Southland Cities Take EPA to Court

Trash Regulation Procedures Violate Clean Water Act

Charging that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the federal Clean Water Act in its adoption of trash Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), 22 Southland cities on June 28 filed a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief in U.S. District Court. The complaint states that the TMDLs violate state and federal processes -- and EPA's own guidelines -- by establishing unreasonable and impractical water quality standards, and by failing to conduct necessary scientific and economic studies prior to adoption.

Of urgent concern to the cities is 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. Under the Clean Water Act, only `practicable' standards may be imposed on cities. A Zero Trash Standard is neither practicable nor obtainable," said Signal Hill Councilmember Larry Forester.

"In other words, one gum wrapper in the River, regardless of the source, would open the door for a trial lawyers' feeding frenzy aimed at separating taxpayers from their money," Forester concluded.

Added Bellflower Mayor John Pratt: "It's absurd that the EPA wants to hold cities liable for individuals who break the litter laws -- especially since it's impossible to tell where every scrap of trash originates or if it even comes from inside the city limits."

The underlying issue concerns actions taken by 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 issued to the County of Los Angeles and incorporated cities within 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 through the California Office of Administrative Law. EPA pre-empted actions the state was in the process of taking toward such TMDL approvals.

The cities are asking the Court to declare that the EPA has failed, or will fail, to comply with the Clean Water Act; that its adoption of TMDLs and associated procedure violated various laws; and to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing EPA from enforcing the TMDLs and from continuing to adopt additional TMDLs.

Finally, the cities would like the Court to order that the EPA's Trash TMDLs and associated procedure 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.

Elected officials representing the cities in question re-affirmed their commitment to clean water:

"We all want cleaner water, and we've been doing our part all along to get there. But it would be poor public policy indeed to let the EPA ignore the rules and establish limits that are impossible to meet, and would expose taxpayers to billions in compliance and legal fees," said Bellflower's Mayor Pratt.

Concluded Signal Hill's Forester: "EPA expects us to play by the rules -- this lawsuit is necessary to make sure they do the same."


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