoff” and the ditches are not “point sources” of pollution that require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits.

Respondent brought a suit under the Clean Water Act (33 U. S. C. §1251 et seq.) in district court against forest products companies and the Oregon Board of Forestry. Respondent alleged that the companies were in violation of the Clean Water Act because they released pollutants into Oregon waters without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. At issue was whether drainage ditches and other conveyances of natural runoff should be considered “point sources” of pollution, which require NPDES permits.

The district court granted Petitioners’ motions to dismiss on the grounds that a drainage ditch discharging stormwater was not a point source and thus did not require such a permit. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the EPA’s Industrial Stormwater Rule (40 CFR §122.26(b)(14)) applied to the companies’ activities, and that the ditches discharging natural runoff were point sources subject to the NPDES permitting process.

The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and determined that the EPA should be afforded deference in its interpretation of the rule, which excluded the ditches from NDPES permitting as non-point source. Although the EPA had issued a final version of the Industrial Stormwater Rule just before oral arguments in this case, the Court determined that the case was not moot, as an issue remained as to whether the petitioner’s would be liable under the earlier version of the rule.