NPPC Urges Supreme Court Intervention in CWA Discharge Permit Case

In a recent development, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and a coalition encompassing various sectors of the U.S. economy have jointly called on the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case related to Clean Water Act (CWA) discharge permits.

The issue stems from a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, covering seven western states, including Montana. The court held that environmental discharge permits under the CWA could impose broad requirements on permit holders, urging them not to contribute to the general degradation of water quality. This decision has raised concerns as it introduces a seemingly unattainable standard, leaving permit holders vulnerable to potential legal challenges from activist groups for any perceived harm to water quality.

According to NPPC and the coalition of 14 organizations, the Ninth Circuit’s decision undermines the longstanding legal safeguards provided by the CWA, known as the Permit Shield. This shield grants permit holders protection against liability for discharges that occur in accordance with the terms of the permit, offering clarity on regulatory obligations. The organizations argue that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling eliminates these protections, as operators are left uncertain about compliance with their permits.

Of particular significance is the conflict between the Ninth Circuit’s decision and a previous ruling by the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit emphasized the necessity for discharge permits to provide specific guidance on permissible discharges under the CWA, diverging from the broader approach endorsed by the Ninth Circuit.

The implications of this case extend beyond the immediate parties involved. The organizations warn that allowing the Ninth Circuit’s decision to stand could create regulatory uncertainty and litigation risks for businesses nationwide. This outcome would undermine the core purpose of the discharge permitting program and the Permit Shield, impacting various industries.

For those in Montana, situated in the Ninth Circuit but falling under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 8 office, similar requirements could be imposed locally, potentially affecting the Midwest and, ultimately, the entire nation. The use of generic permit conditions, coupled with the Ninth Circuit’s decision, threatens to nullify the Permit Shield that has long been relied upon by certain pork producers, eliminating a key incentive for entities to obtain CWA discharge permits.